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Underneath the Glitter


They call it “Sin City” and a quick internet search brings up explanations such as, “The city’s tolerance for various forms of adult entertainment earned it the title of Sin City. On the other hand, Las Vegas also has the highest number of churches per capita of any major U.S. city” (funny, I didn’t see any – except wedding chapels). [1]

Another article says: “Sin City” – a place where there’s lots of “activity” going on, legal or illegal.  If you have a specific vice, Las Vegas is the place to indulge in it. These vices usually include sex, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and gambling.  While other cities certainly contain all of these elements, Las Vegas is infamous for being the place where none of these vices have to hide.  They’re out in the open for everyone to see, whether you’re comfortable with them or not.  Vegas has, and probably always will be, the number one place to party and let your addictions run wild, whatever they may be. [2]

Las Vegas is jammed pack full of cars and people.  It is noisy and bright.  It is a perfect place for a people observer like me. Things are available all night long.  Casinos are open 24 hours a day.  Malls are set inside hotels, geared toward the type hotel.  Alpha Son’s hotel was geared more toward youth with stores such as American Eagle, Guess and the like.  More upscale hotels catered to the wealthy with Chanel and Armani.  There were outlet malls and restaurants.  Anything you could think of to do could be catered to.

I wasn’t prepared to like Las Vegas.  I assumed it was going to be full of gambling and prostitution.  It was.  Although I did meet some amazing people and was treated to the “Star Treatment” of the Bellagio, Las Vegas was heartbreaking, too.  I can honestly say that every person I had dealings with, no matter what – restaurant, wig store, outlet mall, hotel store, etc., was friendly and very, very nice.  It wasn’t the above-people scene that got to me. It is that other scene, the underneath one.

I believe almost every large hotel has a built-in casino.  The Bellagio, where we stayed, had a beautiful one.  Black and gold, glittering, classy looking.  Two piano bars with talented people playing songs that make you stop and listen for a minute or two. Well dressed (and not so) people, with upscale restaurants lining the walls and high end shopping at one end. 

What I do recall were the lines of people at the banker-type cages.  They got their playing chips, tickets, and whatnot there.  There were young people, but mostly?  Mostly it looked like senior citizens and retired people.  Elderly couples helping one another walk.  That surprised me. Older people barely able to walk, even with a cane, tottering over to spend their hard-earned money in a “one-armed bandit”.

That other scene I mentioned?  Not the one you saw on the movie “Ocean’s 11” for sure. Not the glittering, happy, laughing, beautifully dressed beautiful people. Nope. Las Vegas is a city of contrasts; polar opposites. One evening, we walked through a casino to reach the parking garage on the other side of our restaurant.  This was not a beautiful black and gold casino. It was almost… washed out. Just a casino. My ears were assaulted by the noise – loud music, loud talking, loud clanging and dinging of the machines; my eyes were assaulted with a visual of what it is all about. 

People’s faces were lit by the screen of whatever machine they were hunched over.  Almost all of them were like zombies, one finger continually pushing the button that would change the screen in front of them.  Most weren’t moving at all with the exception of that one finger reaching out to press the button when they didn’t get three of a kind.  Over and over and over, press, press, press, totally oblivious to the noise, chaos and people around them.  The only other move they made was to insert more money into the slot.

There was a desperation on most the faces of the people I saw.  Some, coming into the casino, looked excited and hopeful, carrying their rolls of change and drinks.  Others, who had been there awhile, were surrounded by empty plastic drink cups, ash trays piled high with cigar and cigarette butts, eyes glazed and body slumped, attempting to win at a machine that is guaranteed to take away money.

One morning Alpha Hubby went out early to check out the city.  What he found was the truth behind the glitter.  There is an air of hopelessness that isn’t quite so obvious at night.  There were people stumbling out of casinos, some drunk, staggering, bleary eyed.  There were street musicians who slept on the street the night before (above). They were unwashed and didn’t look anyone in the eye. It was very sad.  There were hookers standing around along with pimps keeping an eye out.  There was blatant visible drug use and early morning drinking.  As the day wore on, more and more people crowded the streets and sidewalks, all rushing to spend money on something, anything, legal or illegal.

Most of the people I talked to didn’t like living there but couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.  The traffic was incredible and road maintenance went on day and night, causing traffic tangles.  While I used to live in the city (Kansas City MO), I had forgotten about the lanes of traffic and being on constant guard watching the other drivers.  Overall, there were more people than the street could handle so you even had to keep an eye out on people leaning too close from the curb into traffic.

I wanted to write about the wedding, the incredible room and other service, the magnificent restaurants, the beauty we saw, and the amazing lights, and Bellagio fountains.  I will write about that and post pictures, but foremost in my mind all the way home was the truth behind the glitter, lights, shows, and shopping.

 Las Vegas broke my heart.



3 thoughts on “Underneath the Glitter

  1. I must admit Nan, I went to Vegas once in my life, I was in my 30’s; and for me, all of it was just way too much. The crowds, the noise, the gambling, the drinking, the street people, the sad faces, the elderly gambling away their savings or SS benefits…it was a city, that for me held way too much sadness. I didn’t get so caught up in all of the glitz & glam, I’m more down to earth than that, but I also tend to be empathetic and what I witnessed, even then; was so painful. I could not wait to leave and have never been back! Great post! Excellent visual imagery for those who have not been there.

  2. This is a really poignant post Nan. I have often wondered about the reality of the Vegas that we catch glimpses of in movies. Very, very sad – especially the part about the elderly glued to the pokies.

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