People always seem surprised—and by surprised, I really mean stunned out of their gourds—when they discover I live in Las Vegas.
You mean people really live there? they ask incredulously, apparently unaware of how ridiculous they sound. As if the cards get dealt, drinks served, cars parked and hotel rooms serviced entirely by folks who commute every day from, say, Salt Lake City or Phoenix.
So, after four years of living—yes, really—in the Neon City, after living in New York, this is my attempt to answer the inevitable question, So what's it really like? Here's what I've come up with so far.
Las Vegas is feeling flat-chested —even if you're a C-cup.
Las Vegas is hearing the radio DJ gleefully announce, "Hey! It's cooling off out there," then noticing that the mercury is still hovering at 100 F.
Las Vegas is the 16-year-old girl standing in the wedding chapel with her 18-month old baby begging the groom to please take out his facial piercings for the wedding ceremony.
Las Vegas is despising Steve Wynn for being such a pompous egomaniac, but still being secretly glad that he's making a comeback with Wynn Las Vegas Resort.
Las Vegas is the gut-wrenching feeling that your graduate degree is not worth the paper it's printed on because the high-school dropout valeting cars at Bellagio is hauling down more money than you'll ever see. Ever.
Las Vegas is hearing your friend's daughter say in all seriousness that after she graduates high school, she's going to work in a strip club ... and having your friend think that's a smart career move.
Las Vegas is watching your hairstylist pal make a fast hundred bucks in a dive bar by jumping astride one of those kiddie supermarket horsey rides and ripping off her top . . . and thinking maybe you're the one who's underestimated that whole stripper thing after all.
Las Vegas is finally getting the answer to the burning questions: Whatever happened to Bobby Vinton? Or Air Supply? Or for that matter, Robin Leach?
Las Vegas is watching the adult revue La Femme, imported from the Crazy Horse in Paris, and thinking Las Vegas is finally getting some highbrow entertainment.
Las Vegas is having a closet full of barely there clothes—like that top consisting of two pieces of fur and some string that you bought because it was on sale—that would surely mark you as a hooker if you wore them in your hometown.
Las Vegas is spending a weekend glued to a video-poker machine because the progressive is nearing $2,000 ... and feeding in $1,800 to win it.
Las Vegas is hanging out the top of your limo in the drive-thru of the Little White Wedding Chapel and exchanging your vows with all the ceremony of ordering a Happy Meal.
Las Vegas is giant marquee advertisements for museum exhibitions of Monet, Calder, and Warhol alongside the billboard for Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden.
Las Vegas is having the Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking at your door, waving them off your property with a shotgun ... and thinking, that's not really wrong.
Las Vegas is seeing the Sphinx, Tut's Tomb, the Eiffel Tower and the Venice Campanile all on the same street and thinking maybe you won't renew your passport after all. Why travel overseas when you can see the world in Vegas? And without all the airport security hassles.
Las Vegas is finally connecting with someone you think you could get serious with and then finding out that she's a stripper ... with a coke habit ... who once dated a gay porn star.
Las Vegas is maintaining an emerald green lawn in absolute defiance of the unalterable fact that you live in the Mojave desert. Las Vegas is eventually, painfully, coming to terms with the idea that xeriscaping can actually be quite decorative.
Las Vegas is meeting an adorable civil engineer from St. Louis at a reception and having him slide his hand down the back of your jeans and say, "I haven't had that special Vegas experience yet. Wanna go back to my room?"
Las Vegas is being an exotic dancer in a strip joint's VIP room and having the guy whose lap you've been dancing in lay $10,000 cash on the table along with an invitation to go back to his hotel. And you don't ... because you're not that kind of girl.
Las Vegas is making casual conversation with your bikini-waxer about what she's been doing, and she tells you about picking up a hot gal at the Palms and then making out with her in the back seat of her SUV while her husband ferried them around town. And you realize she isn't kidding.
Las Vegas is living in the desert on a street named Oyster Bay, Spinnaker Cove or Rusty Dock.
Las Vegas is bragging to your out-of-town pals about the all juice you've got at the clubs and still having to wait in a VIP line that's as long as the line for the regular Joes.
Las Vegas is having your New York City friends point out that it must be nice to be a big fish in a small pond—and you feel more like Orca in a teacup.
Las Vegas is knowing that prostitution is illegal in Clark County and yet still seeing huge billboards driving along the Strip promoting a veritable card deck of "private dancers direct to your hotel room" with the slogan, "Our hand is better than yours."
Las Vegas is playing the slots at the supermarket ... then paying for your groceries with a credit card.
Las Vegas is having dinner with friends and casually mentioning that you're thinking of joining a book club because, you know, back in New York, discussions about books were just part of the general conversation, and you want to keep your brain from getting soggy. And having the conversation come to a screeching halt as four mouths stop chewing their Moo Goo Gai Pan and four pairs of eyes look at you blankly. Books? Whaaaa?
Las Vegas is watching the special-ed teacher from Phoenix striding through the casino dolled up like a hooker, "'Cuz I'm in Vegas, bay-bee!"
Las Vegas is knowing that Elvis lives ... at least at Graceland Wedding Chapel and in numerous impersonators acts.
Las Vegas is being able to smoke absolutely everywhere while people glare at you because you don't.
Las Vegas is being in the Spago ladies room and overhearing a couple of airhead party girls chattering, "Is it two degrees of separation? ... I think they made a movie about that ... about, you know, how people know each other ..." and helpfully pointing out that in fact, it's actually six degrees of separation and that before it was a movie starring Will Smith, it was a stage play by John Guare. And being met with icy "who the f--k are you?" stares and purposely ignored.
Las Vegas is paying $59 for a hotel room on one night and $500 for the exact same hotel room on another.
Las Vegas is the absolute juxtaposition of the stark natural beauty of the desert and the wholly manufactured, utterly artificial neon-lit fake landmark environment of the Strip ... and being fascinated by both.
Las Vegas is realizing that practically everyone is from someplace else and after getting over the charm of meeting so many people from around the U.S., discovering that they're inevitably running from something unsavory—an abusive spouse, mandatory alimony, child support payments, murder.
Las Vegas is hanging out at the Tropicana pool and realizing that you're underaccessorized because the only body part you've pierced is your ears.
Las Vegas is drinking and gambling 'round the clock, but not being able to eat because the restaurants close at 10 p.m.
Las Vegas is realizing that the only things here really built to last are the boob jobs.
Las Vegas is being really, really, really thankful that what happens here, stays here.