I’m always amused and occasionally intrigued by the opinions and pontifications of parachute journalists who land unannounced in Las Vegas and then return to their home base and write the definitive article on our city.
Typically, no matter how intrigued the writer might be by our many offerings, there is a tone of cynicism if not downright derision in the resulting essay. Occasionally, I even learn something new from these scribblers.
Back in the late 1970s, a local magazine I was editing hosted a cocktail reception for the esteemed travel writer Jan Morris. She was in town taking the pulse of Las Vegas for a profile she was preparing for The New Yorker.
Between sips of a mimosa fizz, I pulled Morris aside and asked whether she had developed a strong feel for our city after two weeks of snooping around town. Her answer, which some 40 years later I can only paraphrase, went something like this: “Despite all the nice people I’ve met who’ve been so friendly and accommodating, I detect a large undercurrent of evil running through Las Vegas,” she said. “Perhaps it goes back to the city’s roots.”
Her reference was not to our railroad roots of 1905, but rather to the days of Bugsy and the boys as they accelerated development along the Strip and skimmed a healthy percentage of casino profits back to their brethren in Miami and Detroit.
About three years after Morris’ visit, in an expanded profile on Las Vegas that appeared in her book “Journeys,” she wrote: “There is always a sneer in Las Vegas. The mountains around it sneer. The desert sneers. And arrogant in the middle of its wide valley, dominating those diligent sprawling suburbs, the downtown city sneers mightily.”
It’s fair to say that the Las Vegas Jan Morris found some 40 years ago would not have made a list of her Top Five Places to Visit. But I wonder if her view would shift today, if now in her early nineties she would return and observe the changes and enhancements we’ve gone through.
I daresay our city’s transformation is as dramatic as Morris herself underwent, when she changed her identity and sex from John Morris, a British Army intelligence officer and adventurer, to the perceptive female Jan Morris, who has earned such great acclaim as a writer.
She was Caitlyn Jenner, long before Bruce made his public switch and put the Kardashian family into two full seasons of intense therapy.
I usually explain to out-of-town friends that Las Vegas’s reputation as a den of sin is partly why I ventured here in the first place, as a lonely 25-year-old bachelor hoping to find some companionship, whether for a night, a month, or a lifetime. And that as much as
I loved my hometown of Spokane, for a guy who yearned to write for the rest of his days I was finding it increasingly difficult to identify stories that aroused my passion among the wheat fields of eastern Washington.
Perhaps the reason many people tend to “sneer” back at Las Vegas is because our city offers a constant threat to their way of life. Do you suppose it’s because we’re having too much fun out here in the desert, or because our economy is among the best in the nation? Or is it that we don’t have hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or mudslides? Maybe it’s that it’s nearly always sunny outside.
It’s a certainty that some regions of the country are angry at us for stealing business from them. Oklahoma City still hasn’t gotten over our taking the National Finals Rodeo from them. North Carolina is in a panic over how quickly we’ve snatched the attention of furniture buyers. And New York is doubtless irritated at how many of their great chefs we’ve either borrowed or stolen in recent years.
So I say, “Bring on the Abuse.” As long as it’s well-composed, with a modicum of intelligence behind it, such criticism can only enhance our reputation and contribute to the ever-rising tourist count in this wonderful place that happens to be a “bastion of heathens,” and the “ninth ring of Dante’s Inferno” and “representative of the moral decay of the country as a whole.”
With all this pleasure we’re surrounded by, we certainly can tolerate a little pain.
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