Public Work(s)

It’s a sunny, warm, breezy Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting by the window inside a Starbucks, cars buzzing by about 15 feet away on Maryland Parkway. I had plans to work on the patio outside, but the winds are getting up to typically annoying Las Vegas speeds, and the WiFi isn’t that great out there anyway. The window’s good enough.

Much like pretty much any other mobile professional/student/freelancer, I visit a place like Starbucks one or twice a week to get some work done. It may seem counterintuitive when you realize I have a nice office for which I pay rent (and have crazy high-speed business internet), plus an entire house to be used as a comfy home office, again with speedy internet and a fridge full of beverages and snacks, also already paid for (and I get pretty good WiFi on my home patio, to boot).

The thing is—and again, I’m sure many of you can relate—sometimes I just need a change of scenery/kick in the butt. Working at home is great—I have pets to keep me company, I don’t have to put on pants, etc.—but it’s also distracting. At Starbucks, when I’m done with my pastry or protein box, it just goes in the trash. At home, after I prepare food, there’s a mess to clean. And probably other dishes. And maybe there’s laundry that’s piling up, calling for attention. And it’s very easy to just zone off watching YouTube videos…or possibly nap (not that there’s anything wrong with a nap).

And as for my office-office, well, I’m there enough, working on putting out Pop! Goes the Icon‘s latest comics or producing graphic collateral for Creation Forge Studios. When I’m there, I find it hard to focus on anything that’s not publishing, design or printing-related, so if I have real writing to do, it’s actually really hard to do it there, because, again, I’m surrounded by a bunch of other stuff that needs attention. Plus, our offices are in the back of a suite, and have no windows, which was really bad planning on my part, but still, that sucks, too.

So, yeah, on this beautiful spring day, I’m at Starbucks for a while, along the same street on which I used to spend untold hours inside of decidedly more Bohemian coffee shops in the mid-1990s, writing not on a laptop computer, but inside of three-ring binders filled with notebook paper.* Despite everything that’s happened over the last 20-plus years, despite moving to all corners of the Las Vegas Valley (and just beyond it, although never outside of it since 1991), I seem to keep coming back to “Midtown,” living in a house just a few blocks east of Maryland Parkway, hanging out in spots just a few blocks from the apartment(s) I lived in after high school.

It also reinforces, however, the continued relevance of Maryland Parkway despite the cultural and economic shift toward downtown (which I documented at length in this 2006 Las Vegas Weekly article). The mere fact that this is where the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is located kind of means the parkway will always at least be a place for college students to eat and study, even if it’s no longer where they hang out and party (sing “Where Have All the College Bars Gone?” to the tune of “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”).

Sears at the Boulevard Mall

The Boulevard Mall was built by Irwin Molasky in the early 1960s. Wish Sears would bring back that logo. Photo nabbed from

Maryland Parkway remains a hub of commerce for so many different groups of people, from the aforementioned UNLV students, to the working-class Latino families that populate most of its surrounding neighborhoods, to the tourists venturing from the Strip looking for the nearest Target. And, to be honest, aside from the lack of a decent grocery store like Trader Joe’s (OK, just Trader Joe’s, period), there’s not much Maryland lacks for those of us living within its grasp. Coffee shop, check. Target, check. Comic book store, check. Record store, check. Ethnic food, quadruple check. Banking, check. Public transit, check. Close proximity to both the Strip and downtown? Check, check.

And yeah, it’s not as pretty as it has been/should be. Despite being possibly the third most-used pedestrian street in Vegas after Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street, the sidewalks are too narrow, and there are no bike lanes. Most of the “cool” businesses have relocated, mostly to downtown, even college-area staple Buffalo Exchange. But things are happening. Previously abandoned offices and buildings are being remodeled and filled with new owners/tenants. A run-down, mostly vacant strip mall is finally (hopefully?!) being replaced with a street-facing, mixed-use, low-rise development, the kind which former UNLV President Carol Harter envisioned a decade ago with her “Midtown UNLV” plan. The long-declining Boulevard Mall has new owners who are filling empty spaces, remodeling, and re-imagining what purposes an old-school indoor mall can serve.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be a Midtown boy this time around—yeah, we just bought a house in Paradise Palms about six months ago, so it’ll probably be a while—but it feels like a pretty good time to be here. Even if I’m just hanging out in a coffee shop, same as I was when Clinton was still in office.

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