Instead of hanging around a giant hotel, I rented a car and in my down time I just cruised. In spite of the fact that Las Vegas is artificial, expensive "enforced fun," I'm fascinated with the place. Not so much the gaming or vacation culture, but what that culture does to the people who move and live there, what it's like to have a family near so much easy vice, and how people get by day to day. (For excellent reading on this, check out David Littlejohn's "The Real Las Vegas: Life Beyond the Strip")
I'm alternately amazed and alarmed by the vast resource consumption - massive water consumption in the desert, the amount of food, drink, soap, shampoo, gasoline and souvenirs purchased by almost 40 million tourists a year. The encroachment of "civilization" into the desert, the way people live stacked on top of each other in cookie-cutter subdivisions that back up to the freeway. The way the glitz of the strip fades instantly a block behind the big casinos into a ramshackle, seemingly unzoned city with tons of sprawl, great strip mall food, and truly weird street life.
Here are some thoughts I sent to Lauren on Monday night about my evening:
I had a bowl of pretty good noodle soup (shrimp, noodles, fish balls, chicken broth, spicy chili paste) which cleared out my sinuses nicely, and then walked around the casino for a few minutes trying to decide if I should get a cigar, then I walked outside, and then I got truly bored and came back up here. I'm going to get a good night's sleep, go to the show, and come home. Everything else is just a distraction, which makes Vegas a lot of money, but just isn't doing much for me tonight. I kind of wish that I could go to a show someplace peaceful, like Mill Valley. Louis Black is in town, but I am not spending $80 to see him. You can get him for free on Showtime.
On the other hand, while I was walking back to my room through the casino, a guy hit a slot machine for $26,000. I think that must happen just often enough to keep everyone else hopeful and betting, but you have to admit it would be nice.
Traffic is horrendous, but if you can get out of town a little the scenery is beautiful, and much nicer than the desert drive we've done from Tahoe to Salt Lake City through northern Nevada. I reserved a Miata but Hertz was out, so I rented a Chrysler Crossfire and headed south, because in all of my trips to Vegas I have never driven over the Hoover Dam, and I've always wanted to.
On the way down you get to drive through Boulder City, which is a well-preserved highway town with a lot of vintage appeal, kitschy shops and little cafes. It felt like the most normal place in Nevada, I'd actually like to go back and spend a few days there. Very relxed vibe.
Lake Mead, between Boulder City and the Dam. This is the giant reservoir created by the dam, and it is beautiful.
Hoover Dam! It is amazing to see it, because it truly is a remarkeable feat of engineering. An added bonus is that when you cross it you're in Arizona, and it's always good to add another state to the list I've been to. (I'm up to 34). The it turns out that there's nothing to do for another hour and a half down the road, so you go back to Las Vegas. Great to have been though - A nice day, a fast little car, and a recharging break from normal.