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Las Vegas: Empire of Illusion

Vegas-casinoBlue beacons whirl before me shifting into triangles and squares. A white wall of diamonds glimmers into intricate whorls before fading into darkness. A funnel of diodes screams its way to the heavens. Everywhere illuminations flash and die, reliving their ten-second lives over and over. This macabre fun-house is the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, a place desperate to forget it was born of the desert. The call of the desert, however, is incessant. Its flame-like fingers flick over the casinos lined up to combat any thought of scarcity. Its summer heat shimmers atop the thousand neon signs, driving everyone to the numb indoor coolness. Behind windowless skyscrapers lies another world, one intent on running from solitude and boredom.

Vegas-palmsI am an adopted child of the digital age. I have been brought up on the merits of multitasking, the necessity of doing it all. I attempted to juggle networking, house-working, cubicle-working, and socializing. I knew that if I failed someone behind me was willing to step up and take my place in line. They are welcome to it. Here, in the kingdom of overstimulation my desire to be a success at multitasking has been overthrown. Somewhere between eternal meditation under a Bodhi tree and creating an excess of to-do lists is my happy medium: the pleasure of performing one objective at a time to the best of my ability.

Vegas-bellagioIn his 1890 “The Principles of Psychology,” philosopher William James defined attention as the “withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” I endeavor to follow his advice while driving down the main stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard. I struggle to keep my eyes on the road and traffic intersections while an army of advertisements distracts me. I crane my neck away from the road, oblivious to the fate of my car as I snatch glimpses of the “Thursday Night Special,” “The Saturday Club Party,” and “The Breakfast Special” of steak and eggs for $4.99. Promises beckon me at every corner, egging me to investigate them all. In frustration I abandon the vehicle and proceed along “The Strip” on foot. This is a less dangerous pursuit, but I am still hounded by a rainbow of colors: blue flamingoes, fuchsia dancing girls, and gold fireworks tempt me this way and that. I spend hours aimlessly turning in circles, my eyes shellacked from the dazzle. A mass of pedestrians jockeys me into one of the gaming houses where a carnival of sounds bombards my ear. I stop at a slot machine and put in a quarter, but get sidetracked by the ringing of a nearby jackpot. I push buttons heedlessly while zinging levers, singing reels, and whirring wheels divert my notice.

Vegas-mirageLas Vegas is a magician thriving on an overabundance of distraction and misdirection. Every clanging machine, each fiery banner, and all the bedazzled windows strive for my consideration until I can focus on nothing. I am unable even to comprehend how many things escape my scrutiny in Vegas’ clamor. As soon as I turn my surveillance upon one detail a thousand other sights and sounds, like mechanical Jabberwockies, demand my awareness. I remain on continual high alert. It is exhausting to be in this environment for any length of time. I have imbibed a surfeit of adult candy, lost and regained my petty cash, and feasted on the wonder of legerdemain. The thrill of the gamble and the allure of this wonderland, enjoyed for a while, have overwhelmed my senses. I need to find respite. A quote by author Ruth Krauss from “Open House for Butterflies,” is one of my favorites: “everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.” When dawn arrives to nudge the late carousers, I am heading away from the uproar of Las Vegas to find my little stream.Vegas-facade


Las Vegas is one of few cities in the world frequently reimagining itself. Since the 1930s the city has constructed and demolished twenty-six hotels and resorts, recreating its skyline. Among the famous casinos destroyed to make way for newer entertainment centers are three which allude to the landscape of Las Vegas: the Dunes, the Sands, and the Sahara.

Has a destination distracted you? If you have explored Las Vegas, share with us your thoughts about this city in the comments below.

23 replies »

  1. I loved Las Vegas. My parents got married in the Grand Canyon. Now there’s a place you can go for some serenity if you need a break from the all the action! I definitely want to head back there at some point to see how it changes.

    • Las Vegas manages to change something about itself almost every year. But, even a few miles away (and closer than Grand Canyon) are places where one can find peace in the environs of the desert.

  2. Ugh, Vegas. The few times I went to Vegas, I felt physically sick from the overstimulation. It is a nightmare for contemplative types. However, I did get married there (in the Tunnel of Love drive-thru chapel!) so I do have a minimum of good memories of that city. Fabulous photos.

  3. You managed to make Las Vegas look classy! 😉 If you get a chance, you should listen to Freakonomics’ podcast “Could the Next Brooklyn Be…Las Vegas.” If offers a fascinating look into the attempt to revitalize the City of Lights.

  4. I’m so pleased you experienced this for me and saved me the trouble 🙂 That said, whilst ironing I did watch a quite fascinating documentary about the latest gargantuan hotels to be built and how it is achieved. Quite mind-boggling in itself 🙂
    Give me the swish of the quiet life, by the shore.

  5. While there is nothing quite like a mountain, lake or relaxing along the ocean…at times nothing else beats a trip down the strip 🙂 You do a great job in highlighting this feeling ~ wonderful shots and words!

  6. Back in my other lifetime, I worked in Vegas. Life was of two worlds: the glitz and the grind. It was a fascinating study to come to the understanding the all is not as it seems. But it had a glamor spell nonetheless. And I’d not trade that time for anything.

    • Indeed! Life in Vegas is still that way. People who never leave the Strip don’t see the grind part of it, but the hundreds of thousands who cater to tourists in the hotels, pools, restaurants, and casinos have very different lives away from the glitz. I feel this half is much better hidden in Vegas than in other cities.

  7. I think that people say I am NEVER going to Las Vegas, as you point out, have not explored all it and the surrounding area have to offer. Yes the strip is over stimulation on steroids and one can only manage so much of the lights and noise. However it is an intriguing place and if one is willing explore there is much to be discovered.

    • That is so true of most overhyped places: there are quiet undiscovered bits that can be little gems in the sea of sights. The downtown area is indeed very different from the Strip and much more manageable; Container Park, for example, has such a quirky, small town feel to it. Hopefully Vegas will continue to operate itself with the desert life in mind.

    • 😏 People seem to be either very much in love with the glitz of Las Vegas or very much against everything the main Strip stands for. It is certainly one of the craziest places I have encountered in my travels.

  8. I am not typically a lover of Las Vegas. Its too hot and there are too many drunk people around. But, having said that there is no shortage of things to do and the shopping is great. On a recent trip for a work conference I did visit Fremont Street for the first time. I really enjoyed the old Las Vegas feel mixed with the new light show installation above the street. I much prefer this over the strip especially at night when folks start getting rowdy.

    • “Old” Las Vegas definitely has a very different feel than The Strip. The city has expanded with a new Arts District, Symphony Park, and the Downtown Project all of which have contrasting vibes to that of the mega-casinos and will hopefully give Vegas more character. Time will tell how these places will fare against the “typical” backdrop of Vegas.

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