I contributed an essay to the book Fade Sag Crumble: Ten Las Vegas Writers Confront Decay. My essay, “The Sky’s the Limit,” tries to make some sense of the section of Las Vegas Boulevard between Sahara and Fremont, which I’ve long been fascinated with and where I’ve lived since the beginning of the year. The opening of the piece is posted below.
To launch the book, the editor (Scott Dickensheets) and contributors (Andrew Kiraly, Jarret Keene, Stacy Willis and others) are participating in a panel discussion at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Clark County Library Theater (on Flamingo Road just east of Maryland Parkway). The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing and reception.
See you there!
“The Sky’s the Limit”
On this stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, a pawnshop is the star. Many of the buildings are “Available”—and so are many of the men and women. People, typically supported by cables, throw themselves off the Stratosphere tower. Heirlooms are passed down not to a son or daughter, but a silhouette at the night window.
For a few years, Helldorado was held on this stretch of the Boulevard; now, a much more somber parade marches up and down it. The procession has some baggage, literally and figuratively. It’s tough to tell who’s talking to their headsets and who’s talking to themselves. There’s crazy … and then there’s downtown crazy.
This street is “unique as a peacock,” said the EZPAWN salesman—and at least as colorful. It’s an outstretched arm reaching for modern Las Vegas, said journalist John L. Smith, but can’t quite touch it. It’s a reality check, said a man renting scooters to tourists just north of Sahara Avenue (the line of demarcation).
It’s the wrong side of Sahara. Our Land That Time Forgot. A blind spot of local historians. Terra incognita. This is where the 9/11 terrorists stayed. This is where underground gambling dens become dry cleaners, and wedding chapels become art galleries run by the disabled. This is where 100-year-old men marry 32-year-old women.
Here, you can meet the love of your life (Downtown Cocktail Room), buy a wedding ring (Ace Jewelers), propose (top of the Stratosphere), get a prenup (John Peter Lee Ltd.), marry (Little White Wedding Chapel), get his-and-her tattoos (Precious Slut), consummate the marriage (Oasis Motel), spice up your sex life (Talk of the Town) and, if all else fails, file for divorce (Callister + Associates).
Elvis scored drugs here (of course, that can be said of a lot of places in town). If there’s a Homeless Elvis—and I’m betting there is—he hustles on these swastika-scarred sidewalks. He wakes at 9:30 a.m. on a newspaper bed in a lot formerly occupied by an hourly motel, blue suede shoes tucked under a soiled pillow. He runs a comb through his hair, cracks a crooked smile, then falls back asleep.