Leaving Las Vegas

Julie floated the idea sometime in May and acted on it a few weeks later.  I didn’t object, but I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.

“Will and Grace will be in college, and Kathryn will be in her Peace Corp training. We should do something as a couple.”  Julie’s idea was to go to Las Vegas. Why Las Vegas? The destination was determined more on inexpensive airfare than anything else. 

“I reserved a hotel; it is only $29 a night,” Julie said.  “How is it rated?” I asked. “Surprisingly, OK,” she replied. 

The month before the trip had been rough due to all of the effort needed to transition our kids to their various destinations.  It was also emotionally rocky as it heralded a significant change in our relationship. When we met decades earlier, I already had my daughter, Anne.  During our entire courtship and marriage, we had never been a single couple.

Our Allegiant Air flight would depart from Rockford and would fly non-stop to Las Vegas.  I had flown out of Rockford in the past and liked the airport, which is tiny by comparison to most other airfields.  There is something to be said of the fact that you can park directly in front of the terminal, and then leave your car parked for $10 a day.

The Airbus A 319 was packed, and I also felt packed into my very compact seat.  However, I wasn’t about to complain as the airfare was cheap, and I remembered the adage, “You get what you pay for.”

When we landed, we picked up a rental car and headed to our $29/night hotel. The Plaza is an older hotel built in the 1970s and is located in the downtown area. We parked in the hotel’s parking garage and took the elevator to the lobby level. The elevator opened directly into the hotel’s massive casino.  There a hundred or more machines, all ablaze with bright lights, and many making noises assaulted me. I was taken aback.

We used the hotel’s automated check-in as the line at the hotel’s front desk was long and slow-moving.  The machine spit out our keycards, and we proceeded to our room on the 7th floor. Thankfully, the room was large and nicely appointed.  My only concern was the smell of cigarette smoke. In Las Vegas, it is OK to smoke in hotel rooms.

After settling into our room, we returned to the lobby via the casino, and I was struck with the number of people who at 3 PM were gambling on machines, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol.  Outside the front door of the hotel was Fremont street which contained the ”Fremont Experience,” which consisted of blocks of brightly lit establishments, multiple live bands, street performers, open-air bars, restaurants, casinos, and a vast curved dome canopy that was a gigantic video screen.  It was like no place that I have ever visited. Once again, I was struck with the vast number of people drinking, smoking, and doing just about whatever they wanted to do.

Internally, I was on overload, and on some level, I found myself judging those around me, and not in a positive way.  I think that I thought of myself as above the other patrons. They were acting so wild and carefree while I was my usual calm and controlled self.

Similar sensory assaults occurred throughout my Las Vegas experience. It didn’t matter if I was downtown on Fremont street, or at the very tony Bellagio Hotel on the strip. Las Vegas seemed to be out-of-control and filled with people who were also out-of-control.

Over the next day or two, I became aware of an interesting phenomena; I started to adjust to the over-the-top stimulation of the city.  As I became more able to filter out the noise, I also started to view my co-inhabitants differently. Yes, they were drinking, many were loud, and some very drunk.  However, most were very civil, and no one hassled me. I didn’t see fights breaking out in the streets, or people performing lewd acts in the alleyways. Just about everyone seemed to be having a good time and were enjoying the experience around them.

I looked further into the crowd and noticed that it consisted of all ages and races.  Not everyone was loud; many were spectators just like me. I looked more closely at the building facades festooned with lights and neon.  Yes, they were completely over the top, but they were also spectacular and envisioned at a level that I had never witnessed before.

I think it is interesting that once I got past my preconceived biases, I was able to view the people, culture, and architecture of Las Vegas in a different light.  I saw Las Vegas for what it was, a fantasy escape town. I saw my fellow travelers for who they were, people who were looking for an escape from their day to day lives — people who were more similar to me than different.

The experience made me think of how it is easy to judge others based on our biases, and how it is simple for us to place someone in a category, rather than to spend the time to get to know who they are.  I believe that if I had held on to my biases, I would have left Las Vegas regretting the trip. However, by looking at similarities rather than differences, I was able to enjoy my stay and experience a city that is like no other. 

When I returned to Naperville, I didn’t have a desire to drink more alcohol or go to the local riverboat casinos.  I returned the same person. However, the trip did highlight something significant to me. We live in a time when it is becoming more acceptable to judge, criticize, and condemn others because of our preconceived feelings concerning their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else that we see as different from us.  Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, why is that? Why is it vital for us to exclude and judge others based on a single factor when, as humans our essence it the conglomeration of thousands of factors, not just one. It is time for us to use our big human brains to expand our horizons, not contract them. I am reminded of the Martin Niemöller poem:

First, they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me


The Fremont Experience

The strip A city of neon