Photo by stuckincustoms

Driving across the long, barren stretches of highway through the Mojave Desert, I get this bittersweet feeling of coming home after a long time of being away. I see the light rising up—the hellish illuminations of Las Vegas—a city cradled by mountains on all sides; it looks like a smoldering fire pit, or the mouth of a volcano ready to blow itself wide open.

As I’ve traveled outside of my hometown, I’ve encountered numerous people who find it hard to believe that a man could actually hail from Las Vegas. More than once I’ve been asked if I live in a casino. No, no. There are even houses and apartments and trailer parks.

“Wow,” they will say, “must be a great place to live,” and I’m compelled to laugh in their faces. It may be okay for a tourist on holiday, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a glamorized cesspit, and if you don’t lose your ass gambling, then the dry desert heat will get it.

Photo by lostamerica

There are two types of gamblers in Las Vegas: those that gamble because they think they can beat the house, and those that gamble for sport, because to them gambling is everything and the money means nothing. If they won Megabucks they would be back in the casino the next day to start giving it back in installments.

I’ve seen my grandfather throw his social security money away every month for the last decade of his life. When he died his wife discovered winning tickets for over twenty grand stashed away in his dresser. She never saw a dime of it because in theory the money had never changed hands.

Photo by gsgeorge

The casinos seem to draw any culture and vitality from the rest of the city. There have been a few attempts at creating an art district but setting up art galleries in dangerous areas only invites despicable hipsters in, and it doesn’t clean up the trash. It only creates more.

Most of the local poets and writers hang around the bars and cafés near the university, and because of the lack of any scene, it’s easy to sift through the bullshitters, the pretentious, the sycophants, the pseudo-intellectuals, and so on. It’s cool to be an artist in San Francisco, but if you’re an artist in Las Vegas it’s usually because you want to be.

Photo by geoperdis

There are plenty of good bars by the university, where it’s easy to avoid any insufferable tourist crowds—obnoxious frat boys and Barbie look-alikes are scarce, because they like to be a part of the show, and that takes place on The Strip. As for the downtown scene, it is swarming with hipsters, and like The Strip it is overcrowded and overpriced.

I’ve found my local dens, and that’s where I spend my nights when I’m back home. I don’t know what keeps dragging me back to the neon landfill -usually women, unfinished romances, that sort of thing. It’s never long before I’m back sitting at the bar of one of my old haunts, considering another way out.

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