Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Las Vegas

I didn't bother writing about Las Vegas when I got back. Mostly because I was going through a can't be arsed with my blog phase. This happens quite a lot. (Not being arsed, as opposed to going to Las Vegas, which has only happened once. Well, to me at any rate. Anyway. )
To say it's an amazing place is like saying London smells of cabbages. It's true, but it's only part of the story. Las Vegas is built in the middle of fuck-all. Flying in you get an appreciation of the size of the U.S.A and how much fuck-all they have to go round. It's just desert for miles and miles. Some of it looks quite pretty but it's still a big expanse of not much actually.
In the middle of all this sits Las Vegas. Say what you like about the sickening amount of waste such a city creates, it's size and spectacle overwhelms the senses. Think about it. Every single thing from water to lobster to beer to petrol and CSI baseball caps has to be flown or driven in. Nothing is made in or around Las Vegas apart from money and rubbish. God knows where they bury it all. (The waste, not the money.)
We stayed at the Flamingo, one of the oldest hotels on the strip. Despite the Flamingo girls and the neon, it's probably the most pedestrian casino on the strip. Later additions such as Paris or New York New York take their themes and run with them, no expense spared. Other hotels pride themselves on their opulence, such as the Bellagio. Then there are the monster casinos, like Caesars Palace or the MGM Grand. A saunter through the casino at the Grand takes about half an hour alone, it's that big.
Beyond the main strip it's mostly building yards as yet more materials are shipped in to build even more casinos. Like the city, the building never stops. The apartments going up around the Bellagio were lit at night, and construction carried on throughout.
Las Vegas is a paradise for the insomniac or the jetlagged. You can walk down the road with a beer at 4 a.m. and providing your not weeing in the gutter at the same time, the police won't bat an eyelid.
It's a mental place, full of contradictions. Some of the architecture is intricately beautiful, (for example, the facade of the Paris), and yet it's all pastiche. Inside the casinos, the constant tumble of slot machine cylinders and the occasional whoop of a winner roars on 24 hours a day. I had some of the best seafood of my life in Las Vegas, a place that must be several hundred miles from the sea. I also slept really well, despite the jetlag.
You leave wondering if it's real. How can a place like Vegas be allowed to exist? Are all american cities like this? The people are friendly, and the attitude to gambling is akin to that of someone in the UK spending the weekend caravaning, in that it's pleasant for a weekend, but you wouldn't want to spend your life living in one. It's not immoral as such, just a very different attitude to gambling, which in the UK is still somewhat the preserve of shifty blokes in shifty betting shops. You kind of find yourself wondering where all the rough parts you see on CSI are as well. If you stick to the strip, you won't see any of that.
Having said that me and the missus won $260 and I had the best breakfast of my life there. I'd go back in an instant if asked.


Cas said...

I've never been to Vegas, despite the fact that I could theoretically make the drive in a very, very long day. I have, in fact, driven to Reno in a day, and driven to Seattle from southwest Utah in a day, so I know it can be done.

The desert and intermountain (between the coastal ranges and the Rockies) West is really big. It's a great place for long road trips. One could argue that it is synonymous with the entire American notion of the road trip. Get in your car, head to the middle of nowhere, and drive. It's that experience that Americans keep in our heads when we're driving to work each day, which is why people love their cars and won't give them up even though the day-to-day reality of driving is nothing like the road trip fantasy--except on those rare days when you're actually driving down highway 395 with the High Sierras rising abruptly on one side.

That said, I can answer your question. No, American cities are not all like Vegas. Vegas is the place, in the middle of Mormon country, where nearly every vice that is regulated and monitored elsewhere is celebrated, in a place where it can remain mostly apart from the larger culture. It is glitz and glamour and waste on a colossal scale. It's the urban id of American personified. It's Disneyland for adults, and just as fake. In all of this Vegas is unique, though I do think its aesthetic has affected other places. One could argue that there's a certain American denial of our own dark side, and a gambling sense that everything will work out even though the game is rigged and the house always wins. As a nation we do tend to favor pastiche simply because we have no singular shared heritage or deep culture, and arguably our modern culture is a Potemkin reality of wealth hiding more complex problems. That makes Vegas the most American of cities, at the same time no other cities are anything like it.

Next time, take an extra week or two and drive out into the desert and mountains, and make sure you loop into at least one other American city. Then you'll be able to judge the difference for yourself.

Lee said...

Cheers Paul. A request done and dusted the next day. Not bad at all!