Whatever prurient fascination I had with this world lasted about as long as college did, I suppose, or maybe a whisper longer. I was certainly over it by the time I visited Las Vegas for the first (and quite possibly last) time at the age of 29.
Vegas was just like I expected in some ways. It’s definitely a loud, exciting, boisterous, flashy place. I was there for three days, and enjoyed myself. I lost $500, but at a satisfyingly measured rate. I saw Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo. He was amazing.
It was also much darker and sadder than I had imagined it would be. Futility. Desperation.
Superficially it’s like Walt Disney World, or maybe the biggest, fanciest birthday party anyone ever had. But it’s utterly soulless. I’ve never seen, before or since, a busier place with so little joy. Far too much of the experience felt like I was surrounded by people taking one last moon shot at happiness, and realizing “hey, guess what? Turns out it’s not here either, so we might as well have a drink.” How much of that feeling was really there and how much I overlaid on it myself, I couldn’t tell you. But I don’t think the former was insignificant.
It was fun, but I was also glad to leave. I have no desire to return. I’d go in a group with a plan, I suppose, but my own initiative is unlikely to take me back.
What reminded me of the trip upon reading Williamson’s piece was that it was my closest proximity to prostitution. It’s not legal in Las Vegas, but it’s not a long drive to where it is. So if you’re walking down the street after dark, you’re going to encounter folks distributing literature inviting you to visit the various “ranches” awaiting right outside town. They pace you for eight or ten steps, holding a pamphlet just inside your personal space—maybe six inches in front of you? If you don’t take it, they move to the person behind you.
If you do take it, you are mobbed.
I know, because I did. Because I was curious.
I was not a potential consumer of the advertised services, but I suddenly looked more like one than anyone else on the street. So instead of two or three guys standing in front of me with literature, there were ten or twelve—within five seconds. I don’t have any idea how they converged so quickly. “Excuse me, gentlemen! Excuse me!” restored my ability to walk, and we were back to normal in another ten yards.
It was a perfect microcosm. In terms of drawing larger conclusions, my trip suffers from the same anecdotal limitations as any other with such a small sample size. I went once. I had only my eyes to look through. But looking back on it, I have the same conclusion now that I had then.
I was truly blessed to go to Las Vegas as an explorer and not a seeker.