Viva Las Vegas

בקטגוריות: Uncategorized

14 Oct 2006

I think the moment I realized that I was in a very, very fucked-up place was when I lifted up my head and saw a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower – that’s over 200 meters, for those of you who haven’t googled it up yet. 200 meters of steel and concrete, costing probably dozens of millions of dollars, and for what? Just to stand out, a bit, on the Strip.

In Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (a must read, by the way) the Metaverse is a virtual-reality 3D-rendered vision of the future-internet. You see it as a wide street stretching off for miles and miles in all directions, and along that street people build their virtual domains. Unshackled by earthly concerns, these buildings inevitably become wild and fanciful – you don’t need a lot of money to live in a castle with a moat, or an Egyptian pyramid. Las Vegas is kind of like that. The laws of physics still apply there, I suppose, but for all practical purposes money really is no object. The latest casino hotel built on the strip, the Wynn, cost about $2.7 BILLION – almost twice as much as the projected cost for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center ($1.7 billion). The Wynn has been open to the public for 18 months now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s made back the investment already. I saw people feeding $20 bills to the machines without stopping. People putting down $150 for each hand of blackjack. Again and again and again. And as everyone knows, the House always wins.

So you have a long street that’s filled with fetishistic replicas of everything; from the Excalibur’s Lego-clean medieval castle to the Venetian, with actual rivers and gondolas inside the casino. The Paris casino, in addition to the Eiffel towering over the Strip, has a sky-colored ceiling and actual trees around the casino floor. The effect is disconcerting; at first you really feel like you’re walking down a Parisian boulevard in the afternoon, but soon things start to collapse. Trees growing out of carpets and steel supports holding up the sky – the visual cues clash and pretty soon you’re left with nothing but a vague feeling of discomfort.

Further down the strip you’ll find the Statue of Liberty along with a chunk of New York skyline. The Bellagio with its famous fountains – like fireworks made of water – is an elegant European hotel, and the MGM Grand is, well, a casino. It’s a casino-themed casino, and determined to out-casino the rest.  Each one of these casinos sprawls over a huge area. Only in the middle of the desert can you conceivably appropriate such huge stretches of land. Each casino covers dozens of acres, with endless halls, endless casino floors, bad bars and overpriced restaurants. Each one with its own nightclubs and attractions, and each with its own topless revue or burlesque show.

And that’s one of the most amazing things about Las Vegas. The city reeks of sex. From seedy nudie bars off the strip to respectable “exotic lounges” to big neon signs advertising private dancers, sex is everywhere, it’s out in the open and is part of the experience. I’m sure many of the thousands roaming the Strip are of the average American prudish persuasion. They wouldn’t put up with things like that at home. They support the televised bleeps and worry about the decline of public morality. But in Vegas, they accept it without a word. What happens in Vegas, as the saying goes, stays in Vegas. The rules don’t apply there. Anything goes.

To anyone who feels like going there, heed my advice – do NOT go to the Strip during the day. It breaks the illusion. It strips it, pun intended, of all its absurd glory. It shows it for what it is – a bunch of big hotels all standing in line, waiting for your money. If your hotel is on the strip, get out right away. Go to the Hoover Dam or Lake Mead, places I’m sorry I missed in my 24 hour escapade. Come back at night. Better yet, drive in around 18:30, when the sun is setting. Experience the strip in its glory. Spend the evening there. Spend the night. Then drive away in the morning. There’s nothing else to do in Las Vegas.

 But if you do, make sure you approach the Strip from the south. Because right there near the southern edge of strip stands that astounding construct, the black pyramid of the Luxor. It’s been featured and mentioned in books, movies and roleplaying games, but it’s still wonderful. A huge pyramid, matte black but for the dancing lights that travel its corners. The inside is appropriately scattered with Anubises and sarcophagi, but outside, the tip of the pyramid… The whole tip is energized, glowing brightly, and sending a wide beam of light into the night sky. It can be seen by airplanes flying over Los Angeles, over 400 kilometers away. They turn it on gradually, I am told, to avoid confusing passing airplanes. Private jets regularly fly through the beam; it is said to give their occupants luck at the gaming tables. It is magnificent, and ridiculous, and probably couldn’t happen in any other place in the world, except maybe Dubai.

In short, despite bad planning and bad choices on my part, I passed the Las Vegas experience. I don’t expect I shall be back – I’ve seen what I had to see, did what had to be done. But it’s something that needs to be experienced. Needs to be seen.

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