I spent the President’s Day weekend out-of-town, but I did want to check in about my trip to Las Vegas. The Vegas that I saw is starting to show the signs of wear that you would expect to see from a city that is dedicated to being the playland for the Uber-Wealthy. The highway billboards scream about Rolex watches and nightclubs with $250 cover charges, but where is the angst and indescribable conflict that Hunter S. Thompson was laying bare in his tome: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? When the cabbie who took us to the airport and most of his neighbors cannot afford any of the items displayed on the billboards, a touristocracy of the first order is in play without equivocation.
I think the Vegas of today is becoming a caricature of itself. The boom days of the post-mob 1980s expansion have given way to a new awareness; that to survive as an adult Disneyland, you need to be the adult Disneyland, but on a Disney World level. Shows, concerts, events and the lure of winning it all on one pull of the lever will need to be the foundation of the Las Vegas revival going forward. There will always be those who bet the rent or mortgage money on a chance to be a millionaire, but the regular guy (like me!) needs a place like Las Vegas to solidify his faith in the American Capitalist/Democratic system. As inverse as this might sound, you have the freedom to take the rent money or mortgage money and wager it. One person is in charge of making the decisions, and that is you. This is an extremely empowering awareness when explored in the laboratory of Las Vegas.
On a personal note, I was walking down the sidewalk taking pictures of all of the hotels on the strip, when I happened to take a left-hand turn on the street between the Bellagio, and Caesar’s Palace. Where the pedestrian overpass was allowing thousands of tourists to go from one side to the other, and possibly wager millions, at the base of a slight alcove in the Bellagio wall, a homeless man was urinating. There before my eyes was the stark contrast of the realities: Incredible opulence juxtaposed to utter poverty. I was neither a detractor nor a proponent, but a witness to the event that completely encapsulated the meaning of the Las Vegas phenomenon.
But therein lies the rub, the myriad of questions surrounding this man could be leading to conclusions that are not explicitly relevant to the conversation. Is he choosing this lifestyle of his own free will? Did he have choices and advantages in his life that could have brought about a different set of circumstances? Was he actually a tourist who needed to find a bathroom quickly? As an observer, you cannot assume that what you see before your eyes is the actual fact of the matter. This is the enigma of Las Vegas!