The Del Mar bar is empty right now, which is weird. It is a big bar, roughly the shape of an oyster shell, separated from an ocean of evil-looking slot-machines by several hundred feet of polished brass railings. Each of the slots advertises an ever-growing jackpot, which had edged up near $1,300,000 last time I checked. But we are not interested in slots. We are interested in the bar. By 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, a small band of early-bird skeptics led by a large and improbably cuddly Danish Viking named Toby had colonized one of the Del Mar’s central tables. We were a small bunch, but loud, and The South Point Casino’s more traditional patrons eyed us curiously as though we were some rare, geeky species of desert fauna.
The South Point is a glittering, T-shaped hunk of rock and metal rising up out of the desert a couple miles south of the Las Vegas strip. It is owned by Michael Gaughan, the man who, it is said, originated the practice of plying gamblers with free booze. South Point, once known as South Coast, is the biggest building around. It is so big that the Casino hasn’t yet found time to mention all of its restaurants on its website. Somewhere on the first floor there is an “Equestrian Arena” with room for over 1,000 horses, and South Point is so big that no one I speak to has yet set eyes on this arena, nor can say with any certainty where it is. The casino’s hotel contains over 800 rooms on 25 floors. You could get lost here, and many have — it’s like something out of a Steven Milhauser novel; a place that you never need to leave, and which can very quickly rejigger your Circadian rhythms and leave you completely indifferent to the comings and goings of the outside world. I haven’t seen sunlight or been outside for over 24 hours, and I don’t feel weird at all. Here, the casino floor is the outside; the public square through which one must pass to get from here to there. The ceilings are high, and the thousands of machines give off a diffuse, twilighty glow that makes every second look and feel like happy hour.
The five skeptics in the bar at 3:30 on Tuesday had turned into a dozen by 5:00. Jay Novella arrived. Hal Bidlack swooped down from somewhere, and so did Richard Saunders. By sundown we had five tables, and by the time I went to bed we had ten. 24 hours later, the bar was ours entirely and the non-skeptics had fled. They must have wondered: Who are these people? And what’s up with all of these origami pigs?We didn’t give up the Del Mar until this morning, when the TAM registration desk opened up on the second floor and people began arriving for the Science-Based Medicine workshop. The specific chain of events that led to our launch this morning is too complicated to explicate comprehensively here — not to mention too boring — but here are some notes.
— The JREF volunteers are astonishing. Despite jet lag and not a few hangovers, dozens of them appeared yesterday morning in the South Point’s Monarch Room to spend six or seven hours stuffing envelopes, organizing folders, making name badges, and generally ensuring that event registration would not be a disaster. Also: Scott and Susan Hurst have spent the last three days commuting from South Point to McCarran Int’l Airport, saving dozens of TAMmers the expense of taxicabs and securing what would be boatloads’ worth of good karma, if karma happened to exist.
— The South Point’s fine dining establishment, Michael’s Gourmet, is decadent as hell — the kind of restaurant that could send a nation’s proles into open revolt if they ever got a look at the menu. Before you even order anything, they bring you a huge silver platter crowded with pickled peppers, unidentifiable white vegetables, and hard-boiled, pre-peeled quail eggs. Quail eggs! I’ve never even seen a quail egg in a non-Japanese restaurant. If you’re at TAM, do whatever you have to do to get in there. Have a whack at the scallops covered with cream and wild mushrooms, and also the buttery sea bream, which is cream-slathered and baked in a soft crust. Bananas foster are flambéed tableside, but the staff is so subtle, so ninja-like, so invisible and efficient that you may not even notice the conflagration.
— Randi arrived mid-morning on Wednesday. South Point sent a white limo to pick him up, and he’s spent the last 24 hours tooling around the hotel, peeking in on the volunteers, and chatting it up with Hal Bidlack and Banachek in his suite. As I write this, he is readying his speech for tomorrow.
— Also happening as I write this, Joe Nickell is giving one of his patented tech-free speeches on his many investigations. He has just related the way ghosts seem to infest the stairways of duplexes more than other residences, and explained why that might be.
That’s the scoop. Many more people ought to arrive before the day’s over, and I hope you’re one of them. Come late, and you’ll probably find us in the Del Mar. If you can’t make it, keep visiting for updates as the weekend progresses.
Brandon K. Thorp is The Amazing Randi’s personal assistant, and is also a columnist with Village Voice Media.