Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas

Matthew O’Brien

Intrigued by the news of a murderer eluding police by disappearing into the vast storm drainage tunnels underlying the neon swept streets of Las Vegas, local journalist Matthew O’Brien and a fellow writer set about exploring the 300-mile spider web of drains. Armed with a flashlight, recorder and retractable baton, they embarked on what ultimately became a four-year anthropological study of the Vegas subterranean and a compelling look at the disaffected whom the city had chewed up and spit out. There they discovered an underworld of roughly 300 members, the homeless and the disadvantaged, and the refugees from the upper levels who had created their own society of sorts, a daily life spent continuously on the edge of sudden death. Here the writers face sudden death on their own as a flash flood almost sweeps them away. They also learn how to manufacture meth, party with nekkid crack heads and cross paths with a psycho killer. As a series of vignettes, O’Brien’s observations on the players beneath the streets may be hardboiled in voice, but they are also heartfelt as they are powerful.