Coming west from Monument Valley on a Sunday, we crest a desolate rise and Las Vegas appears cupped under a haze that makes it seem as if the smoke of a fire has been trapped under glass. On cue, the traffic flow increases in volume, all of us suddenly caught in a 75 mph clip as if snatched up by a maelstrom, and we all hurtle into the city.
Every design of this place says keep moving. No waiting at cross streets for red lights. Walk above them on elaborate bridges. Very few benches on which to rest. Instead stop at outdoor settings and eat and drink exorbitantly expensive meals. The heat grows too strong. Step inside the casinos where malls have superceded gambling. Once inside, wretched Rap, Country Western and Classic Rock alternate in a weird mix at so loud a volume you cannot speak to the person next to you in a normal manner.* But you can look, and in looking Las Vegas believes you will desire. This is the purpose of Las Vegas in eight words: Move. Wander. Look. Desire. Eat, Drink. Buy. Repeat. Here you can rent a Lamborghini by the hour or day, “no deposit required.” Here you can “unleash your inner warrior” and drive a Sherman tank to crush a car. Shoot an M-60 and take home the target. Come do it for your birthday. Come do it for your bachelorette party.# Here you can walk through the sudden cool of a hotel lobby past giant refrigerators showing off $5000 four foot long ribs of beef and turn and join games of roulette or sit at computerized slot machines and pump in dollars. Here you can watch porn stars dance, male strippers perform, buy red plastic tubes of booze and drift on past the hundreds of card-peddlers on the Strip who shove 1/2 price tickets at you to come in, come in to watch mentalists, withered comedians, ancient rock stars provide geezer entertainment, or come in and eat at dim restaurants constructed so that all the noise of the multiple TV’s and the well-oiled shouts and screams of laughter from dozens of party tables, and the swirl of waiters hustling at top speed create alternate universes where the desert no longer exists, where the Sun has been put away, where all that matters is to join the celebration and spend.
There are birds here. Those tough, ruthless survivors, House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons, patrol the outside cafes of Starbucks and Shake Shacks. Both have so adapted to our presence they come closer than any other bird. They have figured out that we do not want to eat them, that we are woefully slow and that we make food. The sparrows are cavity nesters and cities are juiced with safe places to raise young. The pigeons have shocking and lovely red eyes and approach and deflect just out of arm’s length in rotating circles. When they come in to land, their wings stretch up, unfold and look powerful enough to create bursts of wind themselves. But the surprise were the Great-Tailed Grackles in the gardens surrounding Caesars Palace where they nest in the pines and palms. We saw males in full mating display, bills raised high, their wings and tails spread out like fans. Their call notes were so sharp and clear, they could be heard across the Strip during momentary lulls in traffic. They gave rest to the eyes, and for a moment quieted anxieties unleashed by this loathsome city.
*The only Mall where this was not true, where quiet had been engineered and benches provided — where Dior and Louboutins and Jimmy Choos and Alexander McQueen’s merchandise was being sold. The interiors of the stores looked as if they had been designed by minimalist church architects — all white spaces, the shoes and bags and scarfs set out sparingly, anointed in their rarity, the salespeople dressed like investment bankers.
# Source: Las Vegas Where magazine. May, 2016.