Crazy is on the Bus: How to Park on First Friday

Last week I interviewed Joey Vanas, a managing partner of First Friday. (There are five managing partners in total, including Tony Hsieh, but Vanas is the one with his boots most often on the ground, so to speak.) We talked about the future of First Friday, which is unlimited, and the profitability of First Friday, which is nonexistent.

Near the end of the interview, I asked him to address the parking complaints. The alleged lack of parking for First Friday—and for downtown Las Vegas in general—is a huge sticking point for FF haters: “I’d go down there if there were any parking.” Vanas is a chill guy; to paraphrase Vonnegut, he glows like a bass drum with a light bulb inside. But the parking question shook his cool.

“Here’s the big secret: there’s not a lack of parking,” he said, mouth firmly set. “You live downtown; you know this. Other people live downtown; they know this. To be candid, I’m just sick of reading all these dumb articles about, ‘There’s no parking, and it’s the biggest challenge downtown.’ If that’s all we want to talk about, people aren’t going to come, because it’s just going to scare them off.

“I’ve been to a lot of big cities all over the world, and this is the easiest one to park in,” he continued. “Go park in New York, Boston, Seattle or Los Angeles.”

I nodded vigorous agreement. Parking in Seattle is a fucking Herculean endeavor. After two years of trying to find a parking spot on Capitol Hill on Friday and Saturday night, circling and re-circling the same five blocks for nearly an hour, I simply sold my car and got on a bus—and there I stayed.

“There’s not a shortage of parking,” Vanas continued. “We have tons of spots. We run five free shuttles every single First Friday. We have two open-top buses that carry 70 people at a time going back and forth to the Government Center, which is three miles away. You could walk that if you wanted to. There’s unused parking spaces every single First Friday. Just go to the (Clark County) Government Center, park and hop on a shuttle. It’s free parking; it’s free shuttle service. I don’t know of any downtown event that does that.

“There are two shuttles that run back and forth between Fremont East to the Get Back Alley location,” he continued. And there’s the Stewart parking garage on Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart, with 600 spots. About 50 of them get used. And they’re just a half a block, two blocks away.”

I bring this up for two reasons. One is that Vanas really does seem bothered by this “no parking” thing, and he’s a really nice guy and I want to do him the favor of getting the truth out there. The other reason is because something that I actually heard at the last First Friday.

My friend and I had just finished dinner on Fremont East, and we needed to get to Blackbird Studios at Commerce Street and Utah Avenue. She began to lament the parking situation —“Hope we can find a spot over there”— and I suggested the open-top tour bus shuttle, which was actually stopped not 20 feet away at the entrance to the Get Back Alley. It was empty.

My friend shook her head. “I’ve never gotten on a bus in this town, and I never will.”

Now, her reasons for not wanting to take a bus here are her own and I’m not about to criticize her for them, especially because she has a really nice car, and the piousness of my no-car quest notwithstanding, I’m not above accepting the occasional ride. But she’s far from alone. There are thousands upon thousands of Las Vegas who consider themselves true urbanites,
people who speak feeling of their desire to live in “a real city”—but they’ve never taken public transportation and they never will, because why would they? Why take a bus when you have a car?

That’s easy: because there’s not a parking spot open in front of the Blackbird, and the lot at the Artfice is full. It’s not a city-design problem; it’s yours, and those of your friends, every one of whom drove their own car. Just get on the bus and nobody gets hurt.

Most Las Vegans would rather drive a mile than walk a foot. And until now, they haven’t had to walk anywhere, or to consider a transportation option other than their car. First Friday confounds them: Where’s the valet? Why don’t they just hold this thing in a casino?  And it’s a real shame, because First Friday could provide a valuable lesson in getting around Las Vegas car-free for those willing to accept it.

Just try it. Park at the Government Center and hop a free bus. Or, if you live on the west side, park at the Westcliff Transit Center at Westcliff Drive and Durango Drive and take the Westcliff Airport Express; the schedule is here. And don’t think of it as a capitulation or a surrender; think of it as part of the experience of living in a city, because it is.

You may feel a sense of disconnect the first time you try it. You’ll worry about the safety of your car, even though it has just as much chance of being robbed or vandalized with you only a half-block away. But then another feeling will take over: a kind of abandon. You don’t have to re-park that thing. You don’t have to battle traffic. And if you take the bus from home and a cab back, you don’t even have to watch your booze intake.

And it can all begin on a nice, clean tour bus. Shit, if all of RTC’s buses were as nice as the open-tops being used for First Friday, I’d be positively ecstatic at the idea of hopping one. You could try this for your own sake—or you could do it for Joey Vanas, who would like to see this matter closed.

“If you have a car, then you just need to check out the First Friday website. It has a giant button that says, ‘Parking.’ It’s the biggest thing on there,” he says.