Coffee, Hipsterland, and Nickel Slot Machines

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I like my morning coffee.

Wayne might phrase that differently. He MIGHT say that I NEED my coffee ASAIWU (as soon as I wake up) and that I get very irritated if I have to wait too long and I turn into a two-headed snarling monster, jonesing for caffeine, willing to knock down small children and elderly couples if they are standing between me and that sweet, sweet nectar of the gods.

We left the Grand Canyon campsite early without making our customary pot of coffee. It was cold and we were ready to go. We weren’t sure where we could buy a cup in the park so we headed toward the general store. As we passed one of the lodges, an older couple was standing out front holding lidded coffee shop cups. Wayne told me to ask where they got their coffee, so I rolled down the window as we approached. “Excuse me, sir,” and without waiting for a response, “Where did you get that coffee?” which was unintentionally uttered in a desperate enough tone and without other polite preamble such as a “Good morning!” that the man chuckled with understanding and pointed behind him. In a heavy Eastern European accent he replied, “Right inside!”

Fortified by the mediocre but satisfying Grand Canyon coffee, we drove the dusty and deserty 270 miles to Las Vegas. We passed the Hoover Dam and saw Lake Mead in the rearview mirror. We Google mapped ourselves to our hotel and checked in. We were staying right on N. Las Vegas Boulevard at Ogden, The Oasis at Gold Spike. That’s right, Vegas aficionados! We were staying DOWNTOWN. I hadn’t been to Las Vegas in quite a few years, and the last time I was there nobody stayed downtown. Downtown was tres passé. Sleazy and cheesy. Home to drifters and junkies. The strip was where it was at back then.

Fast forward ten years. DTLV has experienced a hipster renaissance. The well-known online shoe retailer Zappos has located its headquarters in an office building a couple of blocks from our hotel. Zappos is one of those “creative” companies you hear about where you imagine they treat employees to free food truck lunches, someone is always making balloon animals, another guy is offering chair massages, and there are impromptu Frisbee tossing or guitar strumming or laser tag sessions in the common area, which is furnished with beanbag chairs and clear whiteboards for “brainstorming sessions.” It’s like what you imagine working in your own office could be like, if only Chuck E. Cheese was the boss.

Walking about a block down N. Las Vegas Boulevard to Fremont Street, we turned left, away from the Fremont Street Experience, into the neighborhood known as Fremont East. Also known as Hipsterland, signified in part by the large scale street art.  We passed restaurants and bars with pallet wood walls and chalkboard menus and fancy chandeliers OR colored string lights OR bare Edison bulbs. These are the kinds of joints you spend 10 minutes looking for the restroom in, because the restrooms are camouflaged as giant luxury living rooms tucked behind sliding barn doors, lavishly furnished with midcentury Scandinavian credenzas with holes cut in the top for your soiled paper towels to be tossed into. The sinks are invariably poured concrete. The taps are just copper tubing sticking out of the wall. The ceiling is unfinished with exposed ductwork, and the lighting is metal conduit with, you guessed it, an Edison bulb dangling from it. There are succulents placed at just the right angle on the credenzas. Oh, and there’s the toilet! Incidentally. By the way.

But I digress. Let’s get down to business. We dined alfresco at La Comida. Excellent fish and shrimp tacos. Chips and salsa. Beer. I regretted not getting one of their blood orange margaritas served in a Mason jar when I saw the one that was served to our table neighbor, a millennial dressed in high-waist cut off shorts, sunglasses the size of small saucers, a poncho, and ankle boots.

After dropping the dog back at the Oasis, we popped over to the Fremont Casino to lose some money. Actually, we broke even because I won big on a Wizard of Oz nickel slot machine. Glenda the good witch magically appeared on the giant screen which apparently meant I won $41.00 from my initial $5 input. Cashed out while I was ahead. Or even. Or close to even. Because that’s how we roll.

Wayne and I soaked up the Fremont Street Experience till we couldn’t take any more of the “Experience” which consists of instinctively ducking when the zipliners flew screeching overhead, avoiding eye contact with the masses of the downtrodden sitting in wheelchairs begging for money, and the not-unique spectacle of a man apparently high as a kite on meth doing a spontaneous “dance” in the middle of the street. We hightailed it back to Fremont East. To get there, you just cross N. Vegas Boulevard to the east. It’s not a long trip. There will still be the random junkie or Crazy Uncle Earl ranting about Ted Cruz and chemtrail conspiracies on this side of the boulevard, but there’s also Le Thai, the best Thai food in Las Vegas.

After a 30 minute wait for a table, we placed our standard Thai food order: two Sing Ha, Tom Yum with shrimp, Panang Shrimp for Wayne, Pad Kee Mao for me. They brought our beers with some chili-lime spicy peanuts. Everything was fabulous. It was as good as our favorite Thai place back home. Okay, it was even better (feeling a little like a traitor to our favorite waitress at Rama Thai who without fail repeats our drink order thusly: Two Sing HA HA HA!). The ingredients were just…fresher. Like the tomato in the Tom Yum. And there was more green stuff in everything. We ate like animals and headed back to the hotel where we drifted off to dreams of slot machine jackpots and farm to table brunches accompanied by bottomless cups of single-origin fair trade organic coffee.

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