The Spellout

Art, Culture & Unavoidable Spite

Category: Crazy is On The Bus

It Rained in Vegas

A couple of weeks back we had some beautiful monsoon weather in Las Vegas. I shot this video on the Strip-Downtown Express, using the slow-motion capability of the HTC EVO 4G LTE, while enroute from the Bonneville Transit Center to the Vegas Seven offices. The music is “The Trees in Juarez” by The Flashbulb, and I make no apologies for the butt-rock breakdown. I was actually listening to this song on headphones as I shot this video, and the big metal guitars kicked in at pretty much the precise moment as they do in the clip. Apologies for the wonky edits; I’ve never used iMovie before. Enjoy.

Crazy is On The Bus, Part 2: Can’t Get There from Here

Waiting Bus

It’s called the Strip & Downtown Express, or SDX. It’s the most direct RTC Transit route between downtown Las Vegas and the Wendoh Media offices, except it ain’t. Once I get to Town Square — the closest bus stop to the Wendoh offices on Post Road — I still have to walk through a shopping center, over a freeway and through an industrial park. It’s a 20- to 25-minute walk in the overachieving Vegas sunshine. My commute from Charleston and Rancho (where I catch the 206; I connect with the SDX at the Bonneville Transit Center) often exceeds 75 minutes, which kind of gives the lie to the whole “express” thing.

But that number doesn’t mean anything if the SDX isn’t running … which it doesn’t, by the way, between the hours of 12:30 and 9 a.m. So, if you need to be at a meeting at 9 a.m. — smack-dab in the middle of the time of day known in other cultures as “rush hour” — the SDX is not an option. You’re taking The Deuce.

On the off chance that Andrew Dice Clay is reading this, I should hasten to say that “The Deuce” isn’t the punchline to a joke about Immodium AD, but a double-decker bus that runs the length of the Strip, from Fremont Street in the north to Mandalay Bay in the south … and it stops in front of nearly every single property on the Strip, presumably so that tourists won’t be tempted to walk to some other casino to catch it. It’s a slow, noisy, and acutely aggravating ride, even in the morning hours. And this morning, for 60 glorious minutes, it was mine.

It wasn’t all bad. The view from the upper level of a Deuce is sensational — better still if you manage to get a seat up front, easy to do before 8 in the morning. I saw the D, the SLS, the LVH — our three “new” resorts, and also the least helpful Scrabble draw ever. I sat alongside tourists who tried to engage me in German and Japanese, and in the process, we learned that the word “hangover” is kind of universal. And I enjoyed the driver’s increasingly harried PA announcements: “Can someone on this bus help me to translate Spanish to English? No one on this entire bus knows Spanish? Seriously? Huh. That’s a … surprise.”

I realize that I’m close to being alone in this. If the RTC had a real need to run the SDX before 9 a.m., they would find space in the budget to do it. And if anyone else in this office was taking the bus to work — hell, anyone else in this entire fucking industrial park — I’m sure the RTC would take pity on us and install one lousy bus stop at Sunset and Polaris. But I fear it’s going to be a long time before the ridership numbers drive RTC to do these things, and by then I’m sure I’ll have given this up and acquired a car, or quit this job to take a new one as a Deuce-based Spanish-to-English translator. ¿Por qué, te preguntarás? ¿Por qué no?

LOOSE CHANGE:

  • Yesterday I tried to snap a few photos of the Bonneville Transit Center — as I said in the previous post, it really is a nice-looking facility. No sooner had the Nikon come out was I surrounded by four security guards, one of them on a bicycle, telling me to Cut That Shit Out or Else. I’m used to such behavior in Seattle — uptight repression is kind of a thing up there; we have a team training in it in anticipation of it becoming an Olympic sport. But I’d hoped that Las Vegas, a culture built on a foundation of ¿por qué no?, would be cooler than that. Nope, it’s the same deal. Oh, well, I was gonna call RTC’s public relations office anyway.
  • What’s with all the palm trees around the BTC and City Hall? I know we have to plant those stupid Bart Simpsons around the Strip so people will know we’re a resort town, but they have no place downtown; they guzzle water and provide virtually no shade. (Check out this piece in The Atlantic to learn how other cities are phasing palms out of their public planning.) I’m no gardener, but I don’t have to be to see that other kinds of trees can grow here — trees that look nice and provide much-needed shade in pedestrian areas.
  • I, um, I don’t really speak Spanish. I used Google.

