It should say something about me that I was actually more excited to see the Hoover Dam than Las Vegas. I don’t know what.. but it should say something.
The best way to get to Las Vegas is by plane. If you come by car — which, if you’re coming in from the east, requires driving through hundreds of miles of gritty, sunburnt desert — you’ll be ready to put up with anything as long as it’s in the shady air conditioning. And you will, believe me, you will. Not that I speak from personal experience of course.
I’ve been to Las Vegas twice now. The first time as a little kid, more than a decade ago when Las Vegas was trying to appear family friendly. There were dolphins to pet, lion cubs to ogle, klingons to scare the crap out of you and medieval jousts to keep the more bloodthirsty of us occupied. I’m sure of course, that I was unaware of a lot of things that were going on in the Las Vegas of 2000 that eight year olds should be unaware of. Occasionally I saw a few things I probably shouldn’t have, but I don’t think was scarred for life. At least I wasn’t, and then I went back. The center of the Las Vegas Strip still looks pretty much the same:
Around a decade after my first encounter with the rhinestone in Nevada’s crown, I drove through the Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts. Very different. I was traveling with my family and since we were going through we decided to see Las Vegas, basically just because it was there.
In hindsight, Circus Circus was nowhere near as cool as it seemed when I was nine or eight. Figures. I’m not really sure what part of Las Vegas appeals to people in my demographic (i.e mousy little white girls) But.. for a prude who doesn’t gamble –and wasn’t even able to legally drink, don’t get me started on that — Las Vegas is a garish, tastelessly flashy, desert hell. This is not to say that it wasn’t fascinating. It’s cool to see how companies can manage to efficiently extract money from people relatively painlessly. It’s also pretty interesting to try to figure out what allows Las Vegas, a city with no obvious natural resources and little else going for it, to continue existing.
Las Vegas begins to make sense when you realize that pretty much everything exists in its local form to make money. Of course this is a statement so obvious that it’s stupid, but it’s one that is strangely difficult to keep in mind. No one who is trying to sell you something wants you to think about how much you’re actually spending. There are all sorts of little things that make Las Vegas seem different. The tiny, relatively uncomfortable rooms are designed to encourage you to be out gambling or.. whatever. There’s the omnipresent cheap food. The food is weird at first, especially since you’re out in the desert and everything has to travel into the city, but it makes perfect sense because the large profits from gambling essentially subsidize the in-casino restaurants; meals are their loss leader. Maybe if you’re not concerned about how much it costs to eat out, you might spend more gambling, but I have no way to verify this.
In short: Las Vegas is pure tourist trap, it’s what every little charming New England village and quaintly dilapidated town in the Florida keys is afraid of becoming. Well plus some lights, and hookers, and traffic. People go there to pig out, ogle and generally make fools of themselves. This is actually pretty intelligent; the nice thing about traveling is that if you act like a complete and utter idiot it is no big deal, because you’re most likely never going to see anyone again. And if you do, you can pretend you forgot. Not that I know any of this from personal experience either.
So we went to all the really famous places:
We unanimously decided to go to the Rio (pictures here.) Mostly because it was kinda out of the way. Also, to put it kindly, if not too eloquently, we expected it to be a bust. The Rio is probably designed with a younger, more active crowd in mind. If you liked Mardi Gras but just couldn’t get a handle on the weird french stuff, you might like the Rio.