Smoke, Mirrors and Las Vegas

I am just returning from a trip to Las Vegas, which by most accounts has got to be one of the stranger places, if not on the planet, then definitely in our country. I fall into some in-between class of people who really don’t belong in Vegas. I am neither smart enough nor dumb enough to really enjoy Las Vegas. I am not smart enough to calculate my odds and re-calculate my odds based on what just happened. I also have zero memory – I can’t remember if I took my vitamins this morning, let alone if the Ace of some suit has already been played, a skill which is key to many card games. So that would leave me with something overly-simplified: the slot machine. This mind-numbing activity appeals to me as much as tossing my money into a toilet and then ingesting it. But even if one isn’t into gambling, there is still a lot on offer, the ads will tell me, in this town, or I correct myself, in this 4.2-mile strip* of a town. And as of yet, even with my ambivalence to the gambling mecca of the world, I don’t see much reason to venture off of this glitzy strip, which at least does offer that – glitz – and some great people watching. So why would a person like me go to Sin City? The same reason millions of people visit Vegas every year – business. I personally jumped at the opportunity to go because, well, I’ll go almost anywhere if I get a free trip away from my kids for a few days where I get a whole room just to myself, flights without other beings to take care of and dinners that I don’t need to eat by 6:00 pm. But generally speaking, conferences, tradeshows and large-scale meetings are, over and over again, lured to the affordable snaz of Las Vegas. Along with bachelors and bachelorettes, people from every industry are invited in to learn, conduct business and, in their free-time, entertain every possible vice a person might have. Why not? No reason, for sure, it’s just what makes it….weird. I live in a place where the tag-line is Keep Austin Weird. It speaks to the hippie-like nature of the town and at least some of it’s inhabitants. But Las Vegas is a different weird to me – it’s a weird I can’t quite figure out. Like how I rarely see anyone smoking, but the whole place smells like smoke. It’s how buildings and signs are built at angles so that it’s almost impossible to determine how close or far they are. Things that looked close are kind of far, things that seemed far are one walk-way across. It’s an alter-territory, there’s something not real, not right about it all. It’s kind of unsettling, kind of fun. Kind of weird. 

I should mention that approximately 9 ½ weeks ago (no relation to the movie), I took a 10-week no-alcohol oath. It’s related to me taking on another round of The Presence Process, but I had several reasons attached to it (will undoubtedly blog about this very soon). The alcohol abstinence has varied in its level of difficulty, as different social and life circumstances have pointed out to me, my “trigger points” to where I particularly enjoy alcohol. Las Vegas is definitely One. Huge. Alcohol. Trigger. Upon arrival, within 5 feet of the check-in desk was some sort of glowing cocktail bar. “What am I doing here?” I thought. Oh yes, working. Las Vegas and booze go hand-in-hand, of course because alcohol helps us ‘loosen up’ and ‘lose apprehensions’. It’s a vice to induce other vices. It’s a partner to Las Vegas like the nurse to the surgeon. Las Vegas could still be Las Vegas without it, but it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Don’t get me wrong – I am not dissing alcohol or Las Vegas, I’m just saying, it is kind of weird. Not drinking made me realize absurdity in how we use alcohol to release inhibitions, but also to enhance times that are already fun or nice…and make them more fun or nice…to a point, of course. So then you take an over-the-top over-glitzed place like Las Vegas, and you put it on the rocks. And it’s an even nicer over-glitzed place…we pay to make ourselves enjoy it even more. We spend money to go there and then we pay more money (considerably more, depending on where we go, though, there are plenty of discounts to be found too) to drink to release inhibitions for activities like, gambling, so we can pay even more…for fun.  Kinda weird.

Logistically speaking, there is a strange phenomenon with time that happens in Las Vegas. Opposite the New York Minute (which does not apply in the Casino, New York New York), the Las Vegas Minute is actually the equivalent of 30 minutes, normal time. Even sober, without the distortion of any time blurred by a buzz, or losing any time to gambling, I had entire hours disappear from my life with virtually nothing to account for it. It takes an eon to actually get anywhere on this infamous strip. Short distances, or sometimes only seemingly short distances, are marred by a labyrinth of walk-ways, moving sidewalks, convoluted “paths” through casinos and questionable and confusing signage. All, of course, is intentional to lead you to places to spend money – casinos, restaurants, retail shops. I’ve never made my shopping habits a secret, so I didn’t always mind the diversion, but there comes a time in every LV tourist’s life when you just want to go from point A to point B – when you just want to actually get somewhere…to catch your show or your much-needed reservation. The endless diversions can be maddening, yet it’s also what we love about this city of lights. 

