Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Best Magician in the World

If you fire a cannon anywhere in Vegas, two things are going to happen. First: casino security guys will be all over you in about three seconds. Second: you will hit about six hundred magicians.

Magic is everywhere here. I don't mean the "Route 66" variety of magic. I mean "guys who do tricks" magic. There are at least 7,524 of the 'Dance around the stage while you do an illusion and try to look just like David Copperfield' variety.


There are 2,647 "pick a card...any card" types.

Double yawn.

Then there's Mac King, who you can see most afternoons at Harrah's casino for about twenty-five bucks. (OR you can go to guest services, get a coupon that lets you in for $9.95 and includes a free drink.)

For the first time I lined up after a show with the rest of the audience to shake a performer's hand. (I hate doing this since I am not a groupie...and groupies do stuff like that..and...well...never mind.) I just wanted to tell him that I very much enjoyed his work.

"Hi," he said.

I nod and remember to smile.

"I really enjoyed your show. I've seen you a number of times. You have wonderful material. Wonderful presentation. Great show."

He smiles and shakes my hand. He says something which I don't hear since I am praying that I didn't just sound like some gushing magic dweeb.

"I'd really like to take your picture," I say.

"Sure. I'll do whatever you want," says King.

I am unable to come up with a witty comment so I raise the camera.

"Take off the lens cap first," he says.


I wouldn't be tongue-tied meeting David Copperfield or the Pope. But here's a guy I genuinely respect, a guy who does what I do (comedy magic) and he is the best in the business. Plus he's just a nice guy. I got the picture and declined an offer to have my picture taken with him because that was just a little too groupie-like.

I first saw Mac King when I was just getting into magic. This would be around the early 1990's. I was twelve. (Ahem.) He was at one of the first magic conventions I ever attended in St. Louis and he was precisely in the middle of a long list of acts.

When he came on-stage dressed like a hick in a plaid suit, he had my attention. No black tuxedo? Nary a single sequin? No showy music! No dancing? Not a single appearing cane? No freaking rabbits? This guy oozed different.

And he was funny. Really, really funny. (Producing genuine laughter is a lot tougher than producing a rabbit. Trust me.)

I won't outline his show since I think that's not very cool to do. Suffice it to say that the yellow raincoat thingie is one of the ultimate classics of magic in my is the hand shadow bit which has such a slam-bang surpise finish that the woman beside me spilled her mai tai all over her blouse.

If you find yourself in Vegas one day, avoid the over-priced shows. Take an afternoon to see Mac King, the official winner of the David Thiel Best Magician In The World Award.

On another topic, I heard recently from Sarah in PA. She wondered if this was still a Photoshop blog. As I re-read these past postings, I realize I have said very little about Photoshop, our website ( and only a little about photography.

Yup. It's still a Photoshop blog, Sarah. Every pic you see here has been Photoshopped. And I will get back to things like correcting over-exposed images and how to use Adjustment Layers to unmake major "whoops" moments behind the lens.

But I also find travel, the people and the places, seriously fascinating. That's why I blog about them...and I really like to get the details down while they are still fresh in my little mind. So bear with me for just a little while.

Photography captures a moment. We've all heard that. There's a frozen second in every picture. Travel is like that. You get just one second at a time -- and each one either becomes a concrete memory -- or it fades off into oblivion and is lost forever. Think of these little travel vignettes as pictures that flow from my mind to yours. (Okay. That sounds a little gross. Let me put it this way: writing is like a mental snapshot communicated from one human being to another. There. Much better.)

Or you could pop back in a few days when I am done with the whole Vegas trip and am back into Photoshop and Photography.

Just a small word of warning: at the end of this month, Sheree and I are going to Houston, San Antonio and New Orleans. (We're travelling for the first time with another couple.) It's the last trip of the year (also the last trip we can afford *sigh*) and I will very likely have a lot more to share after that.

