I have driven a car on Fremont Street, from Las Vegas Boulevard down to Main, in the way of Hunter S. Thompson and James Bond. There was a time, believe it or not, when you could do such a thing?drive your car west through Glitter Gulch, with the casinos leaning in close to spill their illuminated promises through your windshield. You could do this without having to swerve around throngs of tourists, kiosks selling needless things and feral Smurfs. It was a wonderful experience, even if you were tempted to roll up your windows.
The modern-day Fremont Street Experience is a different animal. On the one hand, tourists seem to love its light canopy and outdoor mall, and I?m happy that they do; I want the resorts of Glitter Gulch to stay in business. I?m less fond of the Experience, but that?s fine; if I want a more localized Fremont experience, there?s always the Fremont East Entertainment District?Commonwealth, Insert Coin(s) and so on?ready to serve. In a way, Fremont East is what Glitter Gulch once was; it?s even become home to the tech inspection for the Mint 400 auto race, once a Glitter Gulch tradition.
Until recently, I was fine with the Fremont Street Experience being what it is and Fremont East being what it is. And then, like a bad dream, rose Slotzilla.
I don?t think I can begin to tell you how much I dislike this six-story, slot machine-shaped tower, built for the purpose of dispatching zipline riders through the airspace of the canopy to a smaller, equally unsightly tower deeper inside the Experience. But I?ll give it a try. Slotzilla is the nail in the coffin, the one last thing we needed to completely destroy one of America?s great scenic byways. I guess I?ve been holding onto some vague hope that Fremont, the street, would return?or at the least, that the canopy would come down and leave the pedestrian plaza, or vice versa. Slotzilla means no, uh-uh, not so much.
And I?m not sure I?d feel differently if I didn?t hate the size and shape of the thing (but I do) or if it weren?t a monument to a trend that will almost certainly peak and begin to decline in the near future. My problem with Slotzilla is ? well, let?s just say it?s kind of a feng shui thing.
Let?s say you?re a tourist at the Fremont Street Experience. You?ve got your bubblegum-flavored yard marg in hand and you?re ready to do some exploring. You look to the east and see Slotzilla, wedged between Neonopolis and the Fremont Street Experience. Maybe you beat your chest, scream ?YOLO!? in a manner not unlike that of an idiot, and decide to ride the thing. Or maybe you had a bad experience once?like your girlfriend left you for a zipline, or something?and you walk in the other direction. Either way, Fremont Street ended for you, right there.
As far as you?re concerned, Fremont East doesn?t exist.
Now, say you?re a young hipster standing on Fremont East, holding the leash on the llama or whatever you kids do. You look at the back of Slotzilla and nod approvingly, knowing that this great wall is keeping the zombies corralled. But then you look around you at the clip-art-style neon signs in the middle of the street, the jaundiced banners showing some model drinking a martini and the palm trees that afford absolutely no daytime shade, and you say, ?Hey, if we?re no longer an extension of the Fremont Street Experience brand, why is all this crap still up??
Seriously, I?m looking at Slotzilla every way I know how, and I can?t see it as anything but a spite wall between the Experience and the street of bar and restaurants that is, like it or not, quickly becoming Vegas? hottest entertainment block. Slotzilla is, plainly and simply, a self-created (zip)line of demarcation to keep tourists in and locals out.
But if that?s what the Experience wants to do, I guess I wish them well. I have friends under that canopy: The D, the Nugget, the Golden Gate and others. I?ll keep patronizing those establishments as if they were part of Downtown Las Vegas, and not just storefronts inside some hermetically sealed, jury-rigged Adventuredome. And if I ever steal a wistful look up the street and imagine what it?d be like to drive Fremont one last time, I?ll just, I dunno, jam a ballpoint pen into my leg or something. Negative reinforcement.
And I look forward to seeing what happens when I?m walking the other way and a tourist asks me what lies beyond the mighty Slotzilla. I?ll describe a place with rooftop bars and espresso bars, lined with shady trees growing into unrestricted airspace. ?And best of all,? I?ll say, ?it?s got some nice neon signs, and you can check them out from your car. Both directions.?