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CityLife’s writers explore their favorite places

Red Rock Overlook
Red Rock Overlook
The Fruit Loop on Friday ...
The Fruit Loop on Friday ...
The Fruit Loop on Saturday, which was National Coming Out Day
The Fruit Loop on Saturday, which was National Coming Out Day
Sahara West Library
Sahara West Library

CityLife’s writers explore their favorite places


Where my brain does its noisiest thinking

Red Rock Overlook

It takes me 30 minutes to get to the Red Rock scenic overlook. It’s an awfully long drive to seek out uninterrupted writing — something that can be, and is designed to be, done anywhere. And especially since it is, pretty much, just a rest stop with no Google Map footprint, a concrete outhouse and some steel tables and a ring of parking spaces. But it’s the only place in Las Vegas I’ve ever achieved silence. I mean real silence. Like before the cars, the people, the big Korean tour groups spilling out of pink, amphibious-looking buses and taking pictures of the red shocks of geology slashed across the horizon, all of your thoughts seem extremely loud in contrast to the 7 a.m. quiet, paragraphs and headlines pouring forth like your right cerebral hemisphere is screaming at your frontal lobes.

There’s a steel picnic table at a manmade ledge above at least a mile of flat, sparse desert flora. A place you’d picture Tommy Lee Jones delivering that last monologue from No Country for Old Men. Or what Chief Bromden would evaporate into if the hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were located in the desert. I go up there to work because of that silence and to a lesser degree, no Internet or phone service — I’m cut off. It’s the last outpost before the long, graying drive to Pahrump and an easy rendezvous after taking the Red Rock scenic loop, so, depending on the time and day, it’s saturated with cyclists and motorcyclists, both climbing into the midlife-crisis age.

There’s a curved scale of belonging here. The biker crews — not the doctors on touring Triumphs but the guys with the massive packs strapped onto the backs of their faded Harleys, their leathers beaten and patina’d, whether by weather or road rash or barstools, their faces resembling fungus-covered prunes — they stay the longest, treating the shaded picnic tables like their personal clubhouse, making lunch and telling jokes in voices that sound like pouring sand into a coffee can. Then come the weekend warriors, the lawyers who blare Bachman Turner Overdrive and wear helmets with built-in headsets and climb off their bikes with the bowl-leggedness and misplaced gusto of much more worldly men. The men whose purchases may or may not have been inspired by their wives Netflixing The Motorcycle Diaries. They stay almost as long, parking their hogs in little circle-jerk cliques and comparing the aftermarket modifications they’ve made, like an overstuffed ostrich seat for those long rides to Henderson. They keep their distance from the Harleys. After them are the hardcore road cyclists, the guys in the neon lycra who belong based on effort, whose hustle you can’t knock, whose 100-mile ride was just to blow off some steam before heading home to catch the Patriots kickoff. Then come various genomes and cultural phenomena, way down the line to the tourists, the Californians stopping to take pisses and pictures with a German foursome on their way back from Death Valley. They stay the shortest time, just long enough to breathe the hilly air and take in the sheer magnitude of all this fucking nature.

I’m somewhere in between. I stay the longest, the front seat of my Toyota stacked with sandwich supplies and bottles of water, Clif bars and memo pads. But I seldom leave the car. I’m not here to meet fellow travelers and talk about my next trip, nor do I have any biker gang affiliations or any desire to gain them any time soon. To me, it’s an office with bigger windows, a better view and a tremendously dirtier toilet. A zen state only penetrated by the occasional “say cheese!” shrieking through my sunroof and intermittent America-loving rock ’n’ roll noise pollution. But that’s the loudest it ever gets. Even the Pandora stations cut out halfway through the final leg of the trip, pushing further and further away from civilization and cell phone towers. Like I said, it’s an awfully long drive. MAX PLENKE


It’s time to bring new life to the hub of gay Vegas

The Fruit Loop, Swenson Street and Naples Drive

“Excuse me.”

