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Desert Companion

Personal Best of the City

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Jw Caldwell's "Time Heals All Wounds"

Jw Caldwell's "Time Heals All Wounds"

Best Mural I’d Like to See Transplanted to a More Prominent Place

Jw Caldwell’s “Time Heals All Wounds”

The mural by Las Vegas artist Jw Caldwell that stretched outside the Tilting the Basin exhibit on Commerce Street Downtown last year was twice as big as its first incarnation the year prior at Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, nudging the question: How big could it be? And where?

Forget, for a moment, the Downtown murals and street art. Caldwell's painting — the phrase "Time Heals All Wounds" bookended by cowboys riding dinosaurs — would be spectacular on the side of a large building along the I-15 or 215 Beltway, where they cut through town.

His humorous wordplay on existential angst is refreshingly direct, but with layers to unfold. Time Heals All Wounds (still up on Commerce Street) speaks of humility. Time may heal all wounds, but time also runs out. Time makes us extinct. The dinosaurs are long gone, and, as Caldwell says, “cowboys aren’t really a thing anymore.” We're all just riding this planet until our time is up.

But, rather than be morose, the artist's colors, style, and lettering settles instead somewhere in the realm of a calming haiku, a Johnny Cash song, or philosophical contemplation. Caldwell has a tendency to get to the meat of things that way. Chew on this, the mural seems to say, and then, Lose your illusions. But have fun, too. Kristen Peterson

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Best Commercial Jingle That Serves as a Secret Handshake Between Longtime Las Vegans

Carpet Barn

If you remember the jingle for “Carpet Barn” (“The Carpet Barn … we won’t be undersoooold!”), maybe we can get together and talk about whether you, too, as a kid, didn’t know what “undersold” meant, didn’t even have it in your vocabulary, and so you and your siblings thought the commercial was saying, “We won’t be at the store,” and you wondered: Why won’t they be at the store? Is this some kind of recondite grown-up prank? Are people being lured to an empty store, only to be terrified by carpet salespeople leaping out from behind carpet displays? Or worse, lured to an empty store, only to be terrified on a higher, finer existential register by the menacing emptiness itself? Misheard and misunderstood, The Carpet Barn commercial was an emblem of the inscrutable adult world of an adult city. Yeah, you sing the jingle to a fellow native and you exchange a clairvoyant look that speaks of a shared darkness. Andrew Kiraly

 

Best Place to Explore Without Really Moving

Lied Library

Lied LibraryI have a few favorite spots at UNLV: The entire green side of campus, the weird umbrella tree near the art department, the building with the airplane in it. But the best is the fifth floor of Lied Library. The entirety of Lied is great — with its robotic book-fetcher, its floating study rooms, and its generally impressive design — but the fifth floor, up against the west wall, is best. That’s because the large-format art books live there, and it’s almost always empty.

I don’t know how I first stumbled upon this hideout, but I do know I returned often as a student. It’s a quiet refuge from the bustle of UNLV’s small-city-sized student population, and it’s a great way to learn by chance, plucking whatever catches your attention from the shelf. It was there I found Inferno, James Nachtwey’s troubling photos of suffering around the world. It was there I dove into various art movements. Sitting down, screenless, and flipping through random art books feels especially luxurious these days; I can’t recommend it enough. I’m due for a visit myself. If I see you there, I’ll show you the umbrella tree. Kristy Totten

 

Best Diner Waitress

Patty at Lou’s Diner

Lou’s Diner serves up soulful, filling, comfort food (see p. 52), but I also go for its quirky, welcoming personality. For instance, become a regular and they’ll hang your very own coffee mug up for use on return trips. Mind you, you have to provide them the coffee cup (mine is the one with Deadpool riding a unicorn), but it’s well worth the tariff. And they can’t seem to top off your mug often enough during a visit. Whatever you order, make sure to save room for one of Patty’s cinnamon rolls — and be sure to say hi to Patty herself. The Boston-area native is a fixture at Lou’s, serving there for the last 16 years. And the cinnamon rolls aren’t the only menu item she has her hands in, taking part in the pot pie and chicken noodle soup with recipes from the previous owner and restaurant namesake Lou herself. But she contributes to more than the menu. She’s a storybook Las Vegas diner waitress, made up to the nines, flittering about humming and singing songs, chatting with everyone. She’s the epitome of the hardworking Sin City, a personification of our best qualities in a valley institution. 431 S. Decatur Blvd., lousdinerlv.com Jim Begley

 

Best Hypothetical Composite Movie Theater

Eclipse + Village Square + Galaxy

The complete pleasure of my favorite pastime — going to the movies — is thwarted in Las Vegas by the separate existence, in three different theaters, of the things that make up a perfect cinema: amenities, film selection, and neighborhood. The best theater for me would have the Downtown location of Eclipse, which is bike-riding distance from my house. It would screen the foreign and independent films that I now have to drive all the way to Regal Cinemas Village Square to see, films like The Florida Project and The Square. And it would have the unpretentious creature comforts of Galaxy Green Valley Luxury. I dream of my husband and I walking to this imaginary amalgam of theater heaven hand-in-hand on a sunny October afternoon, ordering a hefeweizen each and small popcorn to share, finding our reserved, reclining loungers among the 100 available, and settling in to watch Steve McQueen’s next movie, Widows. That one is scheduled to open in the fall — time enough for someone to make my dream come true? Heidi Kyser

