“I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who’s from Las Vegas, I didn’t know anyone was from Las Vegas.” That’s pretty much how every conversation about where I’m from goes.
To be fair, I wasn’t born in Las Vegas, but moved around a lot when I was younger, finally settling in Green Valley when I was in the 3rd grade. I grew up and spent my formative years in Vegas, enduring summers of skin-peeling sunburns and the bizarre identity crisis of old-West and new-luxury that the city and its suburbs grapple with.
The city left its imprint on me, but it wasn’t until I traded the reds of the Mojave Desert for the greens of Portland that I realized just how much Vegas had become a part of me.
1. You have a perma-tan.
Despite the fact that it’s too hot to spend more than two hours outside a day (and those hours are almost always spent after the sun has set), somehow we always manage to maintain a tan. It’s uncanny, like the UV rays bake into the pavement and then (like the heat) stream back up and cook everything, even at night.
2. You orient and give directions based on the beam from the Luxor.
Yeah, I’ll admit it: I have a horrible sense of direction…especially at night. Thank goodness someone decided it would be a good idea to put a bajillion-candlepower beacon that fires a beam of light into space on the top of one of the Strip’s kitschiest hotels. Not only can you orient yourself anywhere in the city based on that light, but you find yourself at navigational disadvantage during the daytime. If that light were to ever go out, it would be chaos.
3. You can’t point out any of the constellations, but you know the name of every hotel on the strip.
This is related to the previous point, but because Las Vegas is pretty much the definition of “light pollution,” I grew up without really seeing any of the stars. I didn’t even realize how weird it was that the sky was a virtually uninterrupted sheet of black until I moved to Portland.
Growing up, it was way more important to be able to follow the light rail passing back and forth between the Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay from a distance than it was to be able to identify Cassiopeia. Update: I still can’t find Cassiopeia.
4. You cringe when people pronounce the name of the state “Nev-ah-duh.”
Few things set off a Nevadan like pronouncing the name of the state Nev-ah-duh, as opposed to the accepted Nuh-va-da (with the a’s as in “apple”). If you cringed just reading “nNv-ah-duh,” you probably have strong ties to the state.
5. You are blind to almost all flashing lights, except those on the top of a cop car.
Living in Las Vegas, you’re inundated with overstimulation. There are flashing lights on the streets, at the mall, and of course, on the slot machines you’ll find in restaurants, grocery stores, and airports. Pretty much everywhere you go, you are bombarded by the relentless flashing and pinging of slot machines (and the only people who use those slot machines are no one, or old ladies with oxygen tanks). Our perceptual systems eventually just filter them out, adding them to the background noise of daily life.
The only exception are the lights on cop cars, which Las Vegans seem to have an uncanny ability to detect, partially due to paranoia (because a cop will pull you over for pretty much any reason they can come up with), and partially because it always seems to take four officers to deliver a speeding ticket.
6. It really weirds you out to enter a place that doesn’t have AC.
It’s a simple truth that without air conditioning in every single building in Las Vegas, the tourism industry would literally melt and evaporate, a mirage amidst the red sandstone desert. Subsequently, the first time I experienced culture shock in my own country was moving away from Vegas, and discovering that AC, unlike indoor plumbing, was not the ubiquitous standard and symbol of the 21st century I thought it was.
7. You know what water group you are.
Due to the severe drought we had in Las Vegas (in conflict with citizens’ necessity to keep their lawns), the city divided up into regions and assigned letters (your water group). Those letters were then given specific days and times when they were and were not allowed to water their lawns. This is apparently really bizarre to not-Vegans.
8. Either your front yard or backyard is gravel.
In a further effort to cut back on senseless water useage, the city issued a huge tax bonus for doing away with a lawn, which a lot of people jumped on. Subsequently, many did away with any kind of lawn (like my parents), and replaced soft turf with harsh, ice-cube-sized sandstone gravel that bakes all day, and will aggressively develop a hobbit-like layer of callousing on the bottoms of your feet.
