My wife and I decided to take our unofficial honeymoon in Vegas. The official will be in Europe but that’s a little ways off and we wanted to do something relatively close after our wedding. So we packed the car, my sister, and headed to Vegas. My sister was a stow away. Before any of you think we are a wild and crazy couple prone crazy spur of the moment trips, my whole family was there.
Vegas, somehow the Las is always removed, has the allure of the place to party, America’s adult playground, and of course the movie Swingers. Vegas has a myth built around the city. Most people think going to the City of Sin involves partying so crazy that the phrase “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” truly applies. Telling your co-workers you are going to Vegas is like saying “I’m going to bungy jump from an airplane, then skydive to an small platform on the ocean during a hurricane this weekend.”
For me, Vegas has always been a different experience. As New Mexican, I must always explain Las Vegas, Nevada not New Mexico. Most New Mexicans look at you inquisitively when you excitedly say “I’m going to Las Vegas this weekend!”
Las Vegas, New Mexico is a small town in up north of Santa Fe. Youths escape the town to the giant metropolis of Albuquerque. Grandpa on his porch is why the youths are trying to escape. He pokes at them with his cane. At least in Albuquerque, the grandpa’s are packing. No that is not a joke. A lady was being stabbed to death at a Wal-mart (when they rollback, they really rollback) and a 72 year old man shot her assailant.
The confusion slowly recedes from our co-workers when we explain Nevada is the intended destination. Then they think of hurricanes and skydiving. However, for me, Vegas reminds me of being young, family vacations, and road trips. I’ve been going to Vegas my entire life. My grandparents lived out there when I was a kid. I can remember winning a giant armload of stuffed animals from Circus Circus (back in days before a winner at Circus Circus would get an giant armload of crack and hookers).
My grandparents lived in this small apartment complex with a outdoor, unheated pool. I swam on Christmas Day for the first and only time in my life at the desert city of Vegas. When the Excalibur was being built, my brother and I anxiously awaited the hotel themed after our Dungeons and Dragons adventures. Imagine our delight to watch jousting and eat with our fingers.
I grew older and Vegas didn’t fade into childhood memories. In my early twenties, I hung with the goths, cyber punk, and hacker crowd. Defcon, the yearly hacker convention, happened in Vegas so we went to Vegas year after year. Although my friends weren’t really hackers, just geeks that liked the atmosphere. We would get a kick out of yelling, “Hack the planet!” in line for the New York, New York roller coaster to a cheering crowd.
This weekend was yet another chapter in the Vegas years. Some hotels stayed solid and unchanged, like the Flamingo and Harrah’s. Others expanded to a size that could be an entire city, like Cesar’s Palace. New hotels, like the Aria, filled the concrete and metal landscape. But somehow amidst the constant change, the city stayed the same.
Vegas is a manufactured reality. Ancient tombs, ripe for exploration are at the Luxor. But really the tombs were just a marginal hotel far from everything else and our feet at least, wished we stayed closer to the middle. The Venetian has canals with boat rides down a European like city for simple wait in line for an hour, with a bored looking attendant at the mall. Paris is almost like the city or at least what American’s expect from France. “Ya’ll got some craps! I want craps!” That’s crepes sir. Crepes.
Despite the best efforts to convince the wandering crowds about the “culture” in the hotel, the experience is almost totally American. Endless stretches of shopping malls, bars, shows, and of course gambling make the entertainment maze of Vegas. There is plenty of free trams but only between hotels owned by the same company. The real New York is easier to navigate than ten square blocks of the Vegas Strip.
One night, while we were hanging out with some friends at the New York, New York, I said sarcastically, “It’s like being in the real New York!”
My friend, Phil, said with the same sense of sarcasm, “Almost indistinguishable.”
He and his fiancé lived in Brooklyn for a while. They know the real New York, yet we decided to hang out in the manufactured version. American’s place a high value on authenticity. I’m going to “keep it real” in the equivalent of a photocopy of another place. Yet we go back. I will probably always go back.
For most people Vegas is the memories of hangovers, shotgun weddings, and other crazy times. For me, Vegas is candy canes, Christmas presents, early twenties road trips at midnight, and now my unofficial honeymoon. My wife, my family, and my friends are all connected Vegas. The people around me is the important part of Vegas, the reason I’ll go back. And before I get too sentimental, here’s link my wife sent me: how to gift wrap a cat.