Should Las Vegas Exist?
Time: 10:37 a.m.
“Las Vegas shouldn’t exist.”
Jordache said this to Sam and I, speaking over the hooting and whistling of other passengers as our plane made its final descent towards at McCarran International Airport. We cut through a layer of heavy clouds, and the Spring and Sheep Mountain ranges gradually appeared, looking like grandstands around a small, bionic world.
“Look around. Do you see anything resembling an industry?”
I peeked out the window.
There were no crops. No factories. No natural reserves. Only an ocean of faded khaki hills lying beyond the city’s nucleus. And swimming pools. Big, expensive swimming pools.
“This city gives nothing back to the earth. It only takes and takes.” Jordache smirked, draining his Mountain Dew. He shook his head, rolled his eyes at the excitement of others, shivered.
The name ‘Vegas’ literally means ‘fertile valley or plain’, referencing its prehistoric artesian wells that have long-since dried up and turned to sand.
There is no natural water supply there today. The electric miracle you see is entirely man-made.
To exist, underground pipes bring millions of gallons of water from the Colorado River to a city-sized slot machine that people from across the world come to play. Every minute of every day. 365 days a year. Year after year.
No, if it were up to Mother Nature, Las Vegas probably wouldn’t exist.
Sympathy for Las Vegas Shellfish
A question: Does Las Vegas’s renowned contributions to the entertainment world and tourism economy excuse it for being a parasite?
My quest for answers began at the Caesar’s Palace buffet, an experience I was led to believe is essential to any first-timer’s itinerary.
An interesting fact I started learning in the buffet line, concerning lines: you will wait in one everything in Las Vegas. Food, drinks, check-ins, check-outs, rides, clubs. It’s a supply and demand thing. The only way to avoid standing in lines is to throw money at the problem. Lots and lots and lots of money.
I had exactly $122 to spend on , excluding the $54 I’d just dropped to eat at the Roman emperors palace. Therefore, like the masses of hooting tourists sipping frozen margaritas out of tower-sized sippy cups, I would wait.
As we inched our way to the front of the line, a statue of Caesar in the center of the room caught my attention. His gaze was cold, his index finger aimed at buffet-goers, and his garb not unladylike. I waved back.
45 minutes later, were seated.
Around us, decked into the walls and nooks of Caesar’s king-sized ballroom, was every manner of food imaginable. From sushi to Italian, Mongolian, Hawaiian, Brazilian and Ethiopian. All you could possibly eat. To eat one of everything on offer would be suicide.
I headed for the seafood line. It would not take long to fill a plate. A mountain of crawfish, lobster, crab, and paella came back to the table with me. I passed Caesar and I noticed his face. With one judgemental eye cocked to the left, he seemed to be saying, “is that all, peasant?”
It wasn’t until I started breaking into crab legs that I took stock of the situation. They were frozen, each limb and ligament still taught from the moment they were severed from the rest of the crab, and cast onto a pile of similarly unlucky limbs. The dish I’d pulled my crab from was more of a trough, a death trough, stocked with hundreds of crab while thousands lay in back wait a similar fate.
My heart instantly broke for all the shellfish of Las Vegas, bred in waters far from Caesar’s vacation home in North America, and brought here for the sporting pleasure of our lusty appetites.
Caesar glared at me, saying “Eat, heathen, eat“.
I disobeyed and left my crab legs untouched, opting to go back for less undead options.
By the end of my second plate, I understood something new about the buffet at Caesar’s. Anything that does not immediately taste fucking incredible is not worth taking a second bite of. There is too much to try to waste time with satisfactory food. His lordship commandeth it.
As I hobbled away, bow-legged and sleepy, a thought struck me: in the world according to sealife, Las Vegas does not give back. But for people, the experience is worth writing about.
Avoiding Instagram Fame
Time: 12:35 p.m.
My phone’s camera stopped working the moment we stepped off the plane.
I tried many things to fix this, but the problem proved itself unrepairable. My selfie-camera, however, worked fine. This is why every single picture from my entire Las Vegas trip is taken with a selfie-cam, and therefore nearly useless.
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve posted is a collection of my finest photographs above.
Time: 2: 43 p.m.
When Las Vegas gives back, it does so in mysterious ways.
