Las Vegas, Nevada

Trip Start Apr 11, 2010
Trip End May 20, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Las Vegas is a place I'd never choose to go on vacation, but it's a worthy sight to stop at en route elsewhere.  Dave wanted to stop since he hadn't been there in ten years, but I honestly had my fill of it last year on a day visit on a trip to the Southwest.

To me Vegas represents America at its worst and is a symbol of its overall social decline even though it was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation for nearly two decades.  Vegas offers the opportunity to take big chances with a fleeting probability of coming out way ahead.  And until the recent recession gaming was one of the leading growth industries in America as the "work hard" route to a good life has become ever more elusive to the country's struggling middle class in a society polarized by extremes of wealth and poverty.

The gambling, though, is only part of the well-oiled machine designed to separate you from your money regardless of your income or credit limit, one glad to service your craving for any vice imaginable.  After all, aren't some of the biggest billboards along the highway into town for businesses like Adult Mega World and the Adult Fantasy Store?  And hundreds of young Latino dudes now hang out on the corners all along "The Strip" passing out promo cards for strippers, girlie shows, and escort services.  Perhaps the sound the cards make as they flick them together is thought to incite carnal desires in the men receiving them?  There used to be plenty of construction jobs in Vegas, but now it appears the only jobs left for uneducated immigrants who speak little English involve passing out promo cards for escort services.

So now that we've covered avarice, sloth, and lust, how about the rest of those Seven Deadly Sins?  Well, Vegas certainly caters to the inclination toward gluttony.  I knew it would only be a matter of time until the all-you-can-eat buffet's natural successor finally made an appearance.  Yes, the all-you-can-eat $29.99 buffet "day pass" is now available at numerous casinos.  I suppose the folks with ample backsides and pendular guts waddling around the casinos must be among the regular day-pass clientele.

Then there are the big name shows, entertainment as mindless as the act of pulling a one-armed bandit, most of which fails to entertain.  Cher appears to be an expensive fixture at Caesar's Palace, and I see Andrew Dice Clay is doing a show somewhere too.  Didn't he fall off the face of the earth about 20 years ago?  For less expensive entertainment there's a small army of Elvis impersonators wandering the streets asking only for some dollar bills in their collection hats.  But if the formal entertainment doesn't entertain, the people-watching certainly does in the world's largest congregation of misfits and creeps.

Besides the pervasive tawdriness the overall atmosphere in Vegas is simply fake.  There's fake New York, fake Venice, fake Paris, fake Egypt, fake tropical islands, etc.  What comes most to my mind when I'm in Las Vegas is a book I read sometime in the early 1990s that I still have somewhere in storage, one named "The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste" ( covering the most extreme examples of tastelessness in American pop culture ranging from Elvis impersonators to Liberace, breast augmentation to pink Cadillacs, snow globes to Hummel figurines.  Those and most of the 200 or so other entries are on display along The Strip or not far from it.

Vegas was recently named "America's 2nd Dumbest City" in a ranking of large metropolitan areas on the basis of educational attainment, book sales, and institutions of higher education.  That it was also the fastest growing metropolitan area is perhaps indicative of the direction of American intellect generally over that time, but it's growth was based heavily on construction and service industries that support gaming.  Residents everywhere, of course, need medical, legal, financial, educational and other services which employ more highly educated people, but I don't know of many tech research facilities established in Vegas or any corporate headquarters that have been relocated there.

The drive across the Mohave Desert from Las Vegas to Southern California on I-15 is across what strikes me as one of the bleakest stretches of road in America.  I dropped Dave off at Disney's swank Grand Californian Hotel and Resort in Anaheim where he was going to stay with some friends.  It was quite late and I ended up sleeping in my car at a rest stop along I-5 at Camp Pendleton rather than pay the exorbitant $40 camping fee at San Onofre State Park.
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