Thoughts on Las Vegas

The middle of the Las Vegas Strip at night

My wife and I went to Las Vegas for a few days.  I find the city fascinating for so many reasons.

The money culture

Las Vegas revolves around money more than any other place I know of.  It seems architected to get you in, get your money, and get you out.  I can’t think of many other places where the typical advertised “vacation” is three or four days.  In any real city, that’s barely enough to see the top few tourist attractions, let alone get a grasp of the culture.  But in Vegas, that’s easily long enough to take your cash and see the two major tourist areas in the city so that’s how long the trips seem to be.

One of the things that annoyed us was the addition of a “resort fee”.  Basically, this is a scam where the hotels advertise one price, and then, once you arrive, say that there is a mandatory nightly fee for staying there.  In our case, the resort fee increased the price of our stay by about 50%.  To me, this is clearly illegal. I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens when a class-action lawyer brings a case against the hotels for this–it seems likely to me that the hotels will lose.

But of course, for them, it’s worth the risk of a lawsuit and the negative publicity because money.

The glitz

The glitz of Vegas is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Everywhere you look, there are lights, attractions, and people partying.  There are slot machines as far as the eye can see, a hundred gaming tables at every casino. If it brings in people, no expense is too high, and it shows.

My first reaction looking upon this splendor was astonishment about what people can accomplish when they set their minds to doing something.  My second reaction was, “wow, we should really set our minds to do something useful, rather than gambling.” My third reaction was, “And all this amazing stuff is bought with a small fraction of what casino patrons lose.”

My fourth reaction was, “I should open a casino.”

The contrast

The other thing I find remarkable about Las Vegas is the contrasts between the casinos and other parts of the city. The Strip is so bright and alive, but you only have to walk a block to get into the run down parts of the town. The minute you step away, the thin veneer vanishes. You see the people losing thousands in the casinos, see the beggars on the street, and see the middle-aged cocktail waitresses pushing their way through the smoke to deliver yet another watered-down drink.

At that point you realize how many lives have been destroyed by the city. Las Vegas sells dreams, but after observing the decay outside the tourist areas, I have a feeling that it spawns far more nightmares.

A wonder

Nevertheless, I’d still consider the Las Vegas Strip a wonder of the modern world. It’s not all façade. Some things are real.

There are wash-up pop stars, but there’s also acrobats and performers at the top of their game, within the Cirque shows and other shows. The service in some hotels is extraordinary, the food in some restaurants world-class. We found a chocolatier that was as good as almost any other we’d tried and a pizza joint that we’d go to weekly if it were here.

These extremes make me want to return every five years or so, just to see how the city evolves, what new thing I’ll discover. I know I’ll feel ambivalent about the trip every time, but I’ll still enjoy myself. And it’s these contrasts that make the city so fascinating to me.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Las Vegas

  1. Yeah, Las Vegas is interesting. Been there multiple times. Have friends who live there – mostly Las Vegas Zen center crowd. 🙂
    Like you say, there’s a lot of money/glitter/greed/human destruction. But there’s also some great culture (shows, concerts, fun activities), can find great restaurants, etc.
    There’s also third part of Vegas that tourists don’t see – not the Strip, not the rundown places around, but the living burbs where people live. That’s just like another young West city with similarities to Arizona/New Mexico, etc.

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  2. Funny, I don’t really think of “Zen Center” when I think of Vegas…. 🙂

    I agree that the shows and restaurants are great. My family and friends don’t gamble too much, so those things are one of the main appeals for us.

    I haven’t spent any time at all in the suburbs, other than seeing them from the highway when driving in. In a way, I find that part strange too, just that there’s a “normal” city behind the veneer, placed in the middle of an inhospitable desert.

    It’s neat that people are there for jobs outside the entertainment industry. Like, the actual location and environment are pretty terrible (like, if you were to build another half-million person city from scratch, you probably wouldn’t choose to plunk it down in the middle of the desert). But the draw of the people and industries that are already there has ensured it has grown at a pretty decent clip….

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