Crazy is On The Bus, Part 1: Meet John Methhead

De Deuce

He had a very individual case of the shakes. He shook his head by twisting his shoulders to and fro; at the end of each motion he would crane his neck to look in whatever direction the inertia had taken him. His hair was long, blonde and stringy, partially contained under a baseball cap with the insignia ripped off. He sat on the bench with his legs crossed at the ankles, clutching a burner phone, and he muttered the word “animals,” urgently, over and over again.

I didn’t have to clock his smile to know that I’d met one of Las Vegas’ methamphetamine achievers. Truth to tell, I didn’t engage him at all; I stood a full two methheads’ length away from him as we two awaited the arrival of RTC Transit Route 206, westbound from the Arts District to McNeil Estates. This fucking guy was about to get on a bus with me, 11 p.m. on a Thursday night. Excelsior.

As it turned out, he didn’t follow me upstairs — many of RTC’s route buses are double deckers, purchased from UK coachbuilder Alexander Dennis — and the ride back to my friend’s house was quiet and uneventful, which meant that I had plenty of time and opportunity to think about the month ahead. I have elected to get around Las Vegas using public transportation from now until June 15, at which time I’ll begin pooling my resources to buy a car. Any fucking sort of a car, as long as it moves and has working AC. Hubcaps desired, but optional.

I’m doing this to prove a few things. I’d like to demonstrate that it’s possible, for one thing. Four years into a recession that more or less broke this town, Vegas has caught civic improvement fever. All of a sudden, this city wants to be a city, as opposed to a city-themed resort. The city’s downtown core is being redeveloped by young entrepreneurs, most prominent among them Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh; I’m too lazy to provide links, so just Google his name along with “Las Vegas” and brace yourself for a flood. The people here seem to want walkable neighborhoods at long last, and the way you get those is by A) creating a concentration of businesses, residences and civic amenities that are worth walking to, and B) leaving the car parked at home. Or getting rid of the car entirely, as I did when I moved to Seattle ten years ago. I want to prove to myself, and maybe to you, that it’s possible to do the same in a town that was built for, and probably by, single-occupant vehicles.

I’ve been back in Vegas less than a week, but in that time I’ve taken the bus almost a dozen times. I’m already beginning to learn the pluses and minuses of Vegas’ sprawling bus network, and I’ll be weighing them in this bl-g under the heading “Crazy is On The Bus.” (If I’m to do this fuckin’ dumbshit thing in the heat of a Las Vegas summer, at least I’ll feel like Samuel L. Jackson while I’m doing it.) I hope to demonstrate to you that the first step to building a pedestrian-friendly town is by taking an actual step. Yes, right past the carport; that’s a good fella. The bus stop is only a few minutes’ walk from your door, and thanks to a certain heavily medicated vigilante, it’s completely animal-free. You’ll be fine.

LOOSE CHANGE:

  • If you can, get on the upper level of those double deckers. The view really is something else — and half the people who ride RTC either can’t or won’t navigate those stairs.
  • I’ll say this right now: The RTC is nowhere close to covering this town the way Metro Transit covers Seattle. The 15-minute drive from McNeil Estates to the offices of Wendoh Media, where I now work, takes 50 minutes by “express” bus — and there’s an additional 25-minute walk after I disembark. Glad to meet you, June heat. Please don’t cook my brain; I may need it for stuff.
  • I know I’ve ripped on this before, but … the Strip bus is called The Deuce? Seriously?
  • The Bonneville Transit Center is really nice. Once some of the empty lots surrounding it are built up with apartments — and once the gub’mint pulls its head outta its ass regarding Juhl — it will become a very highly-valued civic asset. There’s a bike shop inside the terminal! Cool cool cool.
  • I’m not too proud to take a ride home, or to the grocery store, if one is offered. I don’t think it’s a huge dereliction of my purposes. Are you, um, are you offering a ride? I got five dollars you can put in the tank.
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