I woke up at 3am on Tuesday morning to catch a flight to Las Vegas. Usually a person leaves Vegas with eyes this red. Never one to procrastinate, I was a step ahead.
This would prove to be the only time.
I was embarking to Southern Nevada as Mabble’s representative for the purpose of connecting with potential clients. The plan was for me to sit down with them and see how Mabble could help meet their creative needs. This was meant to be a trip filled with meeting after meeting.
Well the plans changed.
All of my Tuesday meetings fell through at the last minute, so I found myself flying into Vegas with an impromptu Plan B, which was for me to show up unannounced and introduce myself to local small business owners at Fergusons Downtown, a revitalized hotel in Vegas’ Arts District that houses unique local merchants like Deeply Rooted, Hey Maker, and Le Pup Cafe. Given Mabble’s history of helping Reno artisans, Plan B was for me to initiate contact with their Vegas counterparts and explore the possibilities for creative partnerships.
I awoke from a 53-minute nap as my plane landed at McCarran International Airport 53 minutes after it took off. It was 6:15am. It was already 80 degrees. “I should have worn shorts” I thought to myself, despite possessing plenty of prior knowledge that Vegas is a sizzling pan of oil in June.
I’m a native Renoite, so I’ve always had complex feelings towards Las Vegas. I’m firmly on the northern side of the UNR/UNLV divide, and I think the grandeur of Tahoe easily eclipses that of the Strip. I possess a sort of Northern Nevada allegiance that gives me a sense of competitiveness with all things Vegas. But as a native Nevadan, I also maintain a state loyalty that gives me a familial affection for Vegas. It’s truly a sibling-like mixed bag of love and rivalry.
There are, however, many differences between our two cities that distance us—climate, size, and clout, to name a few. And we are, from a geographical standpoint, vastly distant (I often explain to non-Nevadans, as if it’s the most interesting factoid I know, that you can drive from Reno to San Francisco and back in the amount of time it takes to drive from Reno to Vegas). But we have long shared an infamous connection, a degenerate link characterized by the stereotypical desert vices of excessive gambling, smoking, drinking, blinking lights, and complaining about Californians. Nevada has a sordid brand history, in other words. As travel writer Bill Bryson once quipped, “What’s the difference between Nevada and a toilet? You can flush a toilet.”
But Nevada’s two major cities are in the midst of a “brand boom”, as we like to say in the creative industry (I assume someone in our industry has said this, but if not it’s mine). Part of this Brand Boom™ is thanks to burgeoning art neighborhoods in each respective city. Mabble’s office is located on California Ave., in the midst of Reno’s art explosion, which, with each passing mural and gallery, is helping erase the tired Reno 911 tropes from our history. Given my office location, I have been fortunate to be immersed in Reno’s artistic awakening. Now, I was given an opportunity to experience Vegas’ too, even if my Plan B for doing so was half-baked.
After getting my rental car, my first stop was Bungalow Coffee Co., situated in the Arts District in Downtown Las Vegas (or DTLV, for short), which the New York Times calls the “least Vegas neighborhood in Vegas”. After wolfing down the savory “Protein Breakfast,” an egg, cheese, sausage, and avocado symphony, as well as a large cup of handcrafted coffee, I chatted with the baristas, Josh and Taylor, about my grand plan to check out the art scene and ultimately visit Fergusons to talk with the local purveyors about Mabble’s creative services.
Then, while drinking my second large cup of Bungalow’s liquid art, one of Mabble’s owners, Bobby, texted to encourage me to take photos to chronicle my excursion for our social media. It had not occurred to me to do this, despite having convenient access to a powerful camera in the front pocket of my long pants. Bobby set very low expectations for quality, since I am easily Mabble’s least capable photographer. I delegated my first shot to Taylor, who snapped this gem.
Just outside of Bungalow, in the heart of the Arts District, is Art Way (coincidence? Methinks not). So I wandered around the vicinity and discovered several brilliant works of street art, including this heartwarming one:
Shannon said “yes” everyone!
In addition to matrimonial murals, this neighborhood features The Arts Factory, the “geographic and creative center of the Arts District” which is home to a few dozen artists and galleries. I entered in and curiously wandered the halls, scoping out a variety of exquisite charcoal and painted wall pieces, as well as Blue Sky Yoga studio.
There was plenty more to explore at The Arts Factory, but I had to depart to fulfill my plan of talking with business owners at Fergusons. This was originally meant to be a business trip, after all. I had to get down to business.
While on the way to Fergusons, though, I made an impromptu detour. As I drove down Maryland Pkwy, I passed by a facility known as The Center, which exists to support LGBT youth. I decided to pop in and check it out.
I spoke to a volunteer at the front desk who explained the resources of The Center—from a library to HIV testing to an array of classes, forums, and workshops that serve the local community. He told me “that he is especially proud of the bathroom,” and encouraged me to use it. I did (and I was going to even if I wasn’t invited on account of the copious amount of coffee I consumed at Bungalow). Turns out, The Center boasts an innovative all-gender restroom, the first in Clark County actually, that is a series of private restrooms couched within a larger one. This is the art of human compassion. He was right to be proud.
