It was a 108 degrees in downtown Las Vegas. There were no shady palm trees to hide under, no forged oases to offer refuge, no fountains or waterfalls to suggest salvation. This was just concrete, and it was hot, faded and depleted, like the desert it was once planted on. The streets were close to empty, so were the casinos and bars, but there was an ambiance, a different one. Things seemed more real on this side of town, not like the spurious universe of the Strip. Downtown Las Vegas had an edge: it smelled authentic and vintage. And even though the air felt like the breath of a million hair dryers, and my face was as red as an angry Macaque’s, I was compelled to keep walking and shooting. For this was the heart and soul of Las Vegas.
The old Strip got killed in the 70s by the mega resorts popping up like Whac-a-Moles six miles away. Freemont Street’s retro light bulbs couldn’t compete with the Venetian gondolas and white splendor of Caesar’s Palace. It quickly became a forlorn place, destitute and sketchy. It wasn’t until recently, when Mayor Oscar Goodman made efforts to revitalize the area, that downtown became a destination for artists, locals and intrepid tourists. Downtown now has an Art District that celebrates its monthly First Fridays, the Mob Museum, a railroad yard turned into a buzzing symphony scene, hundreds of giant murals and the famous Neon Museum that I sadly missed. It’s an unassuming place, blessed with the appeal of history and just the right amount of weirdness. The fact that you’re in an oven is part of the experience, like a Disney ride for all the senses.