I spent the last couple of days in Las Vegas, as a guest at a combined surprise 70th birthday party/wedding vow renewal for my aunt. It was nice to see everybody--COS and ACOS were there--and I enjoyed the experience of road-tripping across the desert in a Prius--and of finding out that a Prius can actually do 90 on a straightaway.
Interestingly, despite my well-earned reputation as a sophisticated world traveler--I've toured Toronto! Berlin! Spokane, Washington!--I had never actually visited Vegas before. I had caught a connecting flight at the LV airport once, but I'm not sure that counts: I would say it definitely doesn't count, except for the fact that there are, in fact, slot machines on the airport concourse, so one can at least get a smattering of the Vegas experience even on a one-hour stopover. At any rate, this was my first time spending actual time in Sin City, and I have to say, on the whole. . . . No likey.
For one thing, the sensory overload was daunting--even for me, and I'm from New York! The Vegas Strip makes Times Square look like a Zen sand garden. And I had no idea that everything was so compressed. From numerous TV shows, movies, and commercials, I was under the impression that the Las Vegas Strip was essentially like any other heavily trafficked block in a large city. I assumed that each hotel would have its spot and that if one walked along the street, one would pass smoothly in front of one resort after another. But that's not how it works. Hotels sit on top of one another--or in front and behind one another--or within one another for all I could tell. Some resorts seem to occupy two different locations at the same time, thus clarifying for me some of the thornier points of quantum physics.
And while everything seems to be in basically one place, nothing is close to anything. On Thursday night, COS and I decided to walk back to our hotel from another hotel, rather than hopping the monorail because. . . well, in retrospect, I'm not sure what our reasoning was: I think it had to do with ACOS admonishing me that I simply had to see the fountains at the Bellagio. I did. They were everything I could have expected and more from large amounts of water thrusting skyward. But anyway, particularly after walking to the Bellagio, COS and I figured that walking to the nearest monorail station would take just about as long as walking back to the hotel--because the hotel was right there! We could see it from where we were. But in Vegas, the ability to see something is no guarantee of its relative closeness. (Never again will I mock Sarah Palin for her ability to see Russia from her bathroom.) After walking approximately 19 miles in an area that seems to occupy maybe one square mile in its entirety (the Vegas Strip apparently employs TARDIS technology!), we made it back to the hotel--only to have to navigate about another mile underground through the casinos and restaurants and, I don't know, cockfighting rings before arriving safely back at our respective rooms.
I did enjoy the hot tub afterwards, though.
I'm sure that some people appreciate the sheer muchness of Vegas. There is undoubtedly lots to see and do, but it mostly appeals to one's more prurient interests. As I walked through yet another subterranean entertainment-plex, I thought of something I once heard about the Smithsonian Institution. It was one of these "Fun Facts": Something like, if a tourist went to every exhibit at the Smithsonian, and spent only ten seconds looking at each one, it would take 9,000 years to see everything. (Don't quote me on that, but you get the gist.) As I wandered the Strip, I thought, If someone wanted to experience every sight/exhibit/store, it would take a similar amount of time; although you'd undoubtedly catch syphilis much faster in Vegas--unless you start at the Smithsonian's Capone exhibit--but I think I digress.
In fairness, Vegas, is exactly as advertised: It is a place designed for hedonism, for pleasure (again, though, of a very specific sort). It makes no pretenses to high art or culture (except perhaps of the culinary sort), and one doesn't have to make excuses for a Vegas trip if pure entertainment is one's purpose. Vegas is probably the most capitalistic destination one could ever imagine vacationing: Just about everything is available, and one can experience consumerism in its purest form. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because, ultimately, one takes nothing away from it: The trip is the experience, and any pleasure one derives is consumed as soon as one experiences it.