But thank you for writing! It helps me to know I am not just talking to myself.

Where the Hell is Seligman?

You've heard the expression: "It was 110 degrees in the shade!" Usually those last three words 'in the shade' are delivered with the breathless pronouncement of someone trying to tell a big fat lie with enough passion that they hope it will be believable.

But in Seligman, Arizona (population 456) I checked a thermometer. It was 110 degrees. Said thermometer was In the shade. Honest.

You'll find Seligman a very pleasurable two hour Route 66 drive away from Kingman -- which is about two hours out of Vegas. When you hit this tiny town the first thing you are going to notice is that it is really different. (Okay. The first thing I noticed as we got out of our air-conditioned car was that it was HOT. Sheree and I concluded it was like breathing inside a pizza oven. Small exaggeration. But it was, after all, 110 degrees in the...well y'know.)

Imagine a town created by aging hippie bikers. There's a pronounced "live and let live" feeling. Each of the shops reflects the personality of its owner and I think that's straight up wonderful.

Take the Rusty Bolt for example. This place caters to bikers. Just bikers. And tourists that wish they were bikers. There's leather. There are black Harley tshirts. There are helmets. There's an asthmatic guy in a black leather vest who smells of smoke, but still wears his white hair in a pony tail behind the counter. I started chatting with him.

I was wondering how a business can sustain itself selling biker stuff in a town that is literally in the middle of nowhere on a highway most of the world has forgotten...although I put my question as diplomatically as possible since he is also a really big asthmatic biker guy.

As he wraps up my new Harley tshirt (since I am one of of the "old guys who has always fancied himself a biker on the inside even though he has never learned how to drive one but still thinks 'live to ride' is a really cool slogan even though he's not entirely sure what it means") he turns flat blue eyes on me.

"It's a great ride, man," he growls. That voice that has seen a lot of smoke and a lot of booze.

At this point I suspect that he knows I am not a biker. The big camera around my neck, my New Orleans tshirt and my natty Tilley hat may have given me away. Still I am buying something from him and he's probably decided not to kill me just yet.

Out front of his store is a biker chick. Actually, she's one of those store dummies dressed like a biker chick. When I arrived, there were several bikers out front taking pictures of each other doing socially unacceptable things to her.

I thought she might make for an interesting picture, but the straight-on shots weren't working. I wanted to do something that would make the picture a little skewed. When I took it from above it made for a much more interesting graphic.

There's a restaurant about a block away from the biker place. Here the guys behind the counter have well rehearsed ways of interacting with customers. It's sort of like walking into a modern Marx Brothers movie.

A tourist asked for a straw. The guy behind the counter brings out a handful of real straw. Get it? If you ask for a napkin, they bring up a two options ("New or gently used?" he asks.)

After I placed my order for a cheeseburger and a peanut butter flavored malt (you just shush...) he asked me if I wanted mustard. I said I did and he pointed a mustard bottle at me and a jet of yellow squirted out of it and onto my favorite New Orleans tshirt.

For a second my brain does not comprehend this. Then I get mad. Then I realize that the yellow stuff is actually a yellow string. We both have a good laugh about that. (It is a good thing that I wasn't wearing my biker tshirt. If I had been, he would have been a dead man.)

I don't believe that travel pics always have to be the artsy variety. Don't get me wrong -- I can get as artsy as they next pretend biker in a Harley tshirt. But often something as a documentary shot of something as simple as a door can make a great subject.

Click on the yellow door and have a look at it. (This makes each picture it's original size. Isn't technology grand?) Do you see the two knobs? How about the hundreds of stickers? There's no place for a Rule of Fourths here. It's all just interesting stuff.

I find I can look at this one for a while. When I do, I will remember the heat. I'll remember that a peanut butter malt turns into a milkshake in about eighteen seconds. I will remember an enchanting couple of hours spent in Seligman, AZ -- a place that crackles with personality and that very special Route 66 magic.