Those are words I haven’t uttered at the Fruit Loop in years. As I weave in between small groups of people on the Naples Drive sidewalk, I wonder when I last saw any sort of bustle in Las Vegas’ de facto gay nightlife district.

I’ve paid the area a visit for National Coming Out Day — a misnomer only in that no one I see has that half-terrorized, freshly decloseted look on their face. This is literally a “come out to the Fruit Loop … we want you back!” event.

And they did. In my most recent visits, I had that sidewalk all to myself. Now, I’m nearly being crowded into the gutter by, among others, lesbians wearing Wiz Khalifa T-shirts, straight couples walking very intently toward their destination and someone who looks a lot like the gay dude from Who’s The Boss.

Normally, Fruit Loop visitors park behind Get Booked — imagine a gay general store — and head straight into one of the nearby bars or clubs: Piranha (guys who hate Krave), FreeZone (mostly lesbians, guys who hate Piranha) and The Buffalo (everyone else, especially bears and leather daddies). Gays with edgier sensibilities might walk around the strip mall and drink at the Double Down, which isn’t a gay-identifying bar (the Ass Juice notwithstanding). The once-thriving Gipsy — now for sale/lease — is only open late Saturday nights, for those hip-hop homos. The scene outside is generally quiet.

But during NCOD, the queer folk mill about outside, and the scene looks like a less-busy Pride festival. People are lined up for two-for-one beer; playing carnival games; cheering on waifish, shirtless boys who joust (not a metaphor) in a rubber ring (ditto); watching drag queens act like the gay clowns they are; and patronizing the various booths and tents, where you can score lube and Obama shwag.

It’s not a party, but it’s a gathering, and I suspect there’s a healthy turnout for such an event because, secretly, Las Vegas gays and lesbians like gathering. Much like Pride, it feels good to be part of something.

I felt that way when I started patronizing gay establishments in the late 1990s and early 2000s. You didn’t need rubber jousting tournaments or carnival games to attract people to the Fruit Loop, which has always been the closest approximation to a gay hub that Vegas has ever had. Gipsy was packed every night, and if you weren’t cruising inside, you were cruising the line, or you joined the throngs at FreeZone or Angles/Lace (now Piranha). Old men darted in and out of Get Booked for their porn rentals. During the day and early evening, hipsters drank coffee and read poetry at the old Mariposa Cafe. We hopped from place to place and socialized much like people do now at Fremont East. I miss that buzz at the Loop.

Bar and business owners would be wise to try to organize more, maybe smaller NCOD-like gatherings, especially once Krave’s Boys Lounge opens where the old Tramps lounge used to be. In fact, why couldn’t they follow First Friday’s example and celebrate, say, Second Saturdays? Get some booze sponsors — the adult beverage industry loves the gays — beckon over some food trucks, charge vendors to set up tents and use any money raised to pay for any necessary permits. Bring the stage out on special occasions. Bring the performers from our community out.

And most of all, bring back fun and energy to the Fruit Loop. MIKE PREVATT


Why my neighborhood grocery store feels like home

Smith’s, 850 S. Rancho Drive

A few weeks ago, I got fed up. My neighborhood grocery store didn’t have some ingredient that I needed — currants or capers or ginger or something. That’s it! I said. I’m done with my downtown neighborhood Smith’s. From now on, I would be doing my shopping in Summerlin, where they offer free sushi to shoppers and pale hardwood beneath an expansive selection of natural foods.

I pushed into this new Smith’s behind an empty cart. You could fit my regular grocery store into the produce section. And that’s when I started to get lost. Where do they keep the garlic? What’s up with the russet potatoes? Thirty minutes later, I moved on to the dairy case.