I perused The Center’s library for a bit, but then felt the urge to fulfill my plan of talking to the business owners at Fergusons. I got back into my car. It was 10am. It was now 95 degrees. My pants were still long.
I made it to Fergusons quickly since it was only a half mile from The Center. Plan B was about to be fulfilled.
But then my plans changed… again.
I discovered that, while Fergusons itself was open, the only business inside of it that was open was Mothership Coffee Roasters. The others, I was informed, only see customers Wednesday-Sunday. “I didn’t know that!” I said to the concierge, despite having access to endless information, including clearly stated details about Fergusons’ hours of operation, in the front pocket of my uncomfortably long pants.
Plan B turned out to be short for “Plan Busted”. Nevertheless, I decided to make the most of it. I toured Ferguson’s property, taking special note of an art installation of a semi-truck doing a back handspring.
Still on a mission to achieve my initial business goals, I came up with a Plan C—I would strike up conversations with decision-makers at the Downtown Container Park, an open-air shopping center with other unique shops and restaurants. This time I actually used the historically-unparalleled technology that slides conveniently in and out of my seasonally-challenged pants to learn that the Container Park opens at 10:30. With about a half hour to kill, I camped out in refreshing, air-conditioned Mothership Coffee, checked out their vintage record collection, and had a Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA. (Plan B ended up being reclaimed as Plan Beer.)
After finishing my hoppy beverage, I began walking to the Container Park. Along the way, two neighborhood guys stopped me to ask if I was a Mormon missionary. This isn’t the first time in my life I’ve been asked that. I told them “no,” but, given that I’m a clean cut white guy in a buttoned shirt sporting a black book (my notepad), I can understand why they would think this. (One of them confirmed that I couldn’t be, not because of my denial, but because I was “too old”.) We ended up talking about Mabble, my job as a writer, and their experience living in the midst of Vegas’ up and coming art scene. I think they eventually believed that I was not, in fact, there on a religious assignment.
Before we parted ways, my two new friends graciously informed me that, despite having access to a vast sea of resources, including an interactive and detailed map of Las Vegas, in the front pocket of my regrettably long pants, I was walking in the opposite direction of the Container Park and would certainly get mugged if I continued that way. It made perfect sense that the Downtown Container Park would be… downtown. I thanked my two heroes for saving Mabble from a dicey worker’s comp claim, and headed in the correct direction.
I managed to not get lost as I walked the quarter mile down Fremont Street, arriving at the Container Park safely yet sweatily. I meandered around its open space, checking out the various shops and family-friendly amenities.
Then I encountered an unexpected oasis of heavenly delight.
Two giant fans emitting a generous mist were hanging above the outdoor stage, which plays host to a variety of shows and concerts. At this moment, it was only hosting one perspiring dude. I took a pause to bask in the fluttering droplets of salvation. For a brief time, I lost awareness that I was, in case you’ve missed this detail, wearing long pants.
After returning to a livable body temperature, I realized that I was there too early, despite having just looked at The Container Park’s website. The businesses open at 11:30. This was not my day. Arriving too early at The Container Park gave me a moment to pause and realize that this was not the spot to fulfill my original business goals, so I decided to pivot. Plan D was hereby established—I would turn my failed plans into a travel blog post about art.
Moments after this strategy change I met a man who helped propel the narrative. His name is Ziggy, a local artist operating the eponymous Ziggy’s Art Studio. I told Ziggy I was going to write a piece about the art in Vegas, so he became my unofficial guru, educating me on the local scene. On the negative side, Ziggy told me, art galleries are scarce and the ones that do exist are being pushed out due to soaring rent prices. But on the positive side, Vegas’ brand boom™ has produced a motherload of street art around downtown.
Ziggy then told me about a piece that I would encounter and appreciate, that reminded him of an artist whose name briefly escaped him.
“Who’s that British artist everyone hates?” He asked me.
“Banksy?” I replied, as that’s the only British artist I could name.
“No, everyone loves Banksy. Oh, Daniel Hirst is who I’m thinking of. But speaking of Banksy, The Palms has one of his works in a restaurant called Greene Street Kitchen. You should check it out.”
This news excited me because I, like everyone, love Banksy. My story, I planned on the spot, would culminate in my visit to see Banksy.
Now that my plans had shifted to writing rather than networking, I had to see more art or this was going to be a skeleton of a story. So my new plan was a self-guided tour of the downtown street art. According to Ziggy, all of it was influenced by the late Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. “He’s why things are the way they are here,” Ziggy said admiringly. He pointed me towards La Comida alley, the epicenter. So I went.
I arrived at the alley and my self-guided tour briefly turned into an others-guided one as I slyly joined the back of a passing tour group, discreetly hiding in my bright mint green shirt. It was a success. Nobody noticed me. However, the tour group abandoned me when I took too long to snap some photos because I couldn’t find the right angle, and also because I kept pressing the wrong button.
I found myself solo once again, but not for long. I stumbled upon a familiar face.
