Las Vegas had never been high on my list of must-visit destinations simply because I felt like I had already been. The sin city has been so immortalised in films and pop culture that it’s easy to feel as though you already know the city intimately, even if you have never actually set foot inside this desert oasis. Yet when my friend decided she was going to celebrate her 30th birthday in Las Vegas and asked if I was in: there could only be one answer—YES. What followed was a whirlwind trip to the West Coast of the States involving a couple of days in LA and five days in Las Vegas with a group of six gals: all of us thirty and over, the majority with kids, one of us who had already been to Las Vegas three times and all of us excited to have the full Vegas experience.
It’s kind of refreshing travelling to a place that I had never expected to travel to because it relieves yourself of any expectations. I barely did any research before heading to Las Vegas except for some quick Google searches involving the generic ‘Things to do in Las Vegas’ and, of course, the mandatory question for every Australian: ‘Where can I get the best coffee in Las Vegas?’—the answer to the latter is Downtown.
Las Vegas is just as the movies depict it: excessive and unrestrained, while also being kitsch and tacky—a haven for sinners and winners. Vegas is the city built on the foundations of chasing dreams and building success, constantly promising more, until you’re ultimately left with nothing. It’s sleazy and sinister, and also flashy and glitzy. It’s a place that promises culture, but a bastardised version of it. Venice, Egypt, Paris…you can see it all here on the famous Strip.
Las Vegas encourages you to act on impulse, to let go of your reservations, to live in the moment. Loved up? Find a chapel and get married by the King himself. Conversely, members of the Lonely Hearts Club, or those who are plain miserable in their relationships, have plenty of options as well, because you know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…The bright city lights seem to shout out Take what’s yours! Live in the moment! Far from being a lesson in mindfulness, it is more a forceful push towards mindless consumption and pure greed.
I can understand the pull of the city’s extravagance and overindulgence; I can understand the feeling of invincibility that can wash over unsuspecting visitors to the sin city. The feeling was palpable on the first night on the casino floor with my girlfriends where I had a turn at rolling the dice on the craps table—because, you know, I’m all about re-enacting scenes from Ocean’s Eleven. It turns out I am quite the dice thrower and I made the other players on the table a bit of money, so much so that I was showered with chips simply for bringing ‘luck’ to the table. Seriously guys, it took all my strength not to play out a ‘make it rain’ scenario with hundred-dollar bills—albeit only a few hundred-dollar bills. Still, work with me here.
The chips subsequently paid for part of the Backstreet Boys concert that we went to the next night, so you could quit playing games with my heart and say that I was larger than life because I want(ed) it that way (see what I did there?). But anyway, I digress—the 15 minutes of adrenalin that I felt knowing that others’ luck were dependent on my throw of the dice felt almost empowering in a weird kind of way. You could feel the surge of energy in the air, and I can understand how that feeling could overwhelm, and ultimately, overcome you.
From that first night, where I was wowed by the excess of Las Vegas, I gradually became more depressed by it and perhaps felt a little sad for all of the people sitting at the slot machines day and night. Heading back to the hotel room after a night out—some nights a little more unsteady than others, let’s be honest—and passing through the casino floor, you would bypass all of the gamblers at the poker and cards tables. The next morning, you would get up and head on down to the lobby and walk into exactly the same scene as the previous night. After a while, it makes you feel a little despondent: Why aren’t people outside in the sunshine? Why are they gambling during the day? What are they all running away from?
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast in Las Vegas with my gals, and I don’t mean to turn my girls trip into a post about people’s existential crises and gambling problems, but Las Vegas itself could never be a place that I could stay in for an extended period of time. I found myself craving good food, decent coffee (but this tends to be a common problem anywhere in the world) and fresh air that wasn’t recycled casino air. For me, Las Vegas felt like a place where you would go for a weekend of debauchery before leaving quick-smart because if you thought about it too deeply, Vegas can be kind of a sad place with a lot of people with real problems.
Las Vegas prides itself on image and what it presents to the world on the surface, and I think that’s what you need to accept; otherwise you might find that you don’t really like what lies beneath its glossy, blinged-up veneer.
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Have you been to Las Vegas? What were your thoughts on the sin city? Share your comments below!