As We See It

[Vegas On My Mind]

Steve Friess returns to offer an outsider’s perspective on Sin City

Steve Friess may no longer live in Las Vegas, but he’s never stopped thinking about it.
Photo: Steve Marcus

So! What’d I miss?

Two years ago, I abandoned this space. This week, I’m reclaiming it for a couple of times a month. Hide the kiddies.

Back then, I also shut down my blog, stopped podcasting, dumped my worthless house and bolted for Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I’d landed an awesome one-year fellowship for mid-career journalists at the University of Michigan. Mine was a different departure than many writers who have moved in that I openly ached for all I would miss while making no I’ll-be-back pretense.

I waxed poetic in my 2011 valedictory about the special tint of the Nevada sky, the bumpy curve of southbound U.S. 95 just past Downtown, the heart-rending distance I’d be putting between myself and the lovely friends who knew me better than my own family. Still, my gut told me my own creative renewal demanded new scenery and challenges and, also, my husband had come to despise the desert climate. Once we were in motion, he’d never sanction a move back.

Yet I never stopped thinking about Las Vegas and its singular place in America and international lore. I never stopped reading the Review-Journal or the Sun, I never declined an opportunity to return to the erudite air of KNPR, I never ceased trying to educate—fruitless though it usually was—ignorant Midwest and East Coast elitists who took simplistic and insulting views of the Strip and the millions of real-world Americans who love it. After the fellowship, I took a job as a senior writer at Politico in Washington, D.C., and found many excuses to write about Nevada, most notably in covering the flailing effort to move forward a federal law to govern online gambling.

After 14 months, I baffled my editors and colleagues by leaving Politico. It just wasn’t my style of journalism, but more significantly I missed writing about anything and everything that interested me. And that included Las Vegas.

So my husband and I compromised. We’d leave D.C. and return to Ann Arbor, where he had become so infected by Blue fever that we now own a U of M shower curtain, dog leash, Jenga, Mr. Potato Head and game-day yard blow-up, among other Michiganalia. In exchange, I will travel to Vegas whenever I want, as I will later this month for the Global Gaming Expo.

It may seem absurd for a columnist focused on Las Vegas to be located elsewhere, but you readers need a sober, outsider point of view as much as the rest of the country could stand to rethink its obnoxious, limited perspective of you. Also, it’s worth noting that the two finest and most valuable podcasts about the city—The Vegas Gang and Five Hundy By Midnight—originate from Santa Barbara and Minnesota, respectively. The most significant blog, too, is Vegas Tripping, beamed to you from SoCal.

So, with all that said, I ask again: What’d I miss? Like a daytime soap you can step away from and return to unconfused at almost any time, it seems on the surface the town is largely as I left it. The empty Fontainebleau still towers as a mocking monument to boomtown hubris, the region is no closer to a professional sports franchise or meaningful tax reform, the Monorail somehow continues to glide God-knows-who along the backside of nowhere and an oddly romantic image of the Osmond siblings still covers the front of the Flamingo. As I predicted back then, the Era of the Next Little Thing continues apace, the only change to the Vegas skyline being the sprouting of that infernal Ferris wheel.

There are some surprises, I admit. The new mayor has actually failed to make any nationally amusing gaffe. Holly Madison is now an official MILF. Sam Nazarian actually seems to be going forward with the transformation of the Sahara as the SLS. And Jim Murren finally called out Sheldon Adelson for his less-than-collegial bluster.

As you can see, I’m a bit pent up. There’s much to say. As Rachel Maddow loves to say, watch this space.

So! Didja miss me?

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and USA Today, among many other outlets.
Tags: Opinion
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