The Return Of The Real First Friday

Joe Pagac paints The National mural on the side of Eye Lounge during First Friday.
Joe Pagac paints The National mural on the side of Eye Lounge during First Friday.

I hate First Fridays.

When I first started going a couple of years ago, I looked forward to them. I attended First Fridays religiously. I was eager to see what new exhibitions the galleries on Roosevelt would put up. It was a night of leisure and a chance to wander around the heart of downtown and see what was going on. The spirit was festive but low-key. Then came the street closure and with it a hatred that grew in my heart for the event.

For most of the last year, that contempt has grown to the point to where the only reason I would venture out to First Friday was either to catch something happening at the Firehouse, to see a free improv show at Space55, or to hang out with friends who only came out to downtown for First Friday.

Going out to First Friday on July 2nd was a revelation. With the street closure and vendors gone for July and August, it was like walking backwards through time and experiencing First Friday the way it was meant to be: without hassles. I didn't have to spend 30 to 40 minutes driving around the area over and over again, on a desperate quest for a parking spot. When I wanted to hop over to Grand Avenue for a bit and see what was going on over there, I didn't have to worry about detours or worry about not being able to find a parking spot again when I came back to Roosevelt. Roosevelt's opening encouraged mobility and traveling to nearby businesses and galleries I avoided during the closure.

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The street blockage created an absolute choke point. If you didn't want to pay an hourly fee for garage parking, free parking was available, yet rare, on First Street. And if you were lucky enough to nab a spot, a good walk was required to reach the giant clusterfuck that is (or was) Phoestival. It was a black hole of cops, jackass kids and sun-glass vendors. Its pull was inescapable. After spending 10 minutes wading through hordes of gawkers and dodging booths of tchotchkes (most peddled by people who don't set foot in downtown for the remainder of the month), the desire to actually go see art wilts away.

This past Friday was like seeing a sick friend restored to health. There weren't mobs of people to duck and weave around. While there were quite a few police cars looping and circling around the area, there weren't clusters of officers walking down the street.

There was still a pretty good turn-out of folks, despite the false alarms some local media outlets have been ringing about the event being canceled, and as the sun set the crowds got thicker and more lively.

Without the closure, seeing art became easier and more desirable. Instead of having to wait up to five minutes just to be able to get inside Pravus, I was able to stroll right in and admire their outstanding fourth annual "Ladies First" show. I didn't have to move in between skateboard demos and hot dog stands to go see what was hanging inside Perihelion. If I wasn't broke at the time, I could have sat for a drink at Lost Leaf without having to deal with a long line to get inside, or have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people inside the bar.

And for the first time, I got to see one of Eye Lounge's concert murals being painted (by today's Creative, Joe Pagac) in real time in the parking lot it shares with Modified Arts

There were still the born-agains on Third Street and the atheist sign-holders were still standing across from them. Missing in action were the Scientologists offering free tests, the anonymous protesters and the Strange Family Circus, who are normally barking at the crowd in the Eye Lounge parking lot. 

Aside from the absences, the spirit of the event remained intact. Street musicians were still serenading pedestrians and DJs spun records on the porches of their houses. I felt free to wander downtown again and stumble upon clandestine murals and folks hanging in alleyways, to go on what the Situationists call a "derive" and explore the city on my own terms -- to feel rewarded for straying from set-down paths.

For the first time in a long time, it felt like a local event put on by locals for locals.

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