The late nights and early mornings were always the best. That’s when the Strip feels like it’s all yours, when the desert air cools and the sky opens up and there’s nothing but space and lights and silhouettes sprouting up around you. Those are the only times there aren’t thousands of other people walking on Las Vegas Boulevard; even when summer temperatures hit the hundred-and-teens, these sidewalks are still jammed in the afternoons. But get back out on the street at 3 or 4 or 5 a.m., and you own it. You’re not exactly alone, but nobody else did what you did that night, had the adventure you had, so you are unique.
I would imagine that feeling is pretty cool if you’re visiting Las Vegas, perhaps as if you’ve conquered the Strip. Veni, vidi, vici … maybe in front of Caesars Palace. I don’t know. I’ll never know. I’ve never been a visitor. I don’t feel like I’ve ever really lived anywhere other than Las Vegas. When we see that hotel skyline through the window on the flight into McCarran, you get all excited about what you’re going to vici. I feel the warm relief of home.
The Strip is my home. I don’t sleep there and I don’t work there, but I live there. It is sustenance. And through the years I’ve found it to be—or maybe molded it into—a sanctuary, the place where my overactive mind becomes calm and quiet, and opens up like that huge desert sky above those 5 a.m. silhouettes. After I see a show or a concert or eat at a restaurant here, I need to retreat to the sidewalks to let the experience sink in, to get lost in the flow of Vegas, to feel like everybody else feels when they come here to do these same things. It never gets old or tired. With friends or family, or all alone, I’m always happy out here.
Of course, it didn’t feel that way last time. I was walking the Strip on October 1. I started just before midnight, parking at Treasure Island and moving south past the Mirage and Caesars Palace, both on lockdown. Small crowds lingered in front of the main entrances, hotel guests waiting to get back into their rooms. At that time Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department crews were just beginning to sweep through the casinos at the south end of the Strip, making sure there was no more danger before allowing people in and out of the buildings again. The resorts in my area would not open up again until around 3 a.m. I was there to help gather information to report for the Las Vegas Sun, but I was failing. I couldn’t talk to anyone inside, and I couldn’t move much farther south than the Cosmopolitan. I felt beyond helpless, utterly useless. That feeling has not yet left me, not completely.
I spoke to people who told stories of gamblers leaving money on tables to flee when they saw other people running out, even though there were never reports of anything to run from. Two SWAT vehicles sat on the Boulevard in front of the Cromwell, and officers with rifles and helmets stood guard on the pedestrian bridges. At the Cosmopolitan, I could look through the huge Strip-side windows to see people sleeping on sofas in the Bond lounge, trapped on the other side of the glass. Eventually a small stream of people departed from Planet Hollywood, including one Californian who drove in that morning to go to the Golden Knights preseason game with the Sharks at T-Mobile Arena. He wouldn’t give his name, but he was staying with friends off the Strip and wasn’t sure how to get to their house. “It’s gonna be okay, though,” he said. I asked if the shooting might affect his next trip to Vegas. “Oh no, no way. This is the best. I would come as much as I could. I would move here if I could.”
I suddenly became worried about our hockey team, set to begin the first major league professional sports season in the history of the city before this happened. My overactive mind opened up in a different, terrifying way, absorbing every worst-case scenario. MGM Resorts had just unleashed a massively exciting ad campaign that focused on live entertainment (“We are in the holy sh*t business.”), and now one of the largest and most important companies in the state would be managing an epic tragedy that occurred during an outdoor music festival. All the momentum the Strip had painfully built after the recession seemed in jeopardy, or worse.
Wondering if I’d ever enjoy late-night strolls on the Strip again felt narcissistic and wrong, but it turned out to be the path worth walking. Because after all that fear, defiant anger was waiting. You can’t have my Vegas. I will never let it go, ever. Not after taking my best friends in the world to a dinner none of us can afford, laughing and drinking all the way through. Not after watching countless legendary musicians performing in the most incredible theaters ever constructed. And certainly not after walking back to the Treasure Island parking garage early in the morning on October 2. I gave my wife her engagement ring in this garage. I’m f*cking keeping it.
You’re keeping all of your Vegas, too, and that’s how I know the perception of the Strip could never change. The livelihood of Las Vegas has been wounded before, and it will happen again, but the idea of Vegas is forever. It’s flashing very prominently in the minds of at least 42 million people from all over the world, because that’s how many came here last year—just last year.
That’s 42 million experiences that can bring someone back for more. That’s 42 million shares of the Strip divided up evenly—everyone gets a little piece to keep. It might sound maudlin, but it’s real, and I know because I’ve seen it all the time, every time I’m on the Strip.
I see conventioneers cutting loose at happy hour in lobby bars and families frolicking through Circus Circus and Excalibur, credit-card kids running it up at nightclubs and pool parties and wide-eyed couples at Cirque du Soleil spectacles, boisterous and quiet groups from Mexico and the U.K. and China shopping and partying and gambling like crazy. I’ve seen entirely too much joy on Las Vegas Boulevard to believe it could ever stop.
I don’t know when the way I’ve always felt about the Strip will come back to me, but I’m going to keep walking until it does.