 

Best Disc Golf Course

Mountain Crest Park

First, let’s establish my credentials in this category: I suck at disc golf. I’m terrible by any metric; my 11-year-old granddaughter looks upon my game with pity and amusement. But I play semi-quasi-regularly — my sons, man, they’re into this sport, watching tutorials and tournaments on YouTube, learning the properties of various disc plastics — and this likable park at Craig Road and Durango is my favorite course. Its 18 holes have a nice mix of obstacles, distances, and configurations (at one point you must throw over a hill toward a target you can’t see), arrayed throughout a lovely greensward strolled by people who are often in no hurry to get out of the goddamn way. (I’m sure they’re nice, though.) On the whole, the course is forgiving of the weak-armed, the loose-gripped, the wildly inaccurate. Equally important is what Mountain Crest lacks: the disc-chewing gravel obstacles of the course at Red Ridge Park, the copious pet droppings marring Sunset (some of those folks apparently own huge dogs and no plastic bags). These days, when the toxic runoff of the news cycles threatens what passes for my mental stability, a 7 a.m. round of toss ’n’ fling in this quiet, cool place is the perfect antidote. As long as we don’t tally my score. Scott Dickensheets

 

Best People Watching

Mirage

On my visits to Las Vegas at the very end of the ’80s, there was no better spot to spend an evening watching fellow travelers come and go than the heavily jungled lounge at The Mirage.

One could sit at a cocktail table with her fake ID, order a Seven-Up with grenadine and listen to a full-live band play fusion jazz scattered with bits of R&B.  Beyond the atrium, just inside the main entrance and its footbridge of trailing vines and bursts of foliage, the casino floor buzzed with the newly arrived. Convoys in tracksuits, along with the occasional bride, guided wheeled luggage and boisterous wedding parties past the seduction of cocktail waitresses and suited-up dealers at busy tables. The lounge I haunted with my stepsister, Vegas-bred and smoky-eyed, smelled of Tanqueray and Aramis. I wore bright colors, dark lipsticks — it was on the cusp, but still the ’80s — sipped at my faux drink, and quietly crushed on the band’s keyboard player, whose oily locks and shy grin reminded me of other long-haired impresarios: Rick Springfield, Kenny G, Neil Schoen.

Every half hour, fire would spew up from the belly of the volcano. We would totter out, bask in the heat of its novelty, then dash back inside, where playboys in Izod and Hilfiger sipped drinks, bobbing their heads to frissons of funk, surrounded by women as loose-limbed and billowy as the stingrays and puffer fish swimming in the saltwater tank in the lobby. Lounge-goers actually danced more than posed. Lock eyes and a dude would work his way over — no expectation, just the movement of a city that seemed unattached to corporate logo, business card, or extreme monetization, outside of a good time.

A mile down and across the boulevard, a pride of lions watched the people and the people watched them. Everywhere was a feeling of being in the theater of a life that has since become more regimented. Our blessed volcano still burns, only now for two shows a night, three on weekends. 

A new breed of visitor passes through what was once the live music lounge of my wannabe Kenny G. Fan pages and likes on Yelp light the way to celebrity-chef venues where plates are set like jewels and drinks have their own PR.

Across the decades, I would venture to the Strip time and time again to find that same magic in spite of the changes. No matter what property or security barriers go up, or what old forum comes down, the Strip at 2 o’ clock in the morning remains an eternal rush. In many ways, Las Vegas’ public spaces defy Heraclitus, who swore we could never step in the same river twice. Comers walk the neon as one continuous, thrill-seeking flow. Ride down the boulevard, northeast, and in spite of refurbished neon and $12 drinks, Fremont still hums with all its seedy vibrancy. 

Under the dome of the Experience, you may be asked to ride the lap of a counterfeit Chippendale or pose on the sidewalk with a bedraggled posse of killer clowns. Classier fixtures of Downtown, like the venerable Chuck Willis from St. Louis, in powder-blue suit, matching hat, and full-length mink might politely stop ’n’ chat. No doubt, well into the next millennia, families with little ones will alternate between clutching tight small, sweaty palms among the throng and letting go. We seem to remain defiantly unchanged in the face of universal flux. Yet there hangs a shadow of something new and more removed at our center when we visit the Strip or walk down Fremont — a loss of an innocence that may have been obscenely assumed to begin with. 

Lock eyes with one of the self-appointed, tip bucket-bearing entertainers in either spot, and he will beckon with an oddly gapped smile, shuffle over, and ask you to dance. And he will not be Rick Springfield. Erica Vital-Lazare

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