Monday, May 18, 2009

Viva Las Vegas

My wife and I have returned from four days in Las Vegas. Wow, what a trip! We (who do not take many vacations, especially not without the kids) had a wonderful time together, exploring this glamorous tourist destination and gawking like the tourists we were. We'd come out for a wedding of one of my wife's best friends. To be honest, I'd thought I would never have visited this place, except jokingly talking about having our wedding vows renewed by an Elvis impersonator there. (We were, in fact, going to take this opportunity to do so, as our anniversary is next week, but the cost even for a wedding vow renewal was prohibitive. As a lark, it wasn't worth it to us.) Nonetheless, we had great fun, enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and the wedding was beautiful.

I have heard Las Vegas described as "gleefully unsustainable", and that seems to sum it up perfectly. The city that shouldn't exist, if human dwellings were based on natural resources. It likes in the middle of a desert and yet the waste (not just the use) of water and energy is tremendous. Waste in general happens on a staggering scale, from the litter on the ground to the massive light displays of the Strip that go on all night to the massive water fountain displays. Coming from Fort Collins, this was an immense ecological culture shock (not to mention the social culture shocks). We live in a semi-arid region and water is acknowledged by all who live here as precious. We have constantly evolving water rights issues, grass watering restrictions, and anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that water needs conserving. Not in Las Vegas, oh no. The land is truly a desert, and resources of all kinds (not just water) need to be pumped in from elsewhere on a massive scale. Yes, it makes for great dramatic effect -- there is nothing like the Las Vegas Strip, anywhere in the world -- but in the end I was so turned off by the wastefulness it was difficult to enjoy the moment. Perhaps I'm hyper-aware of the waste and the need for sustainability, but surely I'm not the only one. At some point I think that despite all the benefits it does for the tourism, something will have to give and Las Vegas will need to grow up and shrug off the cheap tarnished veneer it has carried for its entire existence. Perhaps it will be able to reinvent and thus save itself, for it has nothing but that false glamour.

That being said, we didn't wander far from the Strip. We didn't have a car and although we talked about hopping on the bus, there was no real need for us to be anywhere else. We did take the bus that goes up and down the Strip, but found that the Strip itself was so pedestrian-friendly that we didn't need to, much. Besides, for us our entertainment was all about walking and gawking. Our expenses came mostly from food, though we caught a variety show and Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and didn't gamble (except on the penny slots).

I counted the number of bikes I saw in these four days in the city: 10. Half of them were bicycle cops. (A lot of the cops also used Segways.) I saw that many bikes within the first four minutes of returning to Fort Collins. I kept thinking that a bike would be so handy for us, as our hotel was just off the Strip (about 3/4 mile).

Our hotel was the Wild Wild West, which I don't recommend. I chose it because it was cheap, and yep, it was. The rooms were clean enough, the shower worked, the walls were paper-thin but the door lock held. They neglected to leave soap for us and it took three times asking the front desk, and a Spanish-language call from my wife to the housekeeping staff to get us a bar of soap. Like nearly every hotel, there was a casino attached, but unlike all the others, this one was so smoky that we couldn't stay in there for more than a few minutes. Twice when we returned from our outings at night, we found police cruisers with flashing lights visiting our hotel. It didn't compare with the luxury hotels on the Strip, and I halfway regret my choice to save a bit on lodging, since I doubt I will visit again.

Still and all, I am happy. Visiting Las Vegas make my home seem like less of a desert, more progressive, cooler, quieter, and sustainably happy. Oh, and much less full of addictions. My wife got kissed by Elvis. A number of firsts for me: Got to ride in a double-decker bus, tried squid, ate at a Brazilian buffet, and of course gamble. I had fun while I was away, but it's good to be back.

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