Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money thats ready to burn,
So get those stakes up higher
Theres a thousand pretty women waitin out there
And theyre all livin devil may care
And Im just the devil with love to spare
Viva las vegas, viva las vegas

Las Vegas has lovely walls.

You see them everywhere-high, warm, reddish-brown walls. Along every street, surrounding every community. Even if they aren't gated communities (and many, many of them are), they are walled communities.

Even the walls along the highway are lovely. Many of them have art on them. Some of it celebrates the Las Vegas centennial, some of it just looks tribal. By 'tribal,' I mean 'of or relating to the indigenous people who once lived in the area.'

Las Vegas has lovely highways.

In addition to the walls--put there, I'm assuming, for sound abatement for the walled and gated communities sprawling just the other side of them, the overpasses are often also arftul, with the name of the road we're crossing under spelled out in bas-relief, often in an italicized, serifed font. And the dividers are carefully maintained as well, landscaped with tall palm trees, yucca plants, and lush grasses, all as native to the area as the people on the other side of the walls, and all requiring careful maintentnence, including regular waterings.

The parts of Las Vegas that aren't walled are divided up into two parts: shopping centers and casinos. The casinos I'll get to later, but an interesting feature of the shopping centers is the high, high number of 'learning centers' in them. Little storefront schools with names like 'Club Z!' 'Kumon,' 'The Learning Center,' 'Kids Campus,' and 'Children's World,' appear right next to the Ross Dress for Less and the TGIFridays. Seriously. You can't drive a mile in Vegas without seeing one.

The reason for this, according to Lt. Trouble, is because the Clark County School District, in his words, 'sucks ass.'

Las Vegas has lousy schools.

The schools are severely underfunded, teacher morale is as low as the grades, and no one really seems to care. Those who can afford it send their kids to these storefront schools, and those who can't, or don't care, well...according to the El-Tee, Vegas is one of the few places where someone can make a lot of money without even a high-school degree. If you're friendly, energetic, and above all, sexy, there's always a buck to be made. And not just in prostitution. Cute waiters and waitresses can regularly come home with thousands of dollars of tip money.

So, no one really cares about the education system. That leaves more money for the walls, roads, and dividers.

If you were to decide where the absolutely, positively worst place to build a major city would be, you would have to look long and hard to find someplace worse than southern Nevada. And if you were to make the main goal of that city 'entertainment,' that would make it even worse. Because in twenty-first century America, 'entertainment' means spectacle and comfort. Bright lights. Lush lawns. Air conditioning. Dancing waters.

Water's a big thing in Vegas. It's everywhere. The Bellagio has a 'dancing water' show every hour. The Venice is surrounded by canals, where the graduates of some of the best music schools in the country paddle tourists around in gondolas, and sing snippets of arias to them. Most of the canals are inside, under a painted tuscan sky, with the temperature a pleasant mid-seventies.

Power's big in Vegas too. All the lights, all the shows. All the air conditioning. I wonder how much power it uses in a day?

And what does it give back?

You know as well as I do. It gives nothing.

Not a God damned thing of value.

And yet we flock to it, flee to it, this mecca of excess. And not just to visit--to live. The city is growing by seven thousand people a month. Seven thousand. That's a mid-sized town. That's more people than lived in my home town, per month, moving to Las Vegas. The entire population of Milltown, New Jersey moved there in January. Andover, Kansas, pulled up stakes and headed west in February. Gunnison, Colorado moved in back in March. And now, with April almost over, we'll stop by and welcome Bluffdale, Utah.

I sure hope Milltown brought its sunscreen. It gets pretty ugly come August.

The people come, and they visit. They spend their money there--lots of it, and not just on gambling. They spend it on shows, and on trips up towers, and on amusement rides that cost more for one ticket than I would spend for a day pass to our local amusement park, and on dinners and on limos and rooms and luxuries, and all of this spending is a lie.

Because it's not sustainable. And the fuck of it is, we know it. We know it and we choose to ignore it.

The water's going away. It's drying up. The water level on Lake Mead's dropped something like 50 feet in the past decade. And it's being pissed away--on lawns and in swimming pools, and quite literally, every hour in front of the Bellagio.

Temperatures are rising. So the good folks spend more time indoors, running their air conditioners, using up more and more power.

And the money. Where does the money go? Pretty much exclusively to folks like Kirk Kerkorian, Steve Wynn, and their investors. They're making billions. And whatever they're giving back is probably pennies on the dollars they're making.

So which will go first? The water? The power? The money? Because one of them will go away. Maybe not entirely, but certainly enough to notice. And that will cause the other two supports to give way quite quickly, and the whole shebang will end.

Like Sodom and Gommorrah. And although it will be biblical in proportion, no Divine Hand will be needed to cause this city to crumble. Maybe there's be another energy crisis, this time not an Enron-enduced one, but a real one. Or perhaps it will be the interest rates those sub-prime loans given out to New Baltimore, Pennsylvania, that suddenly double or treble a few years down the road, that will start a mass exodus of workers. Or perhaps the water will simply evaporate. It tends to do that in Nevada. It's a desert, you know.

And then, suddenly, the construction boom will go bust--right in mid-hammer swing. The megacasinos will suddenly not have enough workers to staff them--not that it matters, since the cost of keeping the place cool has priced the rooms out of reach of most people anyway.

And who wants to take in a show, when water restrictions limit the number of times you can bathe, or even flush the toilet?

This is all speculation on my part, of course. I've been wrong many, many times before. But I can't help thinking that the best thing that Las Vegas can be, in the end, is the canary in the coal mine. Perhaps its death will wake us up to the realities of the world around us.

I started this post with a snippet of a song that was written about this town. I think I'll end it with another bit of poetry--written 90 years before Las Vegas was founded, but, I fear, very appropriate to the way it might end:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.



Blogger terry said...

but the dancing waters are so preeeeetty....

(i know. I KNOW.)

10:51 PM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

May that hellhole sink into the desert from whence it came.

And the carpets are so bad throughout...

4:53 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Madame X said...

Well done!

9:21 AM  
Blogger cadbury_vw said...

having just recently seen our buddy Al Gore live, i find this post awfully timely

6:34 PM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

Well done. Very well said. I mean, so well said that i don't even know why I'm leaving a comment.

7:41 PM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I deleted my comment. I mistakenly replied to someone else on a post about Vegas that was obviously different from your post. Your post was excellent!

8:15 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Las Vegas is infamous for its teacher shortage, which may have something to do with the pay. If I moved there, I would take a $20,000 cut in salary. 4 zeros.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Colleen said...

never really had any desire to go to vegas.

7:53 AM  

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