Blue 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.
I 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.
In 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.
Las 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.
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.