That’s when it hit me: I didn’t feel comfortable at this grocery store. And the prospect of mastering the sprawling layout of this suburban Smith’s suddenly seemed miserably daunting. I might complain about my Smith’s, but I know it almost as well as I know my house. I know the checkout codes for onions and bananas. I’m practically as knowledgeable as an employee. I once helped another customer locate a can of black-eyed peas, which, in a quirk of questionable shelving, was stashed among the yams and collard greens, instead of sensibly sitting with the beans. The other day, a man needed help finding a particular brand of seasoning salt. I knew right where it was. The selection and shelving are practically tattooed on my brain.

It’s lame, I know. I used to be cooler, and know my way around bars and rock clubs. But now I go to the store, and I go there a lot. The place is practically my extended pantry. I know a lot of the faces and some of the names. A checker named Tiffany made fast friends with my son. He looks for her whenever we go. I may quibble with the selection, but I never bitch about the staff. They are overwhelmingly friendly and helpful, even if they can’t point me to the nonexistent mustard seeds.

It’s not just the staff. I see my neighbors at the store. Jose and his son Abraham shop there. I see them a lot. But I really like it when I run into the neighbors who don’t know me. You see, I live on the wrong side of some Old Vegas communities, segregated by gates and guard towers. I’ve never been inside Rancho Bel Air or Rancho Circle, but occasionally, the residents wander over to the Smith’s.

I’ve seen a prominent Republican figure with a wholesome public image steering a cart loaded with vodka. I watched a married state assemblyman shamelessly flirting with a checkout clerk. Since my neighborhood is also kind of … transitional, I also watch homeless people shop the day-old baked goods and have been panhandled more times than I can count.

But the panhandlers aren’t the shopping center’s only hustlers. I’ve also encountered an intrepid troop of cookie-peddling Girl Scouts who could have sold a box of Thin Mints to Robert Atkins himself. I always buy my cookies from them.

Sure, I also like to drag my reusable bags to the occasional farmers’ market. The whole concept of knowing the people who grow your food sounds appealing, like something that might foster a proper sense of place. Chain groceries, by comparison, promote the robotic consumption of processed foods.

But a local politician at the downtown farmers’ market is almost guaranteed to be on his best behavior. I’m not going to catch one stocking up on liquor or whispering in a checker’s ear. We’re all just so comfortable at our Smith’s. Maybe I don’t know the farmers who provide the fruit, but at least I know the cashiers and stockers, and that may be all the community I need. AMY KINGSLEY


In a city of bogus buildings, a place that’s the real thing

Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara Ave.

Transportative. It’s a quality we strive for in Las Vegas but rarely achieve. And when we do, it’s almost as if by accident.

On the Strip we can stroll fake French streets, cruise Venetian canals, gaze at Egyptian pyramids, even time-travel to a cheapened medieval time. But where are the places that truly transport us? For me, it’s airports and libraries.

Airports literally takes us places, libraries figuratively. Visiting them lifts my spirits. I walk taller; my clothes look better; my IQ, it seems, is boosted. And if it’s really not, well, my confidence is.

The Clark County Library District impresses me in general. Its request system is brilliant, and most branches are well-kept and attractively designed. Still, one building particularly captures my imagination: the Sahara West Library.

I once posted an obscure photo of the library’s angular roofline on Facebook and asked friends to guess where it was. Some guessed the Guggenheim in Spain, others the Lied Library at UNLV, which is also stunning, but less accessible. Sahara West is an architectural gem in a city of mostly bogus buildings.

It’s not just the architecture that makes it shine. It’s the cultural appeal: The walking labyrinth, food festivals, meditation groups and various classes. The books, of course (props for the graphic novel collection). Even though it’s gone, the shell of the Las Vegas Art Museum, which used to show annual Asian art exchanges and before closing had the best modernist exhibition I’ve ever seen, with names like Kara Walker, Murakami, Basquiat — all owned by Las Vegans. Shocking, I know.

It’s like the library exists to say, “Look! We have culture! Look! We have learning centers!” And even in a time of diminished budget, shorter hours and fewer events, to me, Sahara West carries on to symbolize that we’re going places. KRISTY TOTTEN