It was uncanny. After taking an ussie with Mural Me, and scoping out the colorful and thoughtful pieces adorning the building walls (my deficient camera skills really screwed me on documenting this, so if you want to see some images check this out).
Since I was in the neighborhood, I went to get some quick neon therapy in the famous Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is an invigorating destination (especially because it provides cover to the oppressive sun). While not technically in the DTLV district, Fremont Street is a gallery for the art of pizzazz. I wandered past the competing street performers and entered Circa, the neighborhood’s newest casino. Why, you ask? I went to see the iconic Vegas Vickie sign, refurbished and kicking it in her new indoor home.
But I didn’t just go to see Vegas Vickie. I went to see her because Ziggy’s best-selling tourist piece is a playful recontextualization of her.
Now, after appreciating a piece of Vegas’ history, the time had come to go see Banksy!
I walked the long, smoldering distance back to my car, thinking “man, it’s even hotter” despite having been fully aware for 38 years that temperatures continue to rise as the sun does. It was now 106 degrees. My pants were as long as they had always been. But I successfully avoided a heat-induced, Fear and Loathing-themed hallucination, and made it to my vehicle. “It’s a dry heat!” people like to say about Nevada’s summer temps, as if it’s the most interesting factoid they know. Well, I wasn’t dry. I got into my car and accidentally brushed my sweaty hand on the metal of my seatbelt. My shriek echoed to Los Angeles, upsetting the seagulls.
After I recovered, I started the engine and headed towards Greene Street Kitchen at the Palms. “This is a great plan!” I thought to myself.
So the door to Greene Street was locked.
“Yeah, it’s gone for good,” said a friendly soul named Anell, who served me a slice of NY pizza next door to the closed restaurant.
“Is the Banksy piece still in there?” I asked her.
“No,” Anell replied. “I think it was auctioned off.”
“I bet you get asked that a lot, huh?” I responded.
“No, she said. “You’re only the second person.” (It’s going to be three people if Ziggy ever visits.)
After finishing my slice, and having been thoroughly Banksy-teased, I decided to head to my hotel, The Artisan. My wandering was done for the day. My business goals had failed. But had I learned a valuable lesson along the way? Maybe. I didn’t know yet. So I departed to my temporary home to reflect and write about my experience.
I had no idea what to expect from The Artisan, despite, and you can guess where I’m headed here, having access to the sum total of human knowledge, including intricate details about my lodging establishment, in the pocket of my sweat-dampened long pants. Actually, I did know one piece of information, which I had gleaned from Ziggy.
“I’m staying at The Artisan,” I had told him.
“Oh cool! Swingers love that place. You could write a whole story about that hotel alone.”
So I entered The Artisan with curiosity (in a purely investigative sort of way, to be clear). It’s a chandelier-laden, gothic-inspired, beautifully haunted mansion of a hotel. Given that I can be mistaken for a Mormon missionary, this is not my usual aesthetic. But I think that’s what I like most about this place. I was transported into a different and unexpectedly enchanting world thanks to the hotel’s art. The swinger thing might be a legend (I was too afraid to ask the concierge), but I did notice that the other guests were exceptionally friendly.
Each room at The Artisan is themed with the work of a famous artist—Van Gogh, Matisse, Dali, Monet, Manet, Menet, Minet, Munet, etc. My room was themed with the art of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who I learned, after a deep dive of research thanks to the portal to infinite education in the pocket of the long pants that were about to be peeled off, is also famous.
Now I sit here poolside, comfortably in shorts, writing down reflections on my first Vegas art experience. (I was informed that this is a topless pool, which has proved to be true given that there are no people here at the moment, and therefore no tops.)
I think the thing that stands out to me the most from my wandering day in Vegas is the way art can meet us when our plans fall through, when life doesn’t go as expected. If my original Plan A had happened, and I was driving from office to office in a straight line from Point A to B, I would have missed so much beauty and human connection. My day ended up being rather aimless from a networking perspective. But pausing in the presence of art—whether in the form of coffee, community support, graffiti, painting, photography, conversation, writing, or any other medium—provides meaning to our lives. But only if we pause and make ourselves present. And it’s hard to do that when we’re trying to be one step ahead all the time. Hurry wars against beauty. And art frees us from hurry.
For me, art served to be an antidote to any feeling of aimlessness, even though I was moving around all day without an effective plan. I guess that’s what art ultimately does—it brings beauty and meaning into chaos.
One of my favorite things about my job at Mabble is that I get to work with brilliant artists on a daily basis, people who design and build and capture and narrate for the purpose of telling the story of unique brands, helping our clients connect with their audiences and bring value to their lives. Art has its way of doing that. And that’s what we make every day.
So whatever your plans are today—especially if your plans are thrown out the window—slow down for a moment and enjoy some art. And thank an artist if you can.
Speaking of which, Ziggy just texted me:
“Hey Brandon. It’s Ziggy. Hope you got to see some of our cool art downtown. Nice meeting you. Good luck with your story. Later”
Thanks, Ziggy. You inspired much of it.