I’ve lived here seven years now. Vegas has become my second home. But over and over, people scoff at the notion that this is a home at all.
Their comments usually imply how that it’s not a true metropolis, or a city in the way that San Francisco and New York are (or Portland or Austin or Boston or Nashville, insert big famous city here). I think what they’re trying to get at is that it’s not “hip” enough. The history isn’t long enough? We don’t have fancy art museums. We don’t have a sleek business district. Actually, I’m not even sure what they’re getting at. In casual encounters with people, they just imply how it’s not a real city and how because they’d never live here. It lacks “culture,” whatever that means.
But I love the eccentricities of Las Vegas. I don’t care for what most people say makes a city “cool” AT ALL.
Our culture isn’t any conception of high class/urban/city-cool-people metropolis, it’s blatant extravagance in a campy, unapologetic way. But it’s gritty and down-to-earth too. It’s carrying a $6 jack-and-coke in a plastic cup as the condensation soaks your hand as you bar hop downtown, careening through the loud wild river slaughter of tourists, locals and fist fights with glowing neon buzzing over your head. It’s drifting through the shattering clinking of slot machines and chain smoke. It’s being in this odd bizarre space where everyone from all over the world comes to get “fucked up,” but we just call it home. It’s how rainy clouds reflect and bounce the bright lights above the Strip, our own curious but magical aurora borealis. It’s the hypnotic smell of El Cortez, with it’s the beloved and missed carpet of El Cortez (locals know!), it’s the same place you can getting your quarters for your laundry at the cashier’s at El Cortez (every two weeks!). It’s and playing blackjack at 3 a.m. at El Cortez!! It’s $10.95 prime rib at El Cortez and 99 cent shrimp cocktails at Champagne’s!! It’s 24-hour bars, it’s damn-right-I-can-smoke-inside.
It’s clouds so elaborate and massive they make you cry (almost daily). It’s using the Stratosphere as your sense of direction around town, and living in the neighborhoods near and below it means you can always hear faint screaming of people on the rides at the top. It’s showgirls drifting the Strip like peculiar ghosts of our slowly-dying live-entertainment past. It’s having an ex-mayor attend every event with a showgirl on each arm and a gin-and-tonic in hand (he’s a former defense attorney of mobsters, also). It’s bats swarming the beam of light that shoots to the sky from the Luxor. It’s people riding horseback down Fremont Street. It’s monsoons striking in the summer and making the air heavy with moisture and warmth and flooding random streets (and the Linq, always the Linq garage floods). It’s having a desert tortoise emergence (Mojave Max) from it’s borrow to indicate the start of Spring (local students make a guess for prizes as to when he does). It’s shooting in the desert because forget gun ranges. It’s skee-ball at the midway at Circus Circus. It’s the remnants of Vegas Past littered everywhere (At the Circus Circus, where the aisles leading to the Midway are wide from when elephants were used in the acts, the ceiling has tracks from when gussied-up women rode carousel horses along them). It’s having the bartender’s number because they’re sold out of the novelty piano shaped cup youI desperately want (it lights up and plays music and holds 32 ounces of liquor, strap for your neck) texting him periodically to see if it’s back in stock. It’s living within three miles of most of my friends.
It’s having some of our biggest national news being about a cowboy, cattle, public lands and the convergence of Western and American notions of property and freedom. It’s the sweet smell of creosote infecting the air after it rains. It’s cliff diving at Lake Mead, it’s being so close to big horn sheep you can almost touch in Boulder City. It’s knowing everyone wherever you go because it’s really a big little city. It’s sharing in the collective misery of the deathly heat at the prime of summer. It’s the transcendental feeling of swimming in luminous pools every night to escape that heat. It’s avoiding the Strip at all costs.
It’s woven details into my life I never expected in this wild transient intersection where I’ve met incredible people that are from here, or not.
It’s a city that, like an older sibling-younger-sibling dynamic, I can make fun of, but the second you do I’m on the offensive. And that’s the rule.
Culture shmulture. I love it here.