Saturday, August 27, 2011

Viva Lost Vegas

(The world famous strip)
I've spent roughly 20 years living in or around the world famous city of Las Vegas. The bright lights (the brightest city in the world as seen from Space)! Gambling! Casinos! Ridiculous summer heat! Swarms of drunken tourists screaming and falling over themselves! Indeed, I call this den of madness my home town. In fact, I was BORN here which is a somewhat unique honor. The majority of 'locals' in Vegas are from far off lands, looking for gainful employment and the American dream. In fact, there are are almost 2 MILLION people living in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, making it the 28th most populous city in the entire United States. The 90s and early 2000s saw a boom in the population that later contributed to one of the worst housing busts of the US economic decline, with home prices dropping faster than most stripper's tops. The sad result of this is that there are brand new homes, neighborhoods and developments that have been left largely unoccupied (at least by humans). This creates a fascinating modern ghost town atmosphere that has been underutilized by Hollywood so far. For more information, check out this article; The Stunning Crash and Burn of Las Vegas by Michael Snyder.

(Facing East towards residential & Nellis Air Force Base)
Las Vegas (meaning “the meadows” in Spanish) is quite literally an oasis, flanked on all sides by miles of expansive desert and mountains; Spring Mountains to the West, Sheep Mountains to the North, Muddy Mountains and Lake Mead to the East and Black Mountains to the South. Situated in the Mojave desert, it's a four+ hour drive to the nearest major city (Los Angeles). There isn't a really strong industry to speak of outside of construction, service or hospitality (and perhaps the adult industry). As a teenager I often wondered, full of angst, who in their right minds would see this lonely desert valley and consider it the perfect place to build a settlement. Turns out, it was a group of Mormons in 1854. Wouldn't they be proud to learn that their encampment evolved into the City of Sin! Compared to cities on the east coast, Vegas is still fairly young; having only been officially established in 1905. The military was a key factor in the continued evolution of Las Vegas and Nellis Air Force Base stands as a significant reminder of that, limiting the outward growth of the valley and providing spectacular aerial shows several times a year. Area 51 is also close in proximity, giving ample fodder to those interested in conspiracy and the curious alike for decades (though now-a-days there seems to be more esoteric/exotic bases and theories being discussed). Those who are truly fascinated can venture out to the infamous Extraterrestrial highway and even stay at the “Little Alie-Inn” if the fear of abduction isn't prohibitive.
(Downtown and Fremont District with neighborhoods on the right and business to the left)
Being a desert, it's generally hot and dry for most of the year. The summer temperatures are routinely over 100 while winter nights get down to near freezing. Some counts say the average annual rainfall can be as much as 5 inches, but I've always heard 2” as the norm. Despite limited rain, the risk of flash flooding is high during our brief 'monsoon' season due to nonabsorbent soil and other factors. This means that several times a year we'll hear stories of people getting stranded or even killed due to driving into a 'puddle' that in reality was far deeper than it appeared. City planning has done some work taking this into account, creating drainage tunnels and storm drains that funnel some of the overflow out and away from the danger zones but this does nothing to prevent people from driving like buffoons. Other than flash flooding, natural disasters are rare. Occasionally there's an aftershock from the fault line in California, but the faults near/in Vegas seem inactive. I've only ever noticed one of these aftershocks and it was because I was on top of the Stratosphere tower which absorbed the vibrations and swayed slightly. Any of the others went completely unnoticed by me.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Las Vegas, as well as a lot of mythos and glamor. This town has figured prominently in several films, television shows and books with varying degrees of accuracy and reality (one of my favorites being Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by the incorrigible gonzo Hunter S. Thompson). Indubitably, each interpretation of Vegas is going to be as unique as the individual recording it. My impressions have varied from teenaged loathing to adult appreciation, anger at the exaggerated focus on providing for tourists over the locals (that cursed Monorail being a hot point of contention) and joyous revere at the sheer variety of shows and entertainment available. There are plenty of things to love; an ongoing supply of new people to meet, constant events and parties, booze warehouses open to the public (check out Lee's Discount Liquor or Total Wine and Spirits), random discounts for locals, amazing sunsets, rock formations, predictable weather, wide streets, my family that remains, high availability of eyecandy, etc. There are also lots of things to despise; the oppressive heat, large hordes of homeless people abandoned by the system, TONS of litter and detritus that collects from all the escort cards and club promoters, the clash between classes, the rarely-ceasing yelling and drunken bawdiness, the promoting of useless reality stars in clubs,etc. Make of it what you will, though, Vegas is my home. For now, anyway.
How will I feel after 2 years abroad? We shall see!

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