The heat. Without question that is the first thing every one mentions when I tell them of this journey to visit The Downtown Project in the dead of summer.
“How can you possibly go to Las Vegas in August?” (Well, I was invited…)
“Isn’t going to Vegas in the summer kind of like going to the surface of the sun?” (Well, kinda…)
All I could think was … what on earth do people do here with this heat? The truth? They do the same things everyone does everywhere else. Well, with some modifications, of course. In an ideal world, folks would be rising at or just before dawn to get any and all outdoor activity out of the way before the blistering rays of sunshine ripped across the horizon and across the Las Vegas Valley. Thing is, Vegas is a late night town, so early morning hours find most streets pretty desolate, save for folks like myself whose automatic body clock had me launching from bed around 6:30am.
As I described in this post, there’s a distinct sense of desolation that spreads for blocks and blocks of the downtown grid. Beyond the immediate hustle and bustle around the Fremont Street Experience and the stretches of street that lie immediately adjacent to this area, a pedestrian wandering downtown Las Vegas would be well served to do so only during the day and preferably not alone.
It’s not that it’s dangerous mind you – at least not hold-up-at-gunpoint type dangerous – but there’s a sense of, well, I’ve said it already but in repeating perhaps you’ll note the emphasis, desolation.
I knew there had to be things happening. Otherwise all these folks wouldn’t be coming here and certainly after hearing Andy White’s grand description of what was to come, I had a feeling there were some gems yet to be uncovered.
I was right.
After returning from my early AM stroll, I dropped Truman back in the blissful chill of air conditioning at The Ogden and made my way over to The Downtown 3rd Farmer’s Market. Held every Friday from 9am to 2pm, this collection of local farmers and produce purveyors is touted as the “largest indoor Farmer’s Market in Las Vegas.”
I walked into the market, and almost immediately my San Francisco snobbery set in. During my walk through I assessed and said to myself that the local market on Fillmore Street is about three times larger, that the produce was better, that there was better selection; but as I wandered around, something interesting happened. I began talking with the folks at each of the stalls and for once I began to wonder if size really mattered.
We Northern Californians are ridiculously spoiled when it comes to this sort of thing. Almost every neighborhood of San Francisco has its own small market and of course there are also the monster markets both on Alemany Street as well as the mother of all Farmer’s Markets at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza. Of course the farmers and vendors are all friendly and such, but let’s face it the yuppifiation of the Bay Area does incline conversations at the Farmer’s Markets there to look something like this:
Okay so maybe they aren’t quite like that … at least Gallagher doesn’t tend to be running around whacking melons… but you get the point.
My stroll through the Downtown 3rd Farmer’s Market was decidedly different. When they found out I was visiting from the Bay Area there were the usual comments about how great SF is, but quickly the conversations turned to the blossoming community around Las Vegas and how farmer’s markets were growing by leaps and bounds.
The woman whose face I posted above was selling an amazing selection of handmade soaps, scrubs and oils. Rich, earthy and utterly intoxicating I found myself standing at her stall for about 30 minutes talking about the power of scent, the amazing phenomenon of olfactory memory and of course how she makes her sugar scrubs. Walking by another booth a young woman called me over and invited me to sample some of the greens they had to offer. I ended up walking away with several bunches of random roughage that ended up happily tossed with Meyer lemon infused olive oil (also purchased in the market) later that day.
Laden with bags and feeling as if I’d just found a bit of home in this strange town I made my way back to The Ogden for a workout and some rest.
Respite enjoyed, it was time to head out again, this time with a gang of the Downtown Project posse, some Zappos folks and other guests who were in town. Our destination – First Friday, a monthly artwalk gathering in the arts district of Downtown. Boarding Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness bus we were on our way.
There is much that can be said about First Friday. At some point in the future I think this gathering merits an entire post of its own, but for now I’ll just say this. When the bus cruised into the neighborhood my first thought was, “There’s a festival here?” Then we turned the corner and under the distant shadow of the Stratosphere lay a technicolor explosion of people, art installations, performance artists, booths with vendors, live music and laughter, lots of laughter.
Oh, and two full blocks of food trucks, which made me happy.
A couple of hours, some shopping and a random path crossing with a roller derby girl (which leads to a story for tomorrow), it was back to The Ogden and off to sleep, musing on the surprise that is this strange place of Downtown Las Vegas.
For a full complement of photos from day 2 of my Zappos & Downtown Project adventures, you can check out this Flickr set.