To describe Las Vegas as hot in August is a bit like saying Mt. Everest is a kind of tall mountain. It’s a colossal understatement, to say the least. Saying it’s hot doesn’t even begin to cover the sensation of being hit with a hair dryer-like gust of breeze when you step outside … at 11pm.
In this heat, you just have to slow down – a tall order for someone whose resting state regularly sits at about Mach 3. In that way, this desert experience already has been a fascinating one for me. Slowing me down, making me ponder, and mostly figuring out how to ensure my trusty travel companion, Truman, could get his requisite level of outside time. Just a few steps into our Vegas journey and already it was clear that his quality of life experience in this town would be something less than acceptable for a dog who, at home, gets at least two hours a day play time in a park with tons of other dogs around.
On day two of our journey, knowing that the daytime temperature was going to crest a solid triple digits, I figured waking not long after the sun to get Truman out for a walk was a good idea. Thing is, at just after 8am already the temp was clocking in at almost 90 degrees.
Donning the least possible amount of clothing I could handle, slathering myself with ample coats of sunblock, jamming a hat on my head and pouring a bottle of water over Truman’s, out the door we went. I figured it was time to check out the neighborhood a bit more and see what downtown Vegas looked like in the glaring light of day.
I’d given a cursory glance to the few blocks immediately adjacent to The Ogden and taken a brief wander through the Fremont Street Experience (a longer stroll to be chronicled a bit later in the trip), but a daytime perusal of the neighborhood, was in order. Heading East out the Ogden’s front door it didn’t take long before I reached what felt distinctly like No Man’s Land. Block after block of empty lots surrounded by chain link fence, the skeletal remains of a hotel sign the only indication of what used to be in that space. Ghostly outlines of building foundations, the edges roughened and coarse with weeds that had shouldered their way through the sun-scorched concrete and asphalt.
Block after block of vacant buildings and empty lots speckled occasionally by the errant motel with signs showing daily and weekly rates. Every here and there the block might hold a few bungalows, their squat frames hunkered into the hard baked ground, windows and doors tightly shuttered against the sun and squinting behind security bars.
It might seem with a description such as this my take on this place was one of distaste. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were moments during my stroll when I was glad to be accompanied by a large dog as I realized the streets were devoid of any foot traffic or cars and the few folks I did see seemed to be glaring at me. That may have been my mother’s voice in the back of my head giving me warning that I shouldn’t be walking alone in a such a place. That nothing good could come from wandering in a desolate neighborhood.
Here’s the thing. What I began to see in this vacant place, was opportunity. For starters, there are the people. Granted, as I noted there weren’t many folks up and out at this hour, but on the few occasions when I crossed paths with someone the experience was distinctly pleasant. What I had thought were glares, I realized, weren’t glares at all. Rather, when faced with such punishing sunlight and heat, that expression was more one of cringing against the heat, an expression that I found melted from people’s faces almost immediately when they saw Truman. Without exception, every person glanced at Truman, cracked free from the grimace and grinned usually saying something along the lines of “Cool dog.” Then they’d make eye contact with me, smile and say “Good morning.”
Perhaps it’s the ice breaker of a wagging tail that did it, but upon reflection I can’t help but think that the people who I encountered were smiling at something beyond that. There’s something about being seen, about being acknowledged and about having someone say a simple greeting that just makes us feel … well … human.
It’s unquestionable, of course, that this area needs development – badly. It also made me wonder how all the bright shiny development plans would account for those who inhabit this area, those who seem to be living on the fringes of society in a literal and figurative sense. Invariably soon after revitalization and development another word comes in … gentrification … and it is in that time when folks such as this generally are swept under the rug, or more accurately swept away.
Seeing the open and welcoming faces, expressions of people who saw my presence as something positive, I headed back towards the Ogden, thinking … I hope they are right.
To check out more photos from Day 2 of my Zappos & Downtown Project adventures, you can check out this Flickr set. (It includes pictures from other adventures that day, which are covered in the next post…)
The thermometer photo at the top of this post is courtesy of Shutterstock.