Friday, May 13, 2005


The best view of Las Vegas, states a friend from St. George, is in the rearview mirror. I’ll go further – going to Vegas is like licking a clean ashtray.

Yeah, l'll give you a moment to let the chill finish running down your spine. I have no real love of the town, but it’s the best and cheapest gateway to the Colorado Plateau, and so we flew in and out of it.

And Vegas surprised me – it offended sensibilities I didn’t even know I had.

Mind you, we weren’t planning on spending a lot of time in Vegas anyway. But it took 45 minutes to get to the highway, which was, like six blocks from the airport. So we had a lot of time to notice all the adverts for the various shows in town – there are 35 major shows currently playing in Vegas, and 33 are Cirque Du Soliel.

So throwing me into the worst traffic jam of my last decade would not put me in the mood to think well of the town (and we are talking about an 8-lane road that runs from the airport, crosses the Strip, and immediately hits the highway- 45 freaking minutes!). But on the way back, we came to town with about eight hours to kill. We could have spent it at the airport (which we knew had the incessant chatter of slot machines at the boarding gates) or go for a walk along the Strip.

We went for the walk. Really, really, really bad move. OK, you get the soul-deadening whirring white noise of the casino, the empty eyes of the gambler zombies, and the Innsmouth look of the tourists. You know all about that already. Heck, we’ll even claim fault to the tourist look, traveling with the gawkers and the drunks and the hicks. But what really steamed us were the cardsnappers.

These are the hawkers that mob every corner, about a dozen of them, channeling the traffic. Each of them is snapping a deck of cards and handing them out. Snap, hand, snap, hand. The cards are for escort services, massage operations, and strippers. The cardsnappers look like crystal meth addicts, but not as healthy. And they are indiscriminate in their targets – men, women, couples, mothers with strollers. Snap, hand, snap, hand.

I realized that these were the living equivalents of pop-up ads, but that realization did nothing for my mood. You start out being polite, but polite don't work. By the end of the third block the Lovely Bride was using her tightly-clenched purse as a weapon to keep them at bay.

Vegas supposedly has determined that there is no profit in family-oriented fare and has slipped back to its sin city version. That change is clear from the slime they put on the streets to assault the tourists.

Now, judging Vegas from the heart of the Strip is like judging Pittsburgh from Liberty Avenue (which apparently just closed down its last adult theatre), and there are three nice things I can say about the city:

1. They have a really nice Cactus Garden, well-stocked and informative. This is tied into an expensive chocolate shop, under the rumble of the airport runway, but its nice.

2. A great In-And-Out Burger on Tropicana. And it’s right by the highway, so you make your escape to civilization easily.

3. A Monet exhibit at one of the casinos. Most Monet exhibits I’ve been to have been mob scenes, where you have to put up at least a dozen people looking at the brushstrokes. Because this was Vegas, we had the display pretty much to ourselves. If you look at a Monet from twenty feet back, you see the incredible form and luminosity he brings to the work. Yeah, it’s a diamond in the very rough.

But Vegas in general? It’s like licking a clean ashtray.

And sometimes its not that clean.

More later,