I’m beginning this post as I sit in the gate area of my departing flight from McCarran International, and taking advantage of the free wi-fi connection (HT Jay Reding). This is an enjoyable feature and gives me time to make a list of the other things I enjoyed in Las Vegas during my brief stay:
1. The Key Lime pie at Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant, which was very tart and creamy and quite unlike the midwestern versions I usually experience where it is considered sufficient to simply add a green tint to the dessert.
2. The dancing fountains show in front of the Bellagio in the evenings.
Other than that I suppose you can say that the party animal in me has long since had his hide tanned, mounted and banished to the attic (you’re not bringing that thing into my house), and Vegas is best enjoyed at hyper party speed where things are thrown at you so quickly you don’t have time to look too closely. At a slower, more cynical pace it can still be interesting, however.
Strolling down the strip you can see faux versions of Rome, Venice, Egypt, New York, Paris, tropical islands – and faux grass in front of (I think) the Wynn Las Vegas, which no doubt serves pate de foie gras inside. In addition to the architectural mimicry, there were other superstructures that also appeared to be less than authentic (you go, girl). Every so often I could get a glimpse between buildings of the mountains flanking the city; taken together in frame the juxtaposition of false facade and rocky reality can be startling.
Integral to the Strip’s appeal is the glamorous image of sophisticated good times as illustrated 40 years ago by the Sinatra, Martin and Davis, Jr. Rat Pack and other stars who made it their sandbox. It was a message that said “Sure, you can play bingo and pull tabs in basement of the VFW hall while you flirt with Gladys, but it’s classier to come to Vegas and do it where Frank might ask you to blow on his dice.” I didn’t see anyone resembling Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr., but I did see lots of older folks with oxygen tubes under their noses, some in motorized scooters, feeding the slots or poised for hours on end in front of the big Keno screen.
You don’t have to scratch the glittery surface much to see the underlying machinery. While I was there the local taxi drivers were forming their cabs into slow-moving, light-flashing, horn-honking parades up and down Las Vegas Boulevard to protest proposed legislation that would prevent strip clubs from kicking back to the drivers the cover charges of people the taxis delivered to the clubs’ doors. According to my cabbie, the proposed law is being pushed by the hotel and casino lobby (which is prohibited by law from having its own strip clubs) which would rather have visitors throwing money at its slot machines than at strippers’ g-strings.
There is certainly a vibe to the city, though, and at one point I tried to measure it against the vibe I feel when I’m in Manhattan, and I think there is a difference. New York has an underlying sense of power, an organic strength that breathes and stretches under your feet and under the skyscrapers as it breathes easy and steady knowing it has eternity on its side. The Vegas energy is more palpable and in your face, but it is more of a breathless desperation that is both harder and more brittle. It is as if everyone there is pumping hard to keep the motion and momentum of the place going just long enough – and powerfully enough – to throw them clear before the whole thing collapses under its own weight.
When it comes to weaknesses of the flesh, however, Vegas really isn’t any different than anyplace else – it merely has the opportunity to indulge and celebrate these on a grand scale. It might be the best of what’s worst in all of us. Founded on the pillars of greed and covetous, envious desire; cemented by the slothful penchant for gain without effort; and lacquered over with layers of all manner of lust, the city has been polished and shined by repeated rubbings of the faithful who believe they can win while demonstrating that you can’t go broke betting on human nature.