Saturday, October 25, 2014

Finding a thing called "beauty".

I have always found our desert city to be beautiful. At least as far back as I can remember recognizing and appreciating such a thing as “beauty”.

Almost every Sunday, growing up, my Dad would be driving my brother and I back to our Mother’s house. There were two common routes to choose from. Eastbound, straight down Washington Avenue from Michael Way to Pecos, or “the expressway”, 95 South from Decatur Boulevard to Eastern Avenue.

Where the freeway rounds the Meadows MalI and peaks at Valley View, I would, and still do, admire the downtown hotels juxtaposed to Frenchmans mountain. The setting sun behind us illuminating the buildings, everything just looks so crisp. I just loved it. Not just that sight but the entire valley for that matter. I love that you can see all the way across the valley on a clear day. There are incredible vantage points for these scenic views hidden all over the city.

As a teenager in this town, working construction, building the suburban neighborhoods which now surround us, I would live for the days where I would be working high on a hill with a commanding view of the city. From Paradise Hills to Horizon Ridge to Sun City and beyond. It does not get much better than looking over Las Vegas the morning after a nice rain storm.

I did not actually see the Las Vegas that others complain about until I was 26, working with a crew of L.A. and New York people for six weeks downtown. I just did not see it. I can see the sunshine and feel the crisp, dry air. I see the lawns of green grass and innumerable species of trees. My co-workers see smoke and smokers and morbidly obese people on “Rascal” scooters. They see the dead stare in the faces of video slot players. They see a town void of charm. All of the sudden, I can see them see me and I am the desert equivalent to a country bumpkin who don’t know no nothing about the cultured life in the big city. I do what I can to share the beauty that I believe my town offers to those who are ignorant of our ways. Nothing makes a dent.

This was quite a large pill to swallow.

Later that year, I began to do some travelling by myself. I drove up Nevada, over into California through Lassen National Forest, past Mount Shasta and into Oregon. My first visit to Oregon was a little overwhelming. Mostly because I did not have any person to really share it with. The intense greens, the flowing water, the air, the trees- each experience triggering the memory of a different person that I wished that I could share it with.

I knew several Oregon folks who lived in Las Vegas as well as many Las Vegans who transplanted to Oregon. What a marvelous coincidence or perhaps pattern, I thought to myself. Kids from the desert crave mountains and rain, while Northwesterners seriously dig the sunshine and arid climate.

After visiting Bend, Oregon in a vain attempt to find some long lost friends, I headed West and made it the coast just in time for sunset. The next morning I proceeded South down the coast, back into California through Eureka, past the mighty redwoods, into some wine country and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh my lord, cruising through San Francisco with my windows down on a Summer night with that intoxicating bay breeze cascading through my nostrils- wow. I wish I could afford to stay, but alas, my budget is being devoured by gasoline and I need to make it as far as possible every day.

I post up with my cousins in Morgan Hill and take a day off from travelling. My cousin Pam’s tuna casserole is so unbelievably good. I can’t believe how hungry I actually am. But it’s true, you spend all day driving, not really burning any calories, it’s easy to go without eating. I must have been pretty famished because this tuna casserole is like the best thing I have ever tasted- and we both know that cannot possibly be true.

This is Steinbeck country. Driving through these dusty yellow molehills reminds me of the vivid descriptions put forth in the book East of Eden (and other works from John Steinbeck). It’s really not very pretty. At least in the Summer during yet another famous California drought. Come Spring, if the winter is any good, these hills will green up and burst with wildflowers, but today it is a depressing, dusty, dry earth- the kind that our ancestors moved away from.

I know this path, I have been passenger on this journey more times than I can remember. Just 8 or so little hours and I will back in my humble desert.

It seems that the farther South you travel in California, the scarier the drivers become. By the time I reach Baker, it feels like an all out race for your life. Judging by the speed and intensity of the motorists, I believe the state just might be really falling into the ocean. Cars are passing each other on the shoulder, even.
These people are nuts.

