Wednesday, August 4

Las Vegas

I remember wanting to go to Disney World a terrible lot when I was much younger, seven or eight or thereabouts. My dad pulled out a map of the nation to demonstrate the considerable distance between northern Minnesota and central Florida and the even more considerable time required to drive to and from these two points. That did nothing to abate my interest. The steady grind of time did. By the time my high school band had the chance to attend as part of Disney Magic Music Days, I didn't particularly care. The Disney parks are billed as places of dreams and their fulfillment. I guess the idea of such a place lost its appeal to me once I began reading fiction in earnest. After all, how can the limited reality of a park ever hope to compare to a novel's infinite mindscapes? Not well if early dispatches from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are to be believed.

So, Las Vegas as destination never interested me. With a few minor cosmetic alterations, it is the Disney World for adults. They are places that exist more in the imagination and in persistent marketing than in reality. Disney World is a place where cartoons become characters who walk on the streets and movies can be entered through thrill rides. In Las Vegas one becomes glamourous, and a fortune is only a spin of the slots away.

Control is tight in both to maintain these illusions and prevent the intrusion of reality. Strategically placed garbage cans and armies of cleaners keep the Nevada casinos and Florida theme parks some of the cleanest places in the world. With no clocks and no windows and strictly controlled temperatures, Las Vegas casinos remain in a perpetual twilight. Even when one wants to leave and return to the real, one will hours seeking the exit as the halls and streets are not so much meant to direct one toward any particular destination as much as keep them wandering.

These things fascinate me. They are a conscious, continuing effort to make a place resemble as much as possible its image. This is not so much a concern in the national parks where the forests and rivers pretty well take care of themselves or cities like London, Paris or New York City where enough has been written and filmed within and regarding that no single perspective dominates to the exclusion of all others, no matter the efforts of their marketing departments. These are places that have histories. Over the centuries they have changed and are allowed to continue doing so. Las Vegas and Disney World, both mere decades old, have little room to grow from the aggressive marketing that has so long defined them.

What is most interesting is how Las Vegas' image fails. It has always had an aura of glamour about it for me. Yes, the well-dressed men of Ocean's Eleven has a lot to do about this, but even the slobs in The Hangover had their penthouse for a night. Las Vegas was a place to stroll about in three-piece suits and diamond earrings and necklaces. It was not the Las Vegas I discovered. Maybe the scene changes in the evening and night, but in the morning and afternoon it is all tank tops, patterned shorts and pastel polo shirts. Not so much something classy as appropriate for a barbeque in the suburbs, I would think.

Even more off putting was how many of the stores in the hotels were having sales, stores like Lacoste, Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and all the others that are signs of some affluency. Maybe it was an attempt to move more product in a recession and maybe it was fortuitous timing in coming when they were clearing room for fall collections, but these were significant reductions in price, significant enough to make the pieces affordable to everyone. Of course, this was all part of the larger trend in making so many things cheaper, more affordable. Coupons to the better buffets and discounts on the tickets to the best shows in town are all readily available. Everything is available in Vegas, given a willingness to spend the time searching or standing in line. Which is the point in the end. A city where everything can be bought and everything is affordable.

I wonder, though, how much it means to finally make it to the good seats of Penn and Teller wearing a new Louis Vutton suit after a multi-course dinner at Venetian restaurant endorsed by a celebrity chef only to find your neighbor has done the same thing and comes from the same suburb as you. These articles are supposed to be the privilege of the few. Their uniqueness is what makes them special. What happens when they are available to everyone? Nothing of great importance in all likelihood. If they do become common, something new and exclusive will take their former place, but I do find it interesting to consider.

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