I spent half the week in Vegas, not because I necessarily wanted to go to Vegas, but my employer located our most recent conference there.
These Meccas of American capitalism always prompt me to reflect on the consumerism that drives so much of our culture. One of my colleagues was visibly miffed to be in Vegas at all – she finds their water consumption an appalling moral outrage. (She lives in the West, so water issues are more at the forefront of her opinions.) I have to admit, she has a point.
Am I a snob? As I walked through Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, the Luxor, the Paris Hotel, I was mostly struck by the cheapness of it all. Bright casino machines flash and whiz everywhere as patrons lay down hordes of cash in hopes of beating the House at its own game. (Never bet on it.) The architecture is beautiful because the originals they’re aping are gorgeous. Sure, it’s lovely to see the “forum” with the statue of Caesar, or walk on the Bellagio’s lovely inlaid mosaic floors.
But I’ve walked the inlaid marble floors of the master cathedrals in Venice and Florence and Rome. Vegas cannot hold a candle to them. I’ve seen the notch in the Pantheon in Rome where Brunelleschi cut into the ceiling to figure out how the Romans built a dome so large – then took the technology home to Florence to help them finish the Duomo there. I’ve been to Paris, so the mock “cobblestone” streets of the Paris Hotel simply make me wistful for the real joie de vivre of that mother city. I haven’t been to Egypt, but I’ve soaked up every Egypt exhibit I could find from the East Coast through the British Museum through Berlin, and the Luxor can only attempt – but not succeed – to draw the same awe.
To me, Vegas’s shine as the city of lights dims when I consider that the bulk of the casino and service workers are paid minimum wage…. that the rapid influx of Californians fleeing their housing crises has gentrified neighborhoods in Vegas …. that so many of the people walking the streets are there for sex, gambling, or drinks. It makes Vegas a sad place, honestly.
Don’t get me wrong – I had a lot of fun with my colleagues. I finally found my tribe and enjoyed wandering around the city with them. I put $20 in a penny slots machine (made $12 then lost it all eventually, so no Vegas magic for me). One of my coworkers won nearly $500 — good for her! I got to watch part of a match at the e-sports arena at the Luxor (would have happily spent all night there if I could have found a coworker with a similar passion). The fountains of the Bellagio are beautiful, and the indoor garden even more so.
We were terrified by a creeping Mickey Mouse, drank quite a few overpriced cocktails that were definitely better than average, found some delicious food, and met an Uber driver who’s a competition-level break dancer. Great memories!
But if we never go back to Vegas, I’m not going to feel that sad. The Vegas Strip and Disney World are alike to me: their allure is dull and uninspiring at the core. “Spend money! Drink more! Buy more!” It’s not an invitation to grow into a better version of oneself so much as a Vanity Fair of temptations to let your lesser self have the upper hand for a few days. (And empty your wallet.)
I already have nearly everything I genuinely need. I still have my shopping list of wants, but I’ve found that it includes far fewer things and far more experiences to crave. Experiences can be shared, while things are static. I’m happy to cross Vegas off the list (and on someone else’s dime) and move on to new adventures in new places.
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