What kind of person lives in Vegas?
Adventures in Sin City
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Dear friend —
What kind of person lives in Vegas? Could that person be you? Me?
I started mulling over these questions after asking the incredibly well-traveled Ashlea for her advice on where to live. I wanted a good-sized city with mild winters and a diverse, left-leaning population, and she recommended Vegas — “a really incredibly underrated city,” she called it — which piqued my interest.
Though I’d visited Vegas a handful of times, I’d never been anywhere off the strip. What was the rest of the city like? I imagined myself writing in the coolth of the AC during the day — in a light-filled apartment or house much bigger than those in L.A. — then lazily reading poolside in the still-warm evenings. So relaxing!
Of course, getting to Vegas wasn’t relaxing — mainly because I decided to spend my first few nights on the strip. After an epic traffic battle I found a spot in the gigantic swelter of a parking lot, then walked through it and down an elevator to finally get into the air conditioned hotel. From there it was through the faux-French streets of Paris Las Vegas, the vast casino area with its cigarette smoke and plinging slot machines, the winding check-in line at the reception, then back through the casino again to take the elevator ten floors up to get to my room, where I crashed onto the bed, already exhausted.
Vegas is a strange city. The strip, which actually isn’t even in Vegas but in a nearby unincorporated area called Paradise, is a long, glitzy string of mega casino-hotels and mall complexes that caters to an endless throng of tourists, some in T-shirts and flip flops, others in bandage dresses and platform stilettos. College kids and middle-aged couples alike walk around with yard-long frozen daiquiris, getting beckoned to by girls in showgirl outfits. Time becomes immaterial — gamblers are always making their bets, bars are always serving drinks, the indoor ceilings are painted to mimic the sky and lit to resemble an eternal late-afternoon.
There are a lot of people who really love Vegas, but I actually get bored with the strip pretty fast. The main sights — the Bellagio fountains, the canals at the Venetian, the diminutive Eiffel Tower at Paris — aren’t new to me. Basic errands — like getting something to eat — require walking through multiple casinos and pushing past hundreds of people to find a place that isn’t too crowded. Many pools close at like 5 pm, and those that stay open turn into clubs — loud parties with a cover, DJs, and lots of drinks and dancing — and I’ve grown out of wanting to go clubbing. Plus I’m not much of a gambler — I don’t bet enough to keep things interesting because the thought of losing a real chunk of money makes me anxious.
Not that you have to love drinking and clubbing to love Vegas. One night I met up for dinner with my writer friend Jim and his wife Nuvia. These two are atypical Vegas tourists: Jim doesn’t drink, Nuvia’s a vegan, and the two elected to stay off the strip at a hotel that doesn’t have a casino. They still somehow gambled more than I did — a reasonable $20 each — and managed to win a few hundred bucks.
Jim and Nuvia were just in town for a few days, which was wise — Vegas visits are really best kept to three days max. By my fourth day on the strip, my diet had devolved. I ate a brioche for breakfast, then another for lunch (Brioche by Guy Savoy had a 3 brioches deal). For an afternoon snack I drank a prosecco — a mistake, because it put me to sleep. I woke up in the evening feeling bleary —
It was time to get off the strip. I moved to an Airbnb, got some groceries from Sprouts. But how does one actually live a normal life in Vegas? I couldn’t figure this out. Normal things I liked to do — like go outside sometimes — weren’t possible in 100+ degree weather. One morning I did make it to a well-maintained local park, to find it empty save a few homeless people, one intrepid dog walker, and me.
What was I doing? It was a strange culture shock, moving from the helter skelter of the strip to the empty streets of the rest of Las Vegas with their barren, dessicated feel. Cookie cutter houses in subdivisions, surrounded by brick walls to keep the noise of the traffic out. Long rows of strip malls filled with chain stores. I did discover the city contained an impressive Asian population though, and happily bought bibimbap and hoppang at a Korean supermarket named, inexplicably, Greenland.
On a Friday night I met up with Larry, an L.A. friend. He’d been living in Vegas for the last month or so, but still didn’t have a sense of where to go in town for fun. Places off the strip were “strange, loud, less maintained,” he said — which I had to agree with after a visit to the Fremont Street Experience, an outdoor mall spanning four blocks in downtown Las Vegas. That place is touted by some as the real Las Vegas — but I found it a sadder, seedier version of the strip: more homeless, lots of down-and-out alcoholics, strange guys coming up and begging for a hug. In the end Larry and I ended up going to the strip. I drank too much at The Chandelier.
The next day I woke hung over. Enough with the strip already — It’s bad for my health, I thought. I quit the prosecco and started eating Thai food. I took a yoga class in a strip mall. I visited 18b, the local arts district, which had some cool spots but was too hot to really enjoy walking around. I attempted a hike in Red Rock Canyon, then gave up when it climbed above 95 degrees, settling for a scenic drive instead.
San Diego started to beckon to me, with its 75-degree weather —
Three links you might love:
When in Vegas, watch a show about Vegas. Hacks stars the magnificent Jean Smart as a Joan Rivers-inspired Las Vegas comic. It’s a great binge watch for hot summer nights:
Want to be happier? Try deleting Facebook. This New Yorker article finally made me delete my Facebook profile. However, I’m still on Instagram for now —