The Thing about Vegas
Las Vegas is not my first choice when thinking about places I want to go for fun. It isn’t even very far up the list. As a matter of fact, you’d have to flip through a lot of pages before you got to “Las Vegas” in a list of places I want to go. Yet here I am, again.
To be honest, this is the first time I’ve been to Vegas for fun. I’ve been here a couple times for a client who ran auto repair shops, which doesn’t count as the Las Vegas we think about -- I was actually in the town of Las Vegas visiting auto shops and taking a quick trip to The Home Depot.
I was here last for the Clio Awards in 2010. Now THAT was a Vegas destination -- advertising from around the world at the Hard Rock Hotel. Only it turned out to be a lot of the same conference events that you find in any hotel, you just had to walk past the casino to get to the meeting rooms.
Those casinos are what make Vegas hotel owners rich. And yet they are the ugliest part of the town to every sense -- the too-dry air smells of stale cigarette smoke and air freshener, the flashing lights and constant bombardment of the electronic tones from the gaming machines that jar you at ever turn, and the blackjack dealers are always looking at you with the come-hither of a well-dressed carnie.
The casinos steal money from people who like shiny objects and can’t do math. Which, I suppose is a pretty strong American trait. And that’s where I look at Vegas not from just my personal comfort but from the other part of vacationing -- learning new things and experiencing something truly unique.
Las Vegas is so American it’s almost a parody of America. I say “almost” because it IS what America does best. The science and technology in this place is astounding; the fact it’s been exploited to create a giant, corporate complex that jacks up visitors like some kind of consumerism crack whore is just part of what we do in this country.
Vegas pushes the boundaries in all directions at once -- extreme engineering with more hotel rooms on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Flamingo than in all of San Francisco. The acquisition of masterpieces from Masters such as Monet and Da Vinci is almost overshadowed by the amazing collection of contemporary artists with private galleries.
Sure, Donnie and Marie are doing a show tonight, but there are also three Cirque du Solei performances. Every celebrity chef has a massive restaurant here, and while we’re spoiled with amazing food carts in Portland, one of the best meals I’ve ever had was at Emeril’s in Orlando, of all places.
Look past the giant TVs, the blaring advertising the enormous buildings, the hawkers on the sidewalks, the strippers-to-your-room billboards driving down the middle of the strip… Look past all these things and you see the industrious, dreaming, driven part of America that put us on the Moon.
It’s the part of America that constantly innovates and makes something new out of thin air, solving complex problems for fun and profit. And while it’s garish and wasteful and opportunistic, if you live in this country you live with this evil twin of the America pictured in campaign ads (the good twin being that industrious, innovative American in a wheat field).
I’m not suggesting you embrace Vegas -- we don’t all need a lost weekend. But I do suggest you look at the marvels that make this scar in the desert also a miracle in the desert. We are all flawed creatures, but we are also amazing creatures -- Las Vegas amplifies both sided of our American values and debauchery.
So while Vegas is buried deep on my list of places I want to be, I can’t help but enjoy myself while I dig into concentrated America -- because America, good or bad, is an amazing place and so is Las Vegas.