I went through an organized crime phase years ago. I read Mario Puzo, Nicholas Pileggi, and biographies of crime bosses. The history of Las Vegas was especially interesting to me. Since that time I’ve encountered references and exposure to Sin City through the writing of Bill Simmons and the History Channel show Pawn Stars. When I noticed my trip west placed me in the vicinity of Nevada’s most famous city I had to make a stop.
It was dusk as I drove from the Hoover Dam to my hotel in Vegas. The city bustled with activity; it was Saturday night.
I stayed at the Stratosphere Hotel, placing me on the northern edge of The Strip. After parking my car I checked-in, dropped my luggage off in my room, and went to the top of the Stratosphere Tower. The view was impressive.
It was evident where the casinos were. The commercial and residential areas were not as tall, bright, or varied–though still striking.
I spent a long time at the top of the Tower, taking in the display of lights.
After I descended I walked through the Stratosphere casino floors. The scale of the operation impressed me. Everyone seemed happy and excited. I made my way to the street to take in the sights along The Strip.
A cacophony of cologne and perfume lingered by the sidewalks. People were dressed up. Designer suits, high heels, painted faces, tanned skin, and laughter. The ubiquitous hawkers working in casual sweatshirts handing out cards for strip clubs and escorts stood out from the town’s guests. They snapped the cards together and made sudden movements, trying to draw attention and stick a passerby with a card before they knew what happened. They also talked: “Are you lonely?” one woman asked me, and it was evident the question was motivated by business, not compassion.
In Las Vegas things are different. Take Denny’s, for instance. You don’t find many Denny’s like the Las Vegas Denny’s.
I took many photos of the extravagant casinos and their displays. On the sidewalk impersonators and costumed street performers abounded. Hello Kittys, Transformers, Victoria’s Secret Angels, Muppets, Dumbledores, Zach Galifianakises, Michael Jacksons, Elvi, and Wookies. One large Wookiee hid in the shadows behind a casino prop structure, then suddenly leaned forward into the path of unsuspecting pedestrians and made a noise I can only assume is normal for Wookiees (it was a pained groan). At first I thought the responses of the startled people were funny, but then it dawned on me that every person immediately said something profane or vulgar when the Wookiee appeared. It’s interesting to see what an instinctive response draws out. (I did not get that chance to have an instinctive response to the Wookiee, for I saw a hairy Wookiee knee protruding from the shadows before it stepped out, ruining the surprise. Is that a Wookiee over there? Yup, that’s a Wookiee.)
At the Bellagio I saw the famous fountain. The first show I saw was choreographed to the “Hallelujah Chorus.” It was interesting to stand on a Las Vegas sidewalk, surrounded by excess and vice, and hear: “King of kings, and Lord of lords, and He shall reign forever and ever.” It was reassuring to me that right in the middle of the town the praise of Jesus was being declared, even if most of the people were oblivious.
Eventually I walked back to my hotel.
After a very late dinner I retired to my room while the city partied on. I was surprised how happy the mood was in Vegas. The phrase “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” came to mind. These were people living for the moment, consequences forgotten or ignored.
On Sunday morning things were eerily quiet. The few people gambling at the tables or slot machines needed help. On the sidewalk the few people walking showed exhausted contentment, pride, sadness, or shame. Revelry had ended for the moment.
I left town without gambling or getting married. Sometimes it’s important to jump in and live life to the fullest, experience everything. And sometimes it’s smarter to watch from the sidelines.