I, on the other hand, am cautious and I allow the speed demons to race ahead. Again, it is just about sunset and the sky is painting the desert in pinks, purples and oranges. This has always been the impossible hour. You are getting so close to Las Vegas, but can’t yet see it. This is the perfect hour to arrive. The sun is almost completely out of sight, yet a solitary beam is splitting the sky and reflecting against the mirrored Strip hotels. The sky is a dimming blue and a plethora of twinkling lights are turning on. This is the moment that my city comes into view and it is positively gorgeous.

Hold on. Wait a minute.

South Point?

When I left here last week that brand new hotel was called South Coast.

Wow. That is Las Vegas for you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vegas Valley Book Festival

Dear Friends,
It’s almost Saturday already. Are you ready?

As if the weather has not been picturesque enough these last few days,, the weather wizards are predicting an even milder afternoon with partly sunny skies (high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit).

I can hardly imagine greater weather for the 13th annual Vegas Valley Book Festival, October 16-18, 2014, Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S Fourth St.

The festival events take place at a number of locations, check the event schedule for full details.

I, however, will be sitting at table #9 in the poetry courtyard, Saturday October 18th, 2-4 pm.
Do come say “Hi!”
Speaking of my book.

Have you bought my book lately?

I just learned that You can order hardcover versions of the book, either with a dust jacket or image wrap. Yours would be very rare, as I only ever printed softcover books.
The hardcover books do cost substantially more than the softcovers, but I suppose they last longer and are “nicer”. I don’t know. If you’re interested in getting the only hardcover copies of my book (for your collection).
Order here.

Have you heard the buzz?
National resale retailer Buffalo Exchange has opened on Main Street, right here in our very own 18b Las Vegas Arts District. In case you were unaware, Buffalo Exchange buys and sells clothing, so you do not necessarily need to be in the chips to go shopping. Just dig out your old threads that don’t fit or just don’t fit your style anymore and you bring them in for cash or store credit. Be aware, however, that they only buy what they think they can sell, so their buyer may turn down your wares based on their own judgment or opinion. It would be in your best interest to stack the deck, that is, bring in more than you want to get rid of.

Presto. You have a shopping tab.

As their neon in the window proudly states: “FRESH CLOTHES DAILY”

BOOK your next appointment TODAY at Hillary Salon. (702) 525 1053.
Not an appointment for today, mind you. An appointment for next week or the week after. We do appreciate when you give us at least day in advance heads up.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It gets better.

Our first two visits to The Market were less than eventful and perhaps my initial review of the new Fremont Street shop was more than necessarily scathing- I was just calling it as I see it.

Our Sunday morning walk brought us back to The Market for a follow up, as it did not appear that they were completely ready on our first encounters. This morning we are pleasantly surprised. The limited selections of ales and ciders previously on display have been flushed out and varied. There are prices now on display where many were previously lacking, allowing the consumer to comparison shop (for value).

The coffee bar was open, serving Stumptown Coffee (although a printed sign still declared “Coming Soon”), however we are not in the mood for coffee on this particular Sunday morning, if you catch my drift.

Which leads me to our biggest surprise of the morning, much of the booze is competitively priced. I would have bet my left leg that a place such as this, not unlike a Whole Foods or similar, would have their six-packs priced above market average. Here today, we stand stunned to discover that the hopped cider we were eyeballing the other day is a mere $6.00 American. Wait no longer, throw that puppy in the bag.

We are also in need of dish soap and sponges this morning, so we meander over to that aisle and deduce a reasonable brand of organic, zero-waste, environmentally sound, almond scented dish soap and a 3 pack of equally environmentally correct sponges. $3.69 and $3.19 respectively. Not a steal but not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination either.

On our first visit to The Market, we were 20 minutes early for the ribbon-cutting and learned from a nearby “Ranger” that the store would actually be open to the public thirty minutes after that. We decided to skip the hoopla and return the following morning, which we did.

Wouldn’t you know it, one of our friendly neighborhood friends sees us shopping, gives us a holler and we spend the next 10 or so minutes catching up and chewing the fat.

