Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

First, what I hate about Vegas

It’s no secret that everything is arranged in Las Vegas to facilitate gambling. The floor plans and signs in the hotels direct the unwary along the most circuitous route possible, winding through endless rows of blinking and bleating slot machines. Restaurants play loud, grating music, ensuring that patrons don’t linger too long over their meals. The casino area of one large hotel I walked through was ringed with several Starbucks – just in case you get sleepy before you make your money back again. You can even gamble in the swimming pools, and play Keno at the coffee shop. I eagerly await the advent of toilet slots.

In fact, there is almost no place where one is safe from the temptation to transfer money to the casino owners. From the moment you step off the plane to the moment you go back through airport security, you are forcibly entertained. Even the TSA video educates travelers by showing various hypothetical Vegas characters going through security. You see a showgirl stuffing her massive headpiece thingie through the X-ray machine. Visitors are allowed no opportunity for reflection or introspection. That might interfere with the ability to relieve them of their money.

Mr. T and I used to gamble occasionally back in our 20s, before my populist worldview hardened sufficiently to realize that gaming – at least in Vegas – is the most effective means, short of simple force, to transfer wealth to the super rich from the rest of us.* And all without giving anything in return except the frisson of imminent loss.

And when someone does manage to wrest some lucre from the clutches of The House, she need only walk a few steps to the stores waiting just beyond the casino area to give it all back again. I suspect that very little money actually leaves a given hotel, and even less leaves the city. This is a clever strategy, to be sure, but a dreadfully cynical one nonetheless.

In short, this industry preys on hopes and manipulates desperation for the gain of the corporate or the already wealthy. And while most people escape with no more than a headache and a bit of lingering self-disgust, others suffer more. One of the most appalling things I saw with some frequency were signs depicting an adult hand holding a smaller hand, with the caption: “Don’t leave your children unattended while gaming.” Dear God. It was enough to make me gather The Kid protectively in my arms.

But what really got me was the artifice of it all. As I walked through the airport on the way home past the zillionth public message congratulating me for my numerous acts of unrepentant decadence, I couldn’t help but think: Okay, I get it. You’re Vegas. You’re outlandish, outrageous, and totally transgressive. Whatever. Now show me something that's actually interesting.

But the thing of it is, there is nothing about Las Vegas – at least the famed Vegas that you find on the Las Vegas strip – that is remotely subversive of the establishment. Here is the order of things in Vegas: 1) First we’re going to get you to give us money by tricking you into thinking you have a good chance to take money from us; 2) If that doesn’t work, look over here at this nearly naked woman!!! 3) Be sure to smoke and drink a lot, too!

Perpetuation of the existing economic power structure through heterosexual sex, smoking and drinking. How original.

I kept comparing Vegas to Key West, which actually does have some genuinely subversive elements. I’m not a huge partier – I prefer ocean kayaking and scuba diving to doing the bar scene when I’m there. But I have no real objection to it, and people doing it in Key West aren’t being fed a line about it – they’re just doing it. By contrast, Vegas congratulates you for your edginess when you’re not really being edgy at all.

This is not to bash on people who like Vegas, and enjoy doing all the things that Vegas tries to get people to do. It can be fun, in its way. But look through the artifice so you can do it with a clear understanding of the elements in play.

Next: It's not all beer, babes and blackjack, or: Would I go back? You bet. So to speak.

*Except, perhaps, the credit card industry and our current taxation scheme. But the latter qualifies as a form of force, I think.


Danger Panda said...

So did you gamble? Or not?

Trailhead said...

Nope. Mr. T did though, with some buddies who gave him some chips. He won eighty bucks. I went to bed.

Even if I wasn't such a fuddy duddy, I really just can't take the cigarette smoke. It literally gags me.

kris said...

Hi - I was over here a couple days ago, but didn't get a comment left. So, first, congrats on the move to Idaho/Washington. I imagine it is really nice to be closer to the Montana retreat.

We go to Vegas every few years, but gambling and shows are really not my thing either. We walk the strip and marvel at the waste of water and then leave the city. There are some wonderful parks within driving distance - Valley of Fire and Red Rock and Lake Mead for starters. I'm with you - just walking from your room to the sidewalk could gag a horse. (oh, on so many different levels - lol)

I recently read my first Jon Katz - A Dog Year. I liked it a lot - I like his writing and the way he interacts with his dogs. I'll be reading more. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

Kobie and the grass - I think it is purely an act of aggression - it drives me CRAZY!!! First, destroy the lovely ornamental grass by eating it - and then barf it all up. Repeat. I just don't get it. This is the dog who in his first year would watch me smell and admire my roses - and promptly walk over and eat the blooms. He just knows which buttons to push.

Rose said...

Vegas has the low of the lows and the creme de la creme - so to speak. Obviously we're not the crowd interested in those leaflets for "girls girls girls". If you find the right places - luxury hotels - there's no smell of smoke, you get great service, and all the best amenities. Even the slot machines aren't as loud and annoying. And you're pampered. That's the best part for me.

I started going to Vegas when I was 4 years old (with my parents who gambled all night/day) and I always thought I hated it, until I did Vegas my way as an adult (nice hotel, restaurants, shows, spa, etc.)

Trailhead said...

Darn it Rose and Kris, you just wrote my last post for me.

Trailhead said...

And Rose, I agree about the indoor air quality of the better hotels. But even at the Bellagio, there's no way I could sit for any length of time in the casino area; I'm so sensitive to smoke I was gagging even in those hotels.

Lewis said...

"Back in your 20's"????? You say that like it's been more than a year or two. Which I just simply can't believe.

Trailhead said...

I think I love you.

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