And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. (Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
I had a conference in Vegas the latter half of last week, and Neal and I were able to go together and stay in this ridiculous hotel and enjoy the warmer weather. We had fun–I was able to see the fountains at the Bellagio three times; we saw the volcano at the Mirage; we walked through the Venetian and jogged one morning to the iconic ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign. But as a rule, Vegas is overwhelming for me. I have a friend who, in homage to Hunter S. Thompson, told me how he loathed Las Vegas, and I can see that. For being in Sin City, we spent a good amount of time holed up in our hotel room, avoiding the absurdly drunken crowds ambling down the Strip.
There’s a sadness that exists in Vegas. Desperation and depression lie in wait just below the surface of the alcohol and sex and extravagance. You see it in the washed out woman sitting in front of a slot machine in the middle of the morning, a cigarette hanging from her lips and the bottle of beer she keeps close at hand. You see it in the elderly man in a motorized wheel chair, lusting after a young woman in her impossibly tiny cocktail uniform. The false smile on her lips as she hands him his drinks is just a cruel reminder of everything he’ll never have again, and perhaps everything he never had in the first place. Everything is too much. There are too many crowds, too many drinks, too many distractions. Vegas for most serves as an escape, and perhaps I think it’s the existentialist in me that senses that escape and the questioning and the searching. I don’t see people having fun–I see people trying too hard. I see people feeding twenty dollar bills into a ‘Wizard of Oz’ themed slot machine, pining for happier times while longing for a happier future. I see people walking down the streets with ridiculously large drinks–their only goal complete obliteration. Vegas is supposed to be an amazing time, and it definitely had its fun moments, but I have a hard time not noticing the dysfunction.
(Really, it wasn’t all negative, and I’m certainly guilty of throwing back one too many cosmopolitans.)
But now I’m back home and normalcy has resumed–laundry, running, shopping. I love my little modest life sometimes. I have changes I’d like to make–some of them big ones–but overall, things are good. If anything, Vegas serves as a good reminder of how good you actually have it, even if you didn’t manage to hit the jackpot.