On our third visit, Sunday morning, before we can even reach the rear of the store, we see a friend and contemporary of ours taking everything in for the first time. A very similar, friendly back and forth ensues and we spend the next several minutes surveying the aisles, hashing about the store, what they have, what they don’t have, etc.,

At the end of the day, still a lot of mixed feelings. There are plenty of reasons for me to shop here from time to time. Still, so much of the store is redundant and priced far out of the realm of reasonable. Juice, for example. There seems to be some kind of organic juice on nearly every aisle. What gives?

Grab and go salads and hummus trays are there for your no-brainer, low cal lunches. Most of them are labeled Mediterranean and many feature a dish called “guacahummus”, although I could not find any dishes with falafel. I am going to go ahead and assume that “guacahummus” is precisely what it sounds like- a combination of guacamole and hummus? I am guessing that it must be pretty good because it is also mighty plentiful around the store.

Another comfortable amenity to The Market are there two, clean, unisex restrooms easily accessible for the public. Not an amazing advancement or anything but I am sure you have been to grocery stores and discovered their toilets under lock and key or hidden down some mysterious hallway. I know I have.

For whatever it’s worth, an empty bladder makes for a more comfortable and leisurely shopping experience. If only record stores could learn to adapt these practices.

So here is the jist. Our friend Josh suggests that the deli and coffee portion of the store is much more useful than the grocery half. An astute observation that I cannot exactly deny, except he does not actually live anywhere near here. My approach would be something more like, I can grab some odds and ends now when I am in this neck of the woods. It does not solve the downtown grocery epidemic, but it is really great to have something of this kind as an option, especially on this block.

Honestly, I stayed at the El Cortez a few times back in 2009 and the lack of these services nearby was very apparent. I still contend that a much more practical location could have been sought for this market, but I will admit that it does do a world of good for the neighborhood.

It’s really quite funny to be standing on the sidewalk there on Fremont Street looking up and down at all the sites, with groceries in tote, waxing on about nothing with a friend you had no expectations of bumping into on such a morning. It’s really quite fun also.

Friday, October 10, 2014

meh.. The (new) Market

So far, so lame.
At least from an urban pedestrian who lives 1.6 miles away perspective. This morning, unlike most mornings, we drove to the new Market on Fremont Street. Yes, right now, for the time being, we are car-sitting for a relative- that story is irrelevant here.

My expectations are not sky high for the new Market, as one could safely assume, the products will be “high end” and the prices will be set to preclude their intended target demographic.

However, I am incredibly eager for the promise of Stumptown Coffee Co. , right here in our desert. Originating in Portland, Oregon, quickly expanding to Seattle and beyond, Stumptown are famous in the world of coffee bean sourcing and roasting. The proof is in the pour. I promise, one cup of Stumptown, whatever your favorite coffee beverage is, and you will become a believer.

Anyhow, we are excited to finally get some of the coveted juice here in Las Vegas.

Along with the coffee bar and fresh sandwich cafe, is the promise of growler fills. A growler is a 64 oz container used to transport draft beer. Very popular in other parts of the country, still mostly just a beer-guy thing in our valley.

My immediate concern on this mornings visit to the new grocery is,
“Where should we park?”

As if downtown (Las Vegas) were not already famed for inadequate parking, nowadays every space on every block and every lot is pay-to-park. New Las Vegas transplants from far and wide accept paying hourly to park their vehicle as normal and everyday behavior. They were broken by their masters long before they moved here.

OK. I’ll play along.

We have Las Vegas’ first grocery store that charges for parking.

I have heard people complaining about the complexity of the new parking meters. To be honest, I thought this was a little silly. “Come on”, I thought. “”It’s not that hard.”

I take it back. The NEW new parking meter boxes have an even more convoluted concept that prevents any person parking from using leftover minutes on the meter. You G-D-Mother-F-ers!


Your tax dollars at work, Fry Man.

After a couple of minutes and attempts, we figure out HOW to pay for the freaking parking.