9. You know all of the desert flora are assholes.
From the prickly cacti, to the thorned tumbleweeds, the toothy blades of the palm tree body, and the spear-like fronds of the Joshua tree, literally all the plants that survive in the desert and are sprinkled throughout Las Vegas want to stab, poke, or otherwise maim you.
10. You are aware that even the outside world is climate-controllable.
Put a huge open-air high-end outlet shopping mall in the middle of the 105-degree desert they said. It’s a great idea they said. So they did, and then they had to figure out how to get people to shop it. And what did they do? They installed a network of hoses to spray a constant mist down from above, a mist that evaporates virtually the instant it leaves those tubes and arrives as an almost-cool breeze. This technology is virtually everywhere anyone might 1) be and 2) be spending money, so you are probably very familiar with, and relieved by the presence of, this form of climate control pretty much everywhere in Las Vegas.
11. You spent an inordinate amount of time at a Station Casino.
Growing up in Las Vegas, there is very little to do as a kid. It’s too hot outside, so you have to go inside for most of the day, which made finding an outlet for the boundless child-energy on the weekend an uphill battle. Fortunately there was always the trusty local hotel-casino, likely one from the Station Casino chain (each equipped with a food court, movie theatre, and arcade). For me, it was Green Valley Ranch Station, and a lot of hours were spent there doing what I’ve since learned is technically referred to as “loitering.”
12. You remember when TI was still called Treasure Island, and was all about pirates.
Back in the day, before it’s uber-modernized slightly-less-family-friendly current condition, Treasure Island was the Never-Neverland of the Strip, to balance out the Camelot of the Excalibur. The hotel casino featured its own pirate-themed arcade, and a nightly show where large ships would emerge from poorly disguised caves and do swashbuckling cannon battle for passersby.
Then they updated their image, changed the name to TI, and for a brief time replaced the show with the hypersexualized “Sirens of TI” trainwreck, a 12-minute mess of underdressed women and more dialogue than the stage was ever designed for. Today, there is no show, which in my honest opinion is a waste of two perfectly good mechanized fighting ships.
13. You remember when the only place to see electronic music was an underground venue shared by a Spanish rodeo.
There was a dark time in Las Vegas history (which the mayor will staunchly deny after having publicly declared January 2nd “Deadmau5 Day” for the city), long before Las Vegas was the EDM capital of the country, where dance parties were really not a thing. Sure, there were a few parties hosted by promotion company AWOL, but to get your fix, there was only one place you could go: the semi-monthly Sounds of the Underground event at Fort Cheyenne.
Naturally, the space was little more than a room with some lights and a competitive soundsystem, but for the kids of the scene it was all we needed. The venue itself was purely interested in the revenue generated by the event rather than the culture, so they would also rent to just about any organization that promised some money. It was also home to square dances, rodeos, and the occasional Spanish rapper, sometimes occurring concurrently as SOTU, and made for the strangest blend of music genres and cultures clashing in the front parking lot.
14. You know that “magician” still exists as a profession.
And if you’re anything like me, you probably wanted to be one when you grew up. Then somewhere around middle school you had the “coolness” of magic beaten out of you (in my case, literally), and after college you realized there’s only a handful of big names in magic (almost all of which currently reside in Vegas) because it’s just not a very marketable career anywhere else.
15. You know exactly what this dude is trying to hand you:
This right here pretty much epitomizes Las Vegas live-nude culture, and if you’ve ever spent some time on the Strip you know exactly what he’s doing. He’s slapping his hands to get your attention, and forcing on you a tiny card with a naked woman on the front, and details on how you can “get girls direct” or “save on entry at XYZ club” on the back.
As a teenage boy, a collection of these were more valuable, and their trade at school was an industry more clandestine, than those of either Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh. And let this be the first time I’ve admitted to this publicly… I’m positive that in the 4th grade I left a hefty stack of them in my shorts, shorts that went into the laundry but never came back out. Sorry, Mom.