For the record, I don’t really like Las Vegas.
It’s a dry, hot, mostly nocturnal place pervaded by an array of things that I either don’t do or don’t find interesting. At least that’s how I’ve categorized it to-date. I suppose that’s a pretty strong view considering the only times I’ve ever been here have been to attend the tech-oriented trade shows that infiltrate the City of Sin every year. From the long-gone COMDEX and now-struggling Interop to BlogWorld Expo and of course, the Consumer Electronics Show, my luggage tags generally read LAS when I’m here to work 12-15 hour days compounded by late night dinners and all-night rabblerousing for a five-day stretch with no break. I go home exhausted and sounding like a cross between Debra Winger & Demi Moore with a suitcase filled with clothes reeking of smoke.
So when I ran into Tony Hsieh at the AllThingsD conference in May and he suggested I come to Las Vegas for a little adventure this summer, my immediate thought was, “Vegas? For an adventure? And in the summer no less? Um … that’s just crazy.”
Here’s the thing, Tony Hsieh is one of the varsity level entrepreneurs whose opinions I truly respect. He’s among a special class of folks whose professional ambition never dilutes his drive for personal growth and doing good in the world.
He explained that there’s this “Downtown Project” happening in Vegas, that there are some cool music and art festivals, that there are amazing entrepreneurs and besides, the place I’d be staying is dog friendly and Truman could come too.
So into my car I hopped and after a few days in Los Angeles, it was off along I-15 and through the high desert to Las Vegas.
The nearly five-hour drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is a pretty uneventful one, but damn is it a feast for the eyes. Once you’ve passed through the depressing urban sprawl beyond Ontario and Pomona and cut north on I-15 what opens before you is nothing short of spectacular. The sky goes forever, painted with the kind of clouds that make you want to lay on the ground and pick out what forms you see – an old man’s face, a rabbit leaping from a fox, or as in this one, a little bit of love…
Okay so you may not want to actually lay on the ground since it’s all pretty rocky, sandy and peppered with many varieties of scrub brush and cactus-like sprouts, but you get the idea. Rock formations and cloud sculpture aside, there’s the breathtaking light that paints the scene. All soft ambers and muted copper earth tones, dancing shadows from the clouds creating glorious abstracts along the rough edges of land. Just spectacular.
It’s probably about 40 miles outside of Las Vegas when the desert floor fully flattens, the mountain ranges pull away and you come into that literal home stretch of straight highway heading into town. Just as I know Tony Hsieh to be a stand-up guy who walks the walk and talks the talk, so too is my perception of the company he leads, Zappos. From all accounts – both written by press and from those who work there, this is a business that prides itself on being a great place to work and giving back to the community. The first signs of this appear, literally, on this last stretch into the city that Zappos calls home.
I don’t recall precisely how many one-mile stretches were marked by a Zappos sign, but suffice to say by the time I began counting I reached more than a dozen as I got into the City limits. (UPDATE: I asked Tony about this and he informed me that Zappos sponsors the highway from Vegas city limits all the way to the California border!)
Bypassing all the exits I know – the ones that drop you into Mandalay Bay, the Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan, or any of the other metallic coated high-rises along the strip – I slipped off the freeway and into the downtown area. It was at this point I could see why this Downtown Project is so necessary. The streets were mostly desolate and the people who were wandering around at this dusk hour seemed to have just staggered from a dark place and appeared to be searching for another shadowy spot into which they could slip.
I reached The Ogden, which would be home to me and Truman for the next 10 days and found a warm welcome from one of the Downtown Project posse. My digs, superb. A 22nd floor perch looking East to the hills and over the the edge of Las Vegas.
This morning Truman and I awoke and took a quick stroll around the block, the highlight of which was Truman’s debut as Vegas’ newest crooner:
And now I’m about to hop in the Zappos shuttle and get a full Downtown Project tour and get a sense of what all this about … I have a strong sense of adventure to come…