The novelist John Updike once wrote: “Vegas must be a great town for laundromats. Nobody lives there. Everybody is just passing through, leaving a little bit of dirt.”
Steve Wynn once said, “Vegas is sort of like how God would do it if he had money.”
Those are distinctly different takes on our town, and if you browse the Internet you can find thousands of other definitive statements of people who feel they understand the soul of this place.
I have yet to meet in my over four decades here anyone who didn’t have a strong opinion one way or another about Las Vegas. Seldom are the opinions neutral. People either love the city, hate it, or are merely amused by it. But everyone thinks they know it.
When I informed my mother in Washington state years ago that I had decided to stay and live here after what was purported to be a two-week golf vacation, she said, “You are a grown man. Of course you can do what you want. But I think you are making a horrible mistake, and this breaks my heart.”
She and my father both got over it, and once they understood I wasn’t gambling or chugging narcotics or running a boiler-room operation, they visited the city dozens of times over the years when the cold weather of Spokane drove them south. They conceded in later years that I had made a good decision in settling in a city that had more material to write about than Shakespeare’s England.
While Las Vegas made an easier target half a century ago, when the mob was moving money out of the casinos faster than a snow blower in Minnesota, and the design motifs of most hotels consisted of neon trim over a color palette resembling an explosion at a Crayola factory, the city is a much less susceptible target today. Like an acne-pocked teenager with no self-confidence, ageing has allowed us to mature and become a responsible adult.
One of the original engineers at Young Electric Sign Company, a man who had crafted many of the iconic signs fronting Strip hotels, told me in confidence that in the 1950s Dunes owner Major Riddle instructed him to design a huge sign in the shape of a male organ. He did so and Riddle was delighted. If you don’t believe this, look up a picture of the original Dunes sign. Or check out a replica of it at the Neon Museum.
It’s an odd story, but emblematic of the times. That sign was blown up several years before the Dunes also was turned to ash, to make room for the Bellagio. Talk about an upgrade: the Bellagio remains today many visitors’ favorite hotel on the Strip, with its Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and ever-changing horticulture garden.
Ninety-nine percent of the cities in the U.S. would trade for our economic situation and job opportunities. Many other towns are envious of the resilience we’ve shown in bouncing back from a recession that hit us as hard as any place in the country.
As I’ve said dozens of times over the years, if you find yourself consumed by boredom in Las Vegas it’s your own damn fault. You’d be bored in Shangri La or the Land of Oz.
How the city has enhanced its image could fill a book or two, but there are a few sea-changes that rate as headliners. First, eradicating the mob from hotel ownership and welcoming responsible business people to the executive offices. Second, gradually improving our university and adding a law school and medical school to diminish UNLV’s stereotype as Basketball U. And third, through multi-tiered marketing efforts from the LVCVA and other entities, letting the world know that Las Vegas is an irresistible destination for business, entertainment, sports, and overall livability.
To think that we are now home to every A-list entertainer on the planet, a Stanley Cup finalist hockey team, a first-rate WNBA team, the next NFL draft, and an iconic NFL team that has won three Super Bowls and is gunning for more, would have been unimaginable all those years ago.
Say what you want about Las Vegas now, but nobody out there is laughing.