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September 1, 2014

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Downtown Joe: Parade of pedestrians adds color to East Fremont Street

Much of life’s rich pageant strolls up and down East Fremont Street each day, hunched over and alone, giddily holding hands, staggering drunk or walking with the ramrod stiff spine of the self-satisfied.

At least that’s how the people-watchers size them up.

Who are they really?

On a cold Friday morning, several people stopped after prodding to be asked the personal, intrusive question: Who are you and what are you doing here? In some cases, their answers belie the stereotypes.

Darrell Lovely

Darrell Lovely

Darrell Lovely, 27, has lived in Las Vegas for seven years, coming from a “rough neighborhood” in Southern California where he admits he “was a bad kid.”

Here he is working at McDonald’s, has a place to live and Friday morning was on his way to the library at 833 Las Vegas Blvd. North, a 15- to 20-minute walk from the intersection of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, to see what’s on his Facebook page.

“L.A. sucks and I wasn’t doing anything productive there,” he says. “Here, I found a job within a few months. There, it would take a few years.”

He walks East Fremont Street quite a bit and said the change has been remarkable.

“I think it’s stricter law enforcement and these businesses,” he says, pointing to The Beat coffeehouse. “It’s brought a lot of life to it. It had such a bad reputation that when I moved here, people said, ‘Stay away from Fremont. That’s where all the drugs and prostitution and this, that and another thing goes on.”

•••

Ernie and Ruby Magiera

Ernie and Ruby Magiera

Ernie and Ruby Magiera, two tourists staying at the Four Queens, were an hour from catching a flight back to Saskatchewan, Canada, so they decided to take a walk off the beaten path. Ernie said they typically don’t walk on East Fremont Street. Rather than seeing how the street has improved, they thought it looked a little bleak.

“My wife was just saying it’s starting to look a little rough,” Ernie said of East Fremont.

•••

George Kouletsis

George Kouletsis

George Kouletsis, 56, just sold three neighborhood bars in Southern California and was checking out a handful of properties he also owns in Clark County. He was strolling East Fremont, which he has done many times before, “for exercise.”

He wasn’t easy to stop. Asked a question from a stranger, he kept walking until he heard the stranger say “reporter” and “newspaper.”

“Most people who talk to you want a quarter or 50 cents,” he says, smiling. “I typically ask them if they want the long story or the short story” about why he’s not going to give it to them, which amounts to: He’d be broke if he gave money away to all the homeless who ask.

The former engineer, math teacher and musician said he’s ready to leave San Diego because of the usual lament: “It’s getting too expensive.” He said East Fremont has “improved a little,” but when he leaves San Diego he’ll likely move to Arizona.

•••

“Super Mario”

“Super Mario”

“Super Mario” is a 60-year-old self-described “drunk” who was just released from the city jail, where he sat for a while on a trespassing charge.

“I know I’m a drunk, and I like it,” he said.

Why?

“Because it dulls the pain.”

He didn’t belabor it but says his stepfather beat him senseless as a kid. “I’ve been homeless most of my life.”

Decades ago, he took his first drink. He tries to describe what it felt like and does so by simply shaking his head and breathing out a “whew!”

“You know what, though?” he says. “It doesn’t stay that way. One drink doesn’t do it after that. You have to drink more to get that feeling back.”

He says he’s not a bad guy, doesn’t do illegal drugs and hasn’t killed anybody.

They know him on Fremont Street, he says, as Super Mario. Through a haze of alcohol, his street smarts are sharp. “I’m 60 years old, and I’m still alive. I slur my words, but I’m alive.”

•••

Camron Sewell

Camron Sewell

Camron Sewell’s eyes are a little bloodshot. That’s understandable. He’d been playing blackjack at The Fremont for 3½ hours. He began with $5 and was up about $120. Now he’s on his way to El Cortez to see whether his “system” works there, too.

The smiling 23-year-old who works for a broadband cable company in California exhales the sweet smell of digesting alcohol, as he explains.

“You really want to know?” he replies when asked how he developed his blackjack system. “From ‘Oceans 11, 12 and 13’,” he says, meaning the George Clooney/Brad Pitt movies based in Las Vegas. “They talk about playing the odds when it’s best suited to you. It’s not that hard to figure out. I don’t go in every hand, only when the odds favor me. I come here knowing the odds.”

He says to pick a number between 1 and 100; 56.

He works it out in his mind and 15 seconds later gives the square root to the decimal point.

“I don’t use that for anything,” he says. “I’m just good at math.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown; he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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