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Fremont Street Experience
by Andrew Kiraly | posted April 25, 2014
April 24, 9:17 p.m.: A fickle, manic, mournful energy has been gathering tonight beneath the Fremont Street Experience canopy, magnetized by bad cover bands, cheap beer, tchotchke huts, and the hope for spectacle. Amid the shamble (grizzled beggars, drunk bros, tube-topped partygirls, sign-waving religious zealots), bubbles of bystanders form: Here’s a turf-dancing crew popping and locking, here’s a kid moonwalking in Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson drag, here’s a “living statue” performer who appears to levitate. No one lingers, no one watches long; it’s as though restlessness constantly prods.
The sidewalkification of Fremont Street in the ’90s put in place the dynamics for this human stream; the light-show canopy was the attractant. The scene that resulted was, at worst, amusingly skeezy. But to my memory, never did the street take on a nightside vibe of such jangling and anxious desperation as it did last evening. Random shoals of people seemed to circle each other as though moved by invisible currents of threat; the trajectories seemed skewed; you’d bump, not brush, shoulders with a stranger and get a glowering look. What was this, some special event brewing that brought out a passive-aggressive crowd?
Nothing like that. On the walk back, I realized the likely source: Slotzilla, the 12-story zipline launch platform made to resemble (what else?) a slot machine. The Fremont Street Experience originally proposed to turn the street into a sort of valve system: Drawn by the light show, tourists would congregate on the promenade, and then hopefully be flushed into the surrounding casinos afterward. Slotzilla, a monolithic slab planted onto the east end of the Fremont Street Experience, now seems to act as a cork. That’s what I felt last night as the wind kicked up a flurry of napkins, plastic cups and cigarette butts: pressure, and a crowd’s incipient animal panic at being entrapped in a dubious entertainment with no way out.
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