I won a raffle at the hotel and was the lucky recipient of one VIP ticket to see Bryan Adams at the illustrious Cosmopolitan Casino and Spa.
The lady who handed my prize to me said, “enjoy the show” in a weirdly sarcastic way that sounded like she thought I would not enjoy it or wouldn’t go.
Truth be told, Bryan Adams’ anthem “Everything I Do” is the background music to many of my earliest memories of slow-dancing and making out. Hearing his raspy vocals utter those first lines, “Look into my eyes,” takes me all the way back to 1995, into various living rooms around Port Elizabeth, where I’m turning in circles with arms wrapped around a number of girls who probably wouldn’t recognize me today.
Twelve year old me genuinely wanted to see Bryan Adams for the nostalgia, and thirty-two year wanted to see him because the VIP pass came with free drinks.
With Long Teeth And Fingers
Time: 5: 07 p.m.
I drew $60 at the hotel to play slots and a few hands of poker, and bet on the Timbers if there was anything left to spare.
Our Uber driver to the strip, Loren, had a star tattooed on his forehead, a photo of Trump on his dashboard, and a beard you could clean dirty ovens with. He pulled up in a red pickup, not a black SUV as promised. “I thought your car looked different in the photo,” I said.
Loren muttered something about me forgetting about it and not asking again. His tone was hostile, clearly soured by something that happened before picking up three pale marketing geeks from the Pacific Northwest. I chose to let the matter slide.
As luck would have it, Loren was the type of driver who both hated tourists and served them. He took great joy in swerving towards people standing too close to the road, which made me spill an entire cup of coffee. On my lap.
This was bad for two reasons: 1. The spilled coffee made it look like I’d genuinely pissed my brown trousers. 2. Loren looked like he genuinely wanted to kill me.
Before we could get out, he gave me an ultimatum that seemed somewhat unfair: I could give him the $60 in my pocket, or he’d drive me to his house and provide the necessary cleaning accessories I’d need to remedy the situation.
I chose not to visit Loren’s home.
Time: 6: 18 p.m.
That evening, I walked south on Las Vegas Boulevard, towards the free drinks that awaited me at the Cosmopolitan.
One moment I was staring up at an orange sky, bumping into people who were stumbling between casinos, pretending not to hear punters offering me their prostitute trading cards.
Out of nowhere, a mighty dust storm emerged. Great pillars of sand rose up and galloped down the street. Dresses, hats, and toupees did the Mexican wave as they drove through the crowd. People shrieked and headed for the first door they could find.
The palm trees shook violently, raining leaves into the streets. A large branch harpooned a car’s windshield, causing traffic to stop and cars to honk at each other. The sky turned brown and murky.
I broke away and snuck into Planet Hollywood. From behind the tinted front doors, a billboard overhead peered back at me: Bryan Adams was at the Cosmopolitan and starting in an hour.
Seeing The Good
Our Lyft driver to the airport, Michael, was the happiest person I met in Vegas. The reason: he was living in Las Vegas. “I’m from Detroit. Before I moved here, whenever I’d come here, I’d be crying when it was time to leave,” he told me. “One day, I just said to myself: I’m leaving my shitty, cold house and moving to Vegas, and now I’ve got everything I want.”
“What do you like about it?” I asked him. Because I was genuinely interested.
“The energy. There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, people to see. People are always happy – this is Disneyland for grown ups! Ya’ll see any shows while you were here?”
I’d downed four whiskeys at the Cosmopolitan and left before Bryan Adams came on. So technically, no.
After clearing security, the three of us headed towards the gate. Jordache had amassed a mighty $289 in winnings, Sam was up $191 after scoring an Apple Watch in the same raffle I got a ticket to see Bryan Adams, and I was -$105 after convincing myself I knew the secret to Craps.
I’d accepted that Vegas exists for a good reason: people love it. It’s an experience-generating machine. Though a serious strain on natural resources, it exists for a reason, like much of our species.
And with this new realization seated firmly in my brain, I spotted a clip of hundred dollar bills lying innocently on the ground, in the middle of Vegas foot traffic.
I like to imagine the clip belonged to Loren, or someone else who took an extra handful on Las Vegas’s behalf.