I write to you, dear reader, from Fremont Street in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here at my hotel – the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino – I wait out the extreme midday heat, letting my somewhat brackish lunch digest. The room is decent; the bathroom is functional. Smoking is allowed so how could a patron possibly complain? Come evening, the casino downstairs will host some girls dancing on the blackjack tables. It’s a ripe old institution. Should I tire of tight shorts and free drinks, I can step outside and experience the point blank explosion of neon signs, strip clubs, and gambling halls. Caddish patrons stumble on the cobbled streets, hunting flesh and penny slots.
Fremont Street isn’t cool or luxurious. The only movie stars to frequent this downtown section of Las Vegas have died of old age. It’s the anti-thesis of The Strip. It is to The Strip as Bushwick is to the Meatpacking District.
The entire reason I am here is due to the fact that I am broke – so broke that I could not even afford the 40 measly dollars that The Orleans wanted to charge me. Rather, I decided that $20 was a reasonable price for a room I will rarely spend time in. Furthermore, gambling is much cheaper in this part of town. The Bellagio would bankrupt me in 4 and ½ minutes. Locals like to suggest that Fremont Street joints let you win more. They rely on smaller sums, but longer gaming time. From the looks of some customers playing the slots downstairs, they’ve been sitting in those same chairs, chain-smoking since 1973.
The neon signs outside are all smoking cowboys, suggestive women, and the words “casino” and “live girls” in big red letters. Overhead, a massive screen running the entirety of the street, flashes a spastic lightshow. You have your pick of cheap buffets, drunken revelers, and oddly enough, a rather fancy Starbucks.
Even at 8 am, the place has a compelling broke ass vibe to it. As I headed to Walgreens for some coconut water, I noticed groups of haggard alcoholics planning the day’s hustle as dealers and waitresses prepared their tables.
Afterwards, I wondered what to do with my day as a wastrel tourist who couldn’t possibly afford admittance to one the city’s illustrious pool parties. As it turns out there are plenty of things to do.
1) Pawn shops. Sounds weird I grant you but pawnshops are really the poor man’s free museum: vintage signs, machinery, guns, swords, and plenty of guitars and jewelry. Pawnshops tell the story of the modern mortgaged American world. A word of advice: ignore the Pawn Stars shop. It’s actually quite boring.
2) Plant World Nursery. The air in Las Vegas is currently 110 degrees of dry heat crushing down on a monochrome wasteland. Plant World has cool mist and green foliage. Given the option, I would sleep there.
3) FlightLinez Zip Line. It’s a zip line that runs the length of Fremont Street. The price of a ride is a rather odious $15; yet as long as you don’t have a heart attack the experience will give you soaring spirits! YES SOARING SPIRITS!
4) Tour the casinos. If you like watching realty TV, then you’ll love a good tour of the lavish casinos on the Strip. They might not allow you in the clubs. Nor will you be able to afford their restaurants or their poker tables. Yet, they can’t keep you out of the hotel itself. The Venetian offers an utterly tacky, suburban version of Venice. The Paris, Las Vegas boasts a ceiling that mimics the sky. And there’s plenty more silliness.
5) If you have access to a car, check out Lake Mead or Valley of Fire State Park. There are also three or four Western ghost towns in the area, like Calico. There is also a former outdoor cathedral set in a ravine about 50 miles west of the city near Pahrump.
6) Neon Museum Walking Tour. It’s free and you’ll see the very raddest of neon that Las Vegas has to offer. You can also get totally hammered, so that’s cool too.
Photo Credit: The Krav