As We See It

Grin and Luv-It

Does a Las Vegas neighborhood slam really merit all this fuss?

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Illustration: Jeff Drew

The clerk has to pause and think about it.

“Let’s see,” she says, eyes rolling around as she calculates the answer. “One, two, three. Three. I think. At least three.”

That’s three—at least. Three times since she came to work at this Mighty Mart a few months ago, the place has been robbed while she was behind the counter. That doesn’t count the minor incidents of shoplifting, “of course,” she adds. Or the stabbing. Or when the drugged-up prostitute fell off her bicycle, hit her head and died.

Or the countless times the clerk’s car has been vandalized as it sat outside her apartment a couple of blocks away.

“It’s a bad area,” says the clerk, who asked that her name not be used because, uh, she fears for her safety. “So bad.”

God forbid she had said that on national TV. Regardless of how true it may be, the clerk would be strung up by USB cables and hung in effigy on Facebook and Twitter for such an outrageous sin. You see, this isn’t just any old Mighty Mart. This Mighty Mart stands a rock of cocaine’s throw from the venerable, much-beloved Luv-It Frozen Custard, a legendary dessert stand at the corner of Oakey and Las Vegas Boulevard.

That’s how it went last week for Mindy Kaling, the actress from The Office who was on Craig Ferguson’s late-night talk show on September 11 and scolded Ferguson for suggesting she and her friends go get some custard “in I believe the most dangerous and sketchy neighborhood I’ve ever been to in my entire life.”

The entire YouTube clip is incredibly funny, particularly because Ferguson let her vent and then kept asking her, “Was the custard good?”

Eventually she admitted that not only was it good but, in fact, it was kinda worth risking her life for.

Now that’s about as awesome a product endorsement as anyone is ever going to render. But oh, the outrage that ensued!

Whiny, knee-jerky homeowners who reside in the nearby neighborhood of older houses with large lots and loads of desert-defying, water-guzzling landscaping were incensed. One Facebooker was so delirious with ire he called Ferguson’s show to demand an apology and then announced he would boycott The Office before noting in the same status update that he doesn’t watch TV. Another actually created a group to protest, “Las Vegas Downtown Neighbors Against Mindy Kaling,” which, as I write, has amassed 277 members. And, of course, last Friday night they showed up en masse for a Luv-It Luv-In to support a business owner whose product was—how terrible for him!—regaled as being worth dying for.

These people would have you believe Luv-It is in a completely safe area and that it is unreasonable to the point of being offensive for unaware tourists to be startled by the rough environs. Yet such umbrage isn’t just foolish, it’s actually dangerous; it’s cruel to suggest Luv-It without a fair warning about the neighborhood, and, while I do recommend Luv-It in my travel pieces, I always offer that caveat.

Ferguson provided no such warning, and so a dressed-up Kaling and her friends were understandably disturbed by the pantsless loiterer and a nearby drug bust in progress. The clerk from the Mighty Mart, not to mention any reasonable person who’s been down that way, knows Kaling was there on a slow evening if that’s all she saw.

The incident drives me nuts because it’s yet another example of Las Vegans being incapable of coping with the notion that outsiders might have valid criticisms of the city. I could reach all the way back to the hue and cry surrounding President Obama’s remark that businesses receiving bailout money should not be using the money for junkets to Vegas, but why dwell on ancient history when just last month Whiner-in-Chief Oscar Goodman fired off a letter to Time magazine after writer Joel Stein offered a colorful rendering of our very real economic misery. Then the Los Angeles Times did a similar report, and one nut job of a real-estate agent blasted out an hysterical e-mail asserting that the newspaper had singlehandedly damaged housing prices.

And now a comedienne engages in a bit of hyperbole based on the truth that Luv-It is in a gross location and ka-boom! Commenters on my blog and elsewhere wondered if Kaling did an exhaustive demographic and sociological study of the comparative crime rates of rough parts of major American cities before she declared this to be the “sketchiest” she’d ever encountered because, you know, how dare she make such a declaration without a Ph.D. in urban planning.

Never mind, too, that even Luv-It acknowledges the area’s a little unsavory. As it says in a write-up that Luv-It proudly displays on its own website: “Not only do you get an opportunity to observe the downtown Vegas demimonde (aka hookers, pimps, dealers, the homeless), but you also get to rub elbows with people like investigative reporter George Knapp and poet and public defender Dayvid Figler.”

I’m all for civic pride, but it feels much less desperate and cynically motivated when it’s based on reality and accuracy. The funky houses where Figler and others reside start a block or so away and stretch eastward for about a two-mile radius. Luv-It is clearly physically more of the Naked City around Stratosphere than the residential region, although it borders both.

When I took to my blog to call out the whiners, I was treated to messages from perpetually defensive people claiming—utterly falsely—that their home values have been immune to the Valley’s real-estate bust. I also got accused of living in—gasp!—Summerlin. I don’t, but I’ve never heard a Summerlinite disparage people who live Downtown. The reverse is routine.

This umbrage over Kaling proves once again that this remains a very immature and insecure city. In San Francisco, the Four Seasons is a block away from the Tenderloin, but you’ll never hear the Four Seasons folks stage a protest if someone describes the horrors in that poor and crime-ridden neighborhood.

“A lot of these people, they’re just out of jail,” the Mighty Mart clerk told me of those who loiter in the parking lot shared with Luv-It. “People lay down and pass out on the street by that palm tree over there. When I see a guy come in who looks a little bit tough, I think, ‘Please don’t rob me.’”

Will the neighborhood defenders dismiss her testimony, too? Oh, probably. But the broader point here is that Las Vegas needs to grow a pair. In fact, I decided to fight fire with fire. I formed a Facebook group. It’s called, appropriately enough, “Las Vegas Needs to Grow a Pair.”

We have 118 members right now. It’s a start. We love Luv-It, too, but we lock our cars and hang on tight to our wallets when we stop by. That probably upsets some imbeciles, but oh well. Just because the custard is good enough to die for doesn’t mean we should try to get ourselves killed.

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