Retro Post—15-Aug-03

[It’s aSquared’s First Birthday … we’re celebrating by looking back at events from a year ago … skip these retro posts if you’re not into sentimentality.]

Wild, woolly Las Vegas. Whatta complete hoot. So very unreal and otherworldly …

Las Vegas, NV

Population 478,868 (2000 census). Seat of Clark County.

The first settlement at what is now Las Vegas was, ironically, a Mormon outpost, founded in 1855 and abandoned two years later after repeated raids by the Paiutes. Las Vegas itself was incorporated in 1905. In 1931, gambling and quickie divorces were legalized in Nevada, and construction was started on the Hoover Dam. The rest is history.

The first casino on what the world knows today as The Strip, the Hotel El Rancho Vegas, was opened in April 1941 by Tom Hull (no, not Bugsy Siegel) across the street from what is now the Sahara. The event that prompted Hull to open the Rancho was, the tale goes (is this a recurring theme or what?), a flat tire. He had a flat on Highway 91, his traveling companion hitched back into town to get help, and Hull stood on the shoulder, started counting cars, and became convinced that this was a great spot to start a place for exhausted motorists to rest along the highway to his properties in Los Angeles. (He had already started other Ranchos in Sacramento and Fresno and owned the Mayfair in Los Angeles and the Roosevelt in Hollywood.) The El Rancho burned down in a fire in July 1960.

Coming into Vegas was a breeze until about 5 miles from town. It’s somewhat amusing that the stretch of Highway 95 just north of Vegas is occupied by a bunch of upstanding little towns like Indian Springs with sturdy churches and signs warning darkly of the consequences of sin, as though they were the last bulwark against the inevitable descent into hell. Where do I suspect that the folks stationed at Nellis Air Force Base spend their free time? Indian Springs? Yeah, that’s it.

The traffic coming into town was not unmanageable, but it was rough for a non-local to negotiate the zooming cars and trucks and the exits and byways (not to mention the tangled Spaghetti Bowl), so I got out off an exit near the Convention Center and let Steve take the wheel while I snapped shots and gawked at the overstimulating panorama of the Strip. The Sahara, Circus Circus, the Stardust, the Frontier, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Harrah’s, Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, Paris, Bellagio, MGM Grand, New York New York, the Tropicana, Luxor, Mandalay Bay—all you can do is gawk, gawk, and gawk some more, or close your eyes once you get a headache from all the neon and flashing and excess. Driving in a car along the Strip for half an hour obviously doesn’t do it justice. If I had wanted to do Vegas justice, we would have stayed for a night or two and wandered the Strip and gone in and out of all the big casinos.

But even as a passenger in a car down Las Vegas Boulevard, you get a quick sense of the city, its rhythm, its flavor, its style. The Strip itself is ostentation at its most marvelous and unabashed. I noticed a huge billboard advertising Gladys Knight at the Flamingo and marveled at the fact that a once semi-gritty Atlanta/Motown soul singer like Gladys was now a glitzy headliner at a Vegas casino. Then again, ZZ Top is at Mandalay Bay, so ….. Once you get off the Strip you see the real Vegas, if such a thing exists, because what is Vegas without the Strip?

Along and around Charleston Boulevard, you see boarded-up storefronts, gritty boulevards, hot, angry-looking drivers, car salesmen in too-tight shirts and strangling ties, homeless men pushing shopping carts full of their belongings down the street, lots of other evidence that the city’s commitment to its infrastructure outside of the Strip is inattentive at best.

We stopped at a bank branch off Sunset Road, not far from McCarran Airport, a part of town which was somewhat more business-park-like, and a group of homeless men were taking a breather on the bank lawn near the sidewalk. A pissed-off-looking man hopped into his white Porsche and gunned it for all it was worth to make it to the stop sign at the other end of the adjoining mall parking lot, as though the Prince of Darkness himself were riding his bumper.

Vegas is an amazing place, but I don’t know that I’d want to live in the shadow of the Strip on a permanent basis.

—Posted by Frank at 14:00:00 | 15-Aug-03