Vegas has a spotty complexion but no identity crisis, and Las Vegas seems to be at home in its flawed skin from the giant picture of Donny & Marie airbrushed (paint chipping near Marie's eye and Donny's bottom lip) across the entire side of the hotel they are performing at to the enormous bronze statue (made with the craftsmanship of a chocolate Easter bunny mold) of Siegfried, Roy and The Tiger alongside a manmade lake as unnaturally blue as the pellets one drops in toilet water. Speaking of throwbacks, Vegas is also probably the last public sector on earth where pregnant mothers and their dogs can smoke anywhere. It is impossible to walk the strip without being assaulted by cigarette smoke, even though some casinos like the Tropicana try to disguise the accumulated years of blown carcinogens by masking it with a fake coconut, pineapple fragrance that could choke a cat.
As I walk Vegas, which is hotter than Texas this time of year, I cannot help but love the fantasy and the desperate efforts that have been poured into achieving grand-scale illusion from the unemployed wannabe starlets off the bus dressed as Storm Troopers, angels & demons to the consistently sold out David Copperfield, juggling, ventriloquist and no-name animal acts. (Really? Even if Copperfield is the magician’s magician, anything short of Houdini, who was otherworldly in my book, I don’t get the appeal of magic shows. . .)
Pedestrians learn quickly who has the stripper cards because vendors stand on the corners of almost every street and click the cards with their fingernails to draw your attention—but it is simple classical conditioning: you hear that sound a few times and see what accompanies it, and then you no longer have to look or to guess what this troll sells. And, although the city has cleaned up at least the main drag, the sidewalk of which was covered with pornographic trading cards as plentiful as confetti the last time we conferenced here in 2007, the number of young families and moms pushing 3-4 babies in a stroller with one hand while trying to down a three-foot neon blue bong filled with daiquiri is astounding. Just what part of Vegas spells out FAMILY vacation to you?
What is the lure of Vegas that draws them from every age, economic group, and country? The love for gambling? A million to one chance to change their lives instantly with a collosal win, or the complicity of its lurid promise: “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? (And, what is it about being in the desert that makes me crave seafood?) Regardless of the distraction, I am happy to be out and about by myself people watching. I walk for miles and miles every day in this convention town listening to Celine Dion and 80’s party music pumped out of giant speakers along the sidewalks, lest one might have a moment for reflection, quiet time to reconsider that final bet or whether or not to dial that stranger’s number to arrange a tryst.