Tourists stared and pointed, phones were fished out of pockets and purses and drivers laid on their horns as several dozen boats rolled along the Strip early Sunday evening.
The boats were hitched to trucks and cars and towed up and down Las Vegas Boulevard between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. in protest.
“We’re upset with the (government) shutdown,” Boulder Boats owner and rally organizer Stuart Litjens said. “We want to be on (Lake Mead) with our families. We would be out at the lake, but now we had to figure out alternate plans.”
Lake Mead National Recreation Area was only one of several national parks around Las Vegas affected by the government shutdown.
Litjens and his financial manager Dan Lee, who came up with the idea for the rally, are frustrated with the government and its shutdown, and they were not afraid to show it.
“It’s obviously just completely disappointing,” Lee said. “Small businesses are suffering.”
Informing the public of what a government shutdown really means and who it affects was a big goal for Lee.
“I think not very many people realize who in Las Vegas is affected by this,” he said. “I saw a lot of boats I’ve never seen before.”
It all started on social media, when Litjens put out a Facebook blast about taking boats down the Strip to make a statement that they were unhappy with the shutdown.
“It’s amazing on social media. This just blew up,” Litjens said. “We’re just trying to get the word out there, to let them know we’re upset by all this. It’s crazy the exposure you can get with social media, things you don’t even intend.”
The Strip played a big part in getting Lee and Litjens’ message out.
“We’ve got the most popular roadway,” Lee said. “It would get us exposure. Let people know this is affecting us. There is more to it than just going out to the lake.”
The popularity of the topic was another boon in Litjens favor.
“You go protest abortion or religion, you get some angry mobs,” he said. “This we get little opposition. Everyone is on our side.”
It isn’t just the personal and leisure impacts that have rankled Lee, Litjens and other rally participants.
“For us, this has a big financial impact,” Litjens said about his business. “The last shutdown lasted 21 days. If this lasts a month, that could be a half million dollars in revenue for us,” he said.
“Mess with my family and business and I’ll do pretty much anything,” Litjens said. “They’re (the government) messing with both.”
Although the cars and boats that started off at Tropicana Avenue were associated with Boulder Boats, several other boats joined the procession from Tropicana to Sahara Avenue and back again.
“It’s a very high-traffic place, high visibility,” Litjens said of their hourlong ride along the Strip. “I’d rather be at the lake. It’s cool though, getting people together and it’s harmless. We’re not causing any damages here.”
The goal was never to obstruct traffic, though at times that was the unfortunate response, and the only snag was the spreading out of boats and cars by lights and the route.
“We’re not trying to congest the Strip,” Litjens said. “We’re just going for a cruise down the Strip.”
People passing by the boats or in front of and behind the procession showed their support by shouting out windows and honking their horns, thumbs up to signify their approval. Others rushed by without a second glance.
“It was great,” Boulder Boats employee Chuck Calvo said. “I don’t think it will change (anything), but it increases awareness about how many things are affected by this government shutdown. Maybe every little thing collectively will send a message.”
Litjens and Lee had no idea how many people to expect or what kind of impact they would make, but they said doing something is better than nothing.
“Whether it’s effective or not, at least we’re doing something,” Litjens said.
Contact reporter Rochel Leah Goldblatt at 383-0381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.