Saturday afternoon I was closer to the “Adult Superstore” sign at Main Street and Bonneville than I’ve ever been. It’s pretty cool from just a few feet away. Rather than just gazing past those oft-used words, you really notice the workmanship that went into the sign, and the old-school light bulbs that line it, illuminating the handiwork of some sign artisan. The new perspective comes thanks to a seat atop a bright red double-decker bus, which was taking a “literary tour” of Las Vegas. That’s what got me thinking about views, and how it’s one of the ideas that makes art and literature so special—the ability to see something through someone else’s eyes.
As the tour led us around town, sharing the perspectives of famous voices that have sounded off on or about Las Vegas, it also allowed its participants a new take on our town. The tour is sponsored by Nevada Humanities and the Office of Cultural Affairs of the City of Las Vegas, and led by Gregory Crosby, a former Las Vegas resident and current writer and literary buff who relocated to New York three years ago. He came back for the tour.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time pointing at things and saying, ‘This is where that used to be,’ ” Crosby began, speaking atop the bus from its starting point at the Arts Factory. “So I hope that doesn’t get too annoying.”
It didn’t. Anyone who’s lived in Las Vegas is used to that, after all. We’re less used to a tour pulling together some of the literary facts and trivia we’ve heard over the years, and assembling them into a cohesive, geographic overview.
Crosby read from books that have yet to be published, like Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children, due out in January. The novel is set in Bock’s native Las Vegas, and the passages Crosby read catch the occasionally schizophrenic spirit of the city magically. And then there are out-of-print books, like The Big Room, by Michael Herr, which describes, in part, Frank Sinatra’s time spent at the Sands. We heard passages from Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar as we passed the Eureka Casino ($1 pitchers during games!), a place where the author has been known to drop a few quarters.
Driving past Desert Inn Road, Crosby enlightened us on Howard Hughes in the words of David Thompson in In Nevada: “He was a monopoly player who regarded Las Vegas as a place he had to cover with hotels—his.” And as we passed the Strip’s infamous pink dome, we listened to the slightly deranged words of Hunter S. Thompson: “The Circus Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday nights if the Nazis had won the war.”
There were so many more, from strip-club references to wedding-chapel descriptions. The tour cleverly mixed anecdotes dealing with history, literature, movies and music. The tour was a treat, and so was the bus. As cars and pedestrians honked and waved, we got to experience the city from a perspective that most of us haven’t been able to invoke in a long time: A tourist.
If you missed the Literary Las Vegas tour, you’ll have a second chance to catch this free adventure during the Vegas Valley Book Festival, November 2 and 3. For more information go to www.vegasvalleybookfest.org.