Upon entry into the market, I think to myself, “Oh geez, I bet a greeting is about to be hurled my way.” Without fail, here it comes. “Hi. Hello. Good morning.”

Before we even get our sunglasses off of our faces, Hillary has breezed right past nearly the entire produce department without so much as a glance. This indicates to me that they are going to need better presentation in that department. It may not often seem like it, but there is a science and art to displaying produce departments in appetizing ways that make you want to buy.

Onward to the coffee and beer! We meander over to the east side of the market where the services are located. After posting up in front of the counter for a minute, taking in the menu and all else to see, we notice a little sign that says “Coming Soon” blah blah blah “Stumptown”.

Right behind the vacant barista counter, we see the beer taps also with a sign which reads: “Coming Soon” blah blah blah “Growler Fills”.

OK. Well, the two things we came for are not here. Let’s look around at the rest of the market.

Spacious and predictable. A few small coolers featuring a limited selection of craft ales and ciders, an equally curated wine collection and mostly higher end, “all natural” and organic products line the aisles. Products that typically make up a small department in a major chain grocery store basically fill the entire Market. So, you can imagine, it does look very nice. There are many essentials that one does struggle to find in or around the single digit street neighborhoods- frozen veggies, potatoes and entrees for example.

I wanted to buy something from The Market this morning, just on G.P. (general principle), yet I could not find a single item that I could actually justify purchasing because I needed it in my kitchen. There were a couple of items, but like half of the store, there were no prices on them.

Sorry, but I am not going to be that sucker. I am not going to bring a 6 pack to the register and hope for the best, but most likely say “Hell No, I’m not paying $__.__ for a six pack of _____!” Or worse still, actually pay the exorbitant price simply because I already brought it to the register and prefer to save face. No sir. No thank you.

Maybe a breakfast sandwich from the counter then?

Whoops. Now there is crowd of 8 or so people at the counter (who have not seemed to order and no person is preparing anything at the moment), so we decide to pursue another option.

A brief conversation of timeliness, our location and time left on the parking meter leads us to O Face Doughnuts.
Two savory breakfast doughnuts and an iced coffee to go, please.

The newly remodeled John E Carson hotel is a real achievement for the highly publicized, often scrutinized, Downtown Project. It stands as a premier example of redefining the downtown landscape while maintaining some historical integrity.

That is another story, however, and today we’re talking about The Market.

Market, I just have to be honest, you have let me down.

#1-WHY be on Fremont Street ? Next to a tavern/entertainment district no less? Grocery stores struggle to maintain a small profit margin and must operate in volume in order to be successful. A more accessible location, yet still downtown, must have been available for a venture of this proportion.

#2- Paying to park. I have been to San Francisco and many other cities where parking is a privilege for the few and even in those “real cities” a person is allowed to park their car at the grocery store where they are shopping. They are quick to tow you if you are abusing their lots but the store itself (usually) allows for parking.

#3- The Market is open yet not ready to be open. Unfortunately, your two big lures that got me in the door, are not yet available. Hopes dashed.

#4- Where are the prices? Products that are not priced lead me to believe that they are “over-priced”.

#5- The Name?!? For an organization that allegedly has a “Director of Imagination”, they don’t display much creativity. “Downtown Container Park”, “Eat”, “Place on 7th” and now “The Market”. Take out your smartphone and ask it to find you anything regarding “The Market” and see how helpful it is.

#6- No Brussels Sprouts. OK, now I am nit-picking. I’m just saying. Frozen brussels sprouts. That’s all.

It is 1.5 miles from my house to Smith’s on Rancho and Charleston. It is 1.6 miles from my house to The Market (on Fremont Street).

What do you have that I actually need?

On the plus side, The Market appears to be a great lunch alternative for any persons who work in the immediate downtown area.

The Market is also be a tremendous addition for guests staying at El Cortez (or Cabana Suites).

I will return when the place is fully up and running, but for the foreseeable future, I will remain a regular at White Cross Market and Su Salud es Primero (Salvadorean bodega on Main Street).