Las Vegas is a city, but a small one: population of 285,000, give or take a few. Picture this: desert on all sides, barren, dry, dust clouds and tumbleweed the only things as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, there's a strip of land - no more than 10 miles square. On the outskirts, it's all cookie-cutter homes, one or two stories, square plots, the same curved swimming pool out back. In a thin strip (called, somewhat sensibly, The Strip), Las Vegas (Blvd. or Ave. or whatever, I forget) curves up through the middle like a gash bleeding neon all over the dust, and from that gash rises garish, glistening buildings, all themed, looking for all the world like some strange Hollywood backdrop.
That's Las Vegas.
At eye level, it's like walking through a giant, adult theme park - lights flash epileptically all around, music blares, clouds of cigarette smoke curl around flashing fixtures and signs all over proclaim the strip clubs and naked revues that go on constantly, 24 x 7, 365 days a year. People walk by, cigarettes dangling from fingers tired from clutching quarters, thrusting them into slots, grabbing, thrusting, grabbing, thrusting. Tired women walk by, trays of complimentary drinks in hand, putting on fake smiles and wearing skirts that come up to their navels and push-up bras that cleave their sagging breasts like an axe through butter. Armies of zombies sit at the slots, mindlessly putting quarters and nickels and dollars into them, spinning them over and over, pouring out their savings, bit by bloody bit, clouds of smoke wafting by.
But not all of it's good. ;)
Someone once told me Las Vegas made good a family vacation spot: to them I say "HAH!" and "HAH!" again, and "HAH!" once more. Las Vegas is good for families just like a convention for std-ridden Catholic priests listening to Michael Jackson speak on family values is a healthy environment for a young boy. The city is like a cross between an "adult store" and a theme park, combining the worst of each, but with some of the best of each as well.
It's bright, it's exciting, it's like worshipping head-first at the Church of Sensory Overload, and if you can take it, it can be fun. It's like an acid-nightmare version of Times Square from the 80's, and dizzying in its heights and depths. I've never seen so many people smoking, drinking, laughing, partying, dressed for an orgy, just generally skanky. The women are all dressed in mini-skirts and tight shirts, revealing their pushed-up cleavage, attempting to hide the wrinkles on their faces and bags under their eyes with a too-thick coat of makeup, clumsily slathered on with a palette knife. The interiors of the casinos are light-proofed, always kept at the same level of darkness, designed to be in a perpetual twilight, feeling like it's always-but-not-quite-ever night time, lights blinking on and off and on and off. The whole thing can be rather overwhelming; even as a born and bred New Yorker I went to bed with a headache almost every night. More than anything else, though, it made me sad - all of these people, all of those fake smiles, all of those dreams of millions getting broken apart, one quarter at a time. The people there were laughing and smiling but didn't seem particularly happy; it was like some giant beer-sodden frat party, where the people were so drunk and lost in the moment they wouldn't even know if they were happy or hurt, and certainly wouldn't remember any of it after.
Sure, it can be a fun town in limited doses and if you have money to throw away, but I had too much time and too little money and just came away feeling a bit tired and dirty. It's the first time in a long time that I've been in a city that allows smoking, everywhere - in restaurants, in hallways, in the casinos, on the streets, there's no escape from it. I tried to enjoy the city, but it was too much. It was if no one had any taste; there was no attempt, ever, to have a touch of class. It was a giant Roman orgy, except no Roman ever could have imagined anything like this. I tried, but I couldn't.
That being said, I did have a good time despite the city. The view from the Hard Rock was nice, and while the hotel lobby and casino was as loud and bright and smoky as any other area, the room was quiet and cool and as bright or as dark as I wanted. Apachecon was right across the street, the company from the convention was always good, and the strip was a mile away, and just a bunch of twinkling lights in the distance. I saw Mystere (a Cirque du Soleil performance) and was absolutely stunned by it; it was truly a gorgeous spectacle, but again, big on the theme of sensory overload. At any given time, there were a dozen things to look at, and it was impossible to take it all in at once - probably a good thing for them, as I'm sure most people probably see each show multiple times over the course of their life. I was disappointed but unable to go to see O (another CdS show) or Penn and Teller, as they were too expensive - O had a waiting list of a month and the only way to get in was to get brokered tickets at $250 a piece, and Penn and Teller were $72 each, which is more reasonable but more than I'm willing to pay for any magicians, comedians, or combination of the two, even those as funny as P&T. I enjoyed the week out there; I just didn't like Las Vegas.