The other thing I find bazaar, and this is a timely discussion with all of the Occupy Wall Street movements going on, is that nowhere, in my experience, is the spectrum of wealth on display so blatantly in one small area. Everything is high end…offering just a taste of what 99% of the people who visit there can not afford. There are incredible showcases of opulence and wealth. As we entered the Venetian, I was reminded of the splendor of the Vatican. Seriously, I imagine people discovering the Venetian 1,000 years from now, explaining how all the money was taken from the poor to build opulent palaces in the name of…not God, but the other thing we worship in our society: money. I can’t help but think it’s these immense displays of wealth, a touch of the high society that is flaunted for the Las Vegas visitor of every income level, that draws those said visitors to the doors. Those few who can afford the ultimate in luxury, it is on offer in doses only the super-rich could find over-indulgent. The gambling tables and over-priced entertainment call to the wealthy with the same luxurious velvety voice as those who will never ever be able to afford a room, but can afford an over-priced hamburger in the food-court that you’ll find just outside the area where your eyes first travel. It’s almost like leveling class lines, but in a sort of taunting way, because, ultimately, Las Vegas does level class lines – she wants to take everyone’s money, just the same. And take it, she does. 

I paid an exorbitant amount of money to see a show that I’ve heard about for over a decade: The Blue Man Group. The blatant strangeness in something like blue men seems to fit right in with the oddities of the place. Along with magicians and comedians, all touting their slight of hand and wit, seeing something beyond ‘normal’ seems the thing to do here. But I am not a sucker. I went to the Half Price Ticket Booth. In hindsight, I am convinced that no one pays the ‘face value’ to see any of these shows, but since it’s Las Vegas, maybe they do. The Blue Man Group at half the price seemed like a deal, until I actually saw it. It has to be said: WTF? I had a moment with this show – just as the Venetian took me back to the grandiose of the Vatican, this show took me back to a childhood classic: The Emperors Clothing. I sat, from the beginning, with as much anticipation and excitement as the next person to see this show we’ve all heard about for decades. My colleague and I decided to splurge on it based on it’s seeming to be one of those things to check off one’s life To-Do lists. See the Grand Canyon, The Eiffel Tower and The Blue Man Group. The Grand Canyon and the Eiffel tower lived up to the hype, but this show was astonishingly boring. Yet people around me cackled and cawed – one woman, in particular, who was sitting behind me, ended up being more entertaining than the show itself. She gave me solace that at least some people were enjoying the show as much as I was supposed to be. Let me say here, too, that I am an appreciator of the arts – I love dance, art, theatre and all the rest. I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to being entertained. For a while, I blamed myself, thinking I was being too judgmental or was stuck in some kind of analytical, or maybe, sober mode…”let go”, I told myself, “let go and just enjoy…take in the colors….the blue men on pipedrums (which was one of my favorite parts)”. And there were a few moments of pure brain-stimulating, toe-tapping entertainment…but not nearly enough in this 90 minute escapade to make it worth even half of what I paid…let alone it’s supposed double-price face value of the tickets. I decided I had “let go” as much as I could…it just wasn’t a good show. I still think it was the price that people paid, along with all of the hype, that made people convince themselves that what they saw was funny. The only potential I saw in the whole thing was that, I thought that perhaps, within their own show, there were several elusions to the question, “what is art?” which then could be turned around and applied to their own show. The thought that they were, in fact, questioning themselves and in turn everyone who would sit through one of their shows brought me some solace that perhaps me and the Blue Men were on the same wavelength in the end. Lovers of irony. 

And irony is where I’ll leave my tale of Las Vegas. My first child was conceived in this town (for another work conference that I attended with my husband), so this place of insanity actually holds a place in my heart. You weren’t expecting that one, were you?. Some dear, dear friends of mine – very spiritual and down to earth people – got married here. They, like so many others, attracted by the more-affordable luxury. There is irony hiding around every corner. A wry smile. A wink that makes one blush. A velvet hook that may lure you in, but that may be spat out and left behind as one continues on with “normal” life again. Leaving the weirdness for the next tour bus behind you.


* Love this (from Wiki): “The Strip lies within the unincorporated townships of Paradise and Winchester.”  Of course it does.