Good thing I was reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott whose words of wisdom: “I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” prepared me for Las Vegas, which I had not visited since 1975. Humor thrives on incongruency and there is plenty of it here. Flying in at sunset, I was awed by the miles of canyons advancing on the desert, stopping just short of the lakes created by Hoover Dam. I didn’t see the city from the air at night but I’m sure it sparkles like an 8 karat pinkie ring. Weary from 6 hours of travel by plane and shuttle, I stepped onto the lobby of Caesar’s palace and into a full frontal assault on my senses. Greeted by a cacophony of clinking, buzzing bells and whistles, my eyes provided no refuge from the din, begging me to use my sun glasses to ward off the devils of much too much. Caesar’s Palace covers acres of the Las Vegas strip, a labyrinthian testament to our very human desire for excess and immortality. While the overall aesthetic is a sumptuous parody of classic Greek and Roman motifs, it’s clear who truly presides over the pantheon: Rod Stewart, don’t you think he’s sexy? In the objectification of everyone and everything, this shopping mall of dreams evokes lust in some and panic in others, but the undercurrents are more complex. The service sector is very strong here; ants working to maintain the glistening objects of desire while the visiting moths flit in crazy spirals around the bright lights. When I asked the friendly servers and hosts sprinkled through the casinos how long they had been in Vegas, all of them said 18 or 19 years. They had come during the boom and for family reasons or a decent job, they stayed. Some enjoyed the glitter and others orbited the city. There is less of a race and class schism in Vegas than in New Orleans, a far more soulful city with a strong service sector. People of all colors, ages and nationalities work and party in this strip club mall of America. The genuinely open people I met here more than offset the hideous beauty of Viva Las Vegas. I admit I still enjoy 60’s era Vegas entertainment, a luscious chapter in American pop culture. It might be obscured by the hysteria of the 21st Century, but burbles sinuously underground, beneath the smoke and mirrors and the watchful eyes of ancient Gods of yore.
More to come, including 5 Elvis’ at dinner.