A Polar Bear in Nevada: A Tale of Modern Vegas

by Kennedy Dillinger

Whenever I fly over the desert I’m always intrigued by the isolated homes that pepper the flat, brown land. Miles and miles stretch between them, but from above it’s just seconds. One one thousand– two one thousand– they’re gone.

I wonder about what people are doing. I wonder about the dust kicking up under their tires and if it makes the trip home at 5:30 p.m. hard to bear.

I wonder about little kids throwing a deflated basketball around in the dust and the joy they get from kicking up little clouds of terra cotta smoke around their parents’ land.

The Strip is so unassuming from the sky. It looks like a tiny little blip on the desert surface but when you stand up next to it, the buildings feel like glittery Goliaths, all bulbs and flashes, catering to the animal instincts of housewives from the Midwest and their husbands who have all but given up.

Of course, there’s young people sipping on artisanal cocktails enjoying the hospitality and getting as freaked out as they can before they have to check their social media accounts.

Getting into an Uber on the Las Vegas strip will cost you a pretty penny, as will any drink or food item you desire. What won’t cost you anything is the realization that sin city changes people the minute they get off the plane.

Las Vegas is a testament to everything excess, any pamphlet enticing you to leave whatever happened in Vegas there, will tell you that.

Any weekend you spend in this place becomes an infamous section of life lost in time.

The confusing architecture and mixture of people in Las Vegas is dizzying upon initial impact. You see children running around in smoke filled rooms with flashing lights and glittering signs. They clearly shouldn’t be there, but there’s also no reason they can’t be. Oxymorons eveywhere– pregnant people smoking, old men on oxygen drinking. Neon encrusted versions of European landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Treves Fountain hang alongside neon encrusted versions of McDonald’s and White Castle. The senses are constantly jarred.

On what planet is it normal to have a statue of Julius Caesar within a mile of a White Castle?

How much money has been collectively spent in this desert wonderland in the past 24 hours?

Will I get out of here alive?

These are the questions you ask yourself when you visit Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.

The jewel in the middle of the Mojave offers a variety of attractions ranging from the splendidly pure to the unnaturally perverse.

Among those perverse activities is the process of checking into any hotel within 10 miles of the strip.

The lines of vacationers in sandals and shorts when the cool desert air plunges into the 40s defies all rational thought.

The modern tourism outfit hasn’t changed in the last 30 years: Khaki shorts, flowered shirts and leather sandals. The luggage is Samsonite and the check-in requires rifling through some kind of designer handbag for the perfect resort rewards card to get the best discount possible.

They ask for things like extra coffee and water and snacks and room service and turn down service and more towels and restaurant recommendations even though Google is a thing.

As I scanned the lobby of Treasure Island I realized exactly how much effort you have to put into a trip to modern Las Vegas. Groups of people standing in the lobby waiting around, deciding where to go and what to do. Should we gamble? Should we drink? How much are drinks! Can I Venmo you?

I’d like to think that back before the Internet people just wandered out onto the Boulevard and saw something shining in the distance, a sign, a name of a hotel they liked, a beautiful person standing next to a lamppost expelling smoke from their breath and energy from their veins– and they just went. They walked In their suits and ties, their gowns and furs, and they lived.

Fly by night tooling down the strip with friends is no longer an option. You must Shuttle to Uber to Lyft and it’ll cost you all your winnings before you even start gambling. Driving to the airport to get to Vegas from San Francisco will cost you an overnight fee of $25 before you even leave the state.

So after you pay for your ticket, room and transportation you’re probably out $300 Once you touch down in the desert dirt you’ve got a chance to win it all back or lose even more. And that’s why they come here– from all corners of the earth, to Mars and back. It’s the thrill of standing on the edge, arms outstretched, waiting for the wind to push you over into a pile of riches or a cavern of heartbreak. There’s nothing like it.

Most people think of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, shotgun weddings and the neon signs when they remember classic Vegas. I now know those are things best kept in movie scenes and on television.

Here, in the Vegas of 2016 DJs rule the music scene and mega night clubs with guest lists full of tender young women with sequined dresses and glitter in their eyes are the main attraction.

Water costs $10 a bottle and it’s tough luck if you take too many drugs or drink too much hard liquor. If you’re lucky, you can fight for an empty glass and run to the bathroom. There you will fight 20 other girls in Forever 21 dresses for sink space. Fill up the glass with some sweet Vegas tap water and quench your thirst. What will it take to make sure you don’t get ill from the excess? The answer is $10 or 30 minutes of your time wading through glitter and tears.

These rooms, halls of booming bass and Technicolor light shows, have become the recommended night time activity. It’s not the bars. It’s not the casinos. It’s not the shopping. It’s not the restaurants. Sweaty chambers you can barely move in and have to pay $26 for a watered-down gin and tonic must be visited, or you’ll have missed out. At least that’s what I’m told.

As a young person, going to these crowded places is a right of passage. Nearly every young person in Vegas hops into these clubs and lives the dream for a few hours.

My girlfriends had a hell of a time checking their coats at this place called Omnia in Caesar’s Palace. It’s a shrine to alien-like lighting fixtures and misplaced European nightlife vibes.

Standing there in four-inch heels and a Moschino tuxedo dress, I wait in the lobby and strike up a conversation with a hip looking Eastern European bouncer who I assumed’s name was Emile or something like that.

“You like working here?” I ask, balancing on the back of my pointy-toed stilettos.

“I hate the music,” Emile says.

He assumed because of my appearance that I was equally as vapid as many club-goers in Vegas.

“I like rock and roll myself.” I said.

We went on to discuss guitar techniques and the early Rolling Stones catalog before my girlfriends returned. He wished me luck as I stepped into the glittering abyss.

Vegas is about the people. It’s in these micro conversations that you get to know the heart of it all. The people make it tick. Not the fanny-packed tourists, but the dealers and the bartenders and the hotel clerks. These are the faces of the American Dream. They witness utter debauchery and excess daily and yet they never flail or wince when it rears its ugly head. They are the stone cold foundation of the lights and drink.

Every Uber surge priced car we got into, I asked the driver, “You live in Vegas? You like it?”

The responses varied from “Hell yeah” to “Hell no” and all were equally appreciative that we cared enough to talk to them.

Night time fades into day in Las Vegas quickly.

Since everything’s open forever the inclination is to push your strength and will to party to the enth degree.

When your eyes start to drop and limbs start to fail, you know you’re headed in the right direction. And when you feel comfortable, it’s time to head home.