Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | 2 a.m.
(This is part of an occasional series of profiles of people working and living in downtown’s emerging new landscape.)
The seafoam-rimmed sunglasses and matching bow in her blond hair aren’t right.
If you have to put a finger on the problem, it’s her name.
The name doesn’t fit the glasses and ribbon. It doesn’t fit the person. There appears nothing dangerous about her.
Don’t believe me: Take the word of the people she meets almost daily giving tours for the Downtown Project, where she takes visitors even into the private sanctum of Tony Hsieh’s condo on the 23rd floor of the Ogden.
Danger speaks with such a cheerful lilt about Hsieh’s dream of fomenting community downtown that more than once people have asked Danger if she used to work at Disneyland. Or where she went to college and if she studied urban issues.
So where did “Danger” come from?
The fact is, the 26-year-old from the Grand Rapids, Mich., area is a college dropout who later traveled the country working for a faith-based, almost cultish nonprofit organization that helps men and women addicted to sex or who work in the so-called sex trades — prostitution, stripping and whatnot.
“I think I’ve made lunch for hookers in every brothel in Nevada,” Danger says, laughing.
Only a few years ago, after a crisis in faith, she simply woke up one day and, having grown up a devoted Calvinist, she stopped believing in a higher power.
She quit her former job around February 2010 with no idea what to do next, although she had been hearing about Zappos.com, Hsieh’s online retail company that employed many who liked to party downtown after work.
This was at the genesis of downtown’s rebirth. Danger rented a room downtown in the John S. Park neighborhood and almost every morning visited the Beat coffeehouse, which had just opened. Her booming voice and laughter is so loud and distinct it prompted at least one writer (me) to ask if she could tone it down.
“All-righty then,” Danger said at the time, invoking a Midwestern tone she never really uses except when wanting to indirectly slight some jerk asking her to keep quiet.
But that doesn’t answer the question about her name.
“Danger” came from her schoolmates at the faith-based Iowan boarding school she was sent to at 13 because, well, she was a little tough to handle as a tough-minded early teen back in Michigan. Her parents — mom is a library director and dad is a quality-control engineer in the auto industry — weren’t quite sure what to do with their daughter.
She readily admits she was a lot to handle. While going through adolescence, she also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which seemed to combine to make the natural parent/adolescent schism more intense.
It wasn’t just her parents. At the boarding school, she was suspended 46 times in one year, a record she believes hasn’t been broken to this day. She says the harder she tried to get kicked out of school, the closer school administrators held on to her.
“I scored very high on standardized tests, but I just wouldn’t do school work,” she says, smiling.
She returned to Michigan her junior year but went back to the boarding school for her senior year, she said, because she had grown attached to her friends, the school and, yes, even the teachers.
“I had gotten things together a lot more by then and I wanted to graduate from there,” she said.
On an impulse, Danger dropped out of college after three months — ”I was driving to school and thought, ‘I’m going to the dean’s office to find out how to get out of school’” — then wandered from job to job.
She had an assemblyline job putting caps on bottles of Amway suntan lotion and brushes into mascara bottles. She bounced around the East Coast, staying a few weeks here and there, working in coffee shops.
Always, she said, she felt the need to do something worthwhile, something with purpose, something that helped other people. She ended up back in Michigan and had been watching videos about XXX Church, which reaches into strip clubs to assist those in the adult trades or counsels sex addicts.
Danger volunteered. Then the church hired her. Soon she was traveling around the country with co-workers. Their base was a Las Vegas three-bedroom apartment for nine people near Russell Road and the 215 Beltway.
Sounds packed, maybe even a little cultish, doesn’t it?
“I don’t think any more so than Zappos,” she says. Then she laughs. “They were like my family. I guess that sounds worse, huh?”
She left XXX Church shortly after awaking one day, as if from a dream, with the scratchy sense that she’d been duped — not by the church but by herself.
“I literally woke up one day and said, ‘This has to be b.s. — we’re pretending there’s some Big Dude up there who has some say in what we do? You’ve got to be kidding me,’” she says.
That was early 2010.
Cutting physical ties with the church was easier than she thought. When members moved to Los Angeles, she stayed in Las Vegas. Losing her faith was harder.
“I didn’t want that to happen,” she says. “I profoundly felt like I lost my best friend, but there was nothing I could do about it. Once my eyes were opened, I couldn’t go back.”
By the end of that year, around the time Zappos CEO Hsieh announced his company’s move to downtown Las Vegas, Danger had become a daily fixture at the Beat at Sixth and Fremont streets.
“All I’d told her was that I’d come to get lost in Las Vegas, and the information began to gush,” the reporter wrote.
That’s essentially Danger's job now.
After working in the Zappos office, still in Henderson until the move later this year, Danger was known for talking up downtown, where she rented a room near enough to the downtown taverns that she could stumble home.
Even Hsieh, whose poker face would challenge anyone with a World Series bracelet, noticed.
“She’s got a great personality, is passionate about downtown and really connects with the folks she gives tours to,” Hsieh said.
Nine months after being hired by Zappos — a job she wasn’t even sure she wanted and considered turning down to take the $4,000 the company offers to people who turn down a job offer — Danger was hired to be the face of the new Downtown Project.
Anyone who takes a downtown tour, and most who want to do business with the Downtown Project are asked to do that first, meets Danger before the downtown team.
Jeanne Markel, Zappos downtown team director, sees Danger as a natural fit.
“Certain people were born to a role, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing what she’s doing right now," Markel said. “Some things are taught and some are innate, and her enthusiasm is incredibly genuine … and anyone who comes in contact with her can feel that.”
Danger's friend, Charles Ressler, predicts Danger is going to be a “star” one day. It’s more than her positive energy and kindness, Ressler said.
“The people she works with know she is brilliant,” he added. “Ultimately, I see her being a really huge star. I think she’s going to end up being someone the world watches and is truly a thought leader — with a side of punk-rock star.”
Ressler added, with a chuckle, “she’s loud and she can drink.”
Danger is a writer, too. As it turns out, a prolific one.
In her teen years, she wrote a letter every day for five years to Milo Aukerman, lead singer of the Descendents, a California-based punk rock band.
In Aukerman’s songs, Danger heard a kindred spirit. Writing to Aukerman helped Danger overcome some of her own demons.
Danger never sent the letters. She met Aukerman two years ago, though, at downtown’s Punk Rock Bowling. Now Danger is working on a book proposal related to the letters.
She’s also developing a television show idea but didn’t want to reveal its subject matter.
Maybe one day Danger will indeed be a star.
And if that happens, she might be asked by some astute interviewer for her real name.
Will she be ready to drop the Danger in favor of something, say, a little more mainstream?
“Never,” she says, with laughter in her voice. “Danger is who I am now.”
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.