Just checked Las Vegas off my bucket list. My husband and I met our cousins/dear friends there last week to celebrate our mutual 50th anniversaries. While we had a great time, I couldn’t help seeing Vegas as a microcosm of our country these days. The Trump tower looms over every view of the strip, demanding attention even though it’s not really part of the gambling scene or even on the strip. It reminded me of Trump stalking Hillary during the debate. This town, that epitomizes the seven deadly sins, is surrounded by housing developments that appear to be partly empty and rather ugly, with beautiful natural settings just beyond that. It is a region of stark contrasts.
In case you have forgotten your seven deadly sins, they all happen in Vegas.
- Gluttony – this is the city of the endless buffet where one can spend two hours consuming a ridiculous amount of food. Kind of like a cruise that never leaves the dock.
- Lust – that goes without saying. Just look at the ads for shows.
- Greed – the huge, windowless, smoke-filled casinos create an atmosphere that encourages people to feed money into machines that digest it and ask for more. And folks spend hours hoping for the rare payoff. Everything in the gaudy and mammoth hotels costs extra to feed the gigantic gambling industry.
- Pride (vanity) – Lots of folks preening around in outrageous outfits. That said, there were also many dressed like total slobs, even at fancy shows and restaurants. Again, a microcosm of any American city.
- Despondency (sorrow) – Lots of people gambling alone, eating alone, losing alone.
- Anger – Crowds encourage shoving to get ahead of others, and driving is congested and tough, leading to a few incidents of road rage.
- Envy – This is not an inexpensive place. Most folks can’t afford the glitzy shows and expensive restaurants.
- Sloth – If you confine yourself to the strip, you tend to plop yourself down in casinos or indulge in excessive eating binges.
So, here’s the trick. To get the full Las Vegas experience and not succumb to sensory overload, we decided to get out of Dodge. We took trips to Mt. Charleston and the Toiyabe National Forest, Red Rock Canyon, Lake Mead, and Hoover Dam. In less than an hour, we were surrounded by real clear blue skies, actual mountains, magnificent rock formations, desert landscapes, and the majesty of the engineering marvel that created Hoover Dam between 1931-35, in the height of the Great Depression.
I wondered how different it would be to create Hoover Dam in today’s environment. Back then, six engineering companies joined forces to collaborate on the project, which came in on budget and two years early. The laborers were sadly plentiful due to massive unemployment. Families lived in wretched conditions in tents in the dessert, and many men died building the dam. With our current political climate regarding immigrants, where would the labor force for such a project come from? And it’s hard to imagine businesses collaborating on a project and completing it within the budgetary and time parameters.
Between the glitz and greed of the Las Vegas strip and the wonders of nature and engineering, we passed by countless housing developments, many of which appeared to be in a state of minimal occupancy and disrepair. Tiny houses and apartment complexes jammed together on the outskirts of town to accommodate all of the worker bees needed to sustain the illusion of wealth and glamour. Not everyone in Vegas is a high roller. The folks clearing the dishes of buffet overeaters or cleaning the rooms of guests in fancy hotels can’t afford to live near town or shop in its overpriced stores.
Which brings me, in a very round-about way, to Black Friday. This post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday embodies so much of what I felt in Vegas. It elevates consumerism, greed, and excess to its own celebration. Folks of limited means rush to stores at 4:00 am on the morning after Thanksgiving to spend far more than they can afford on goods that are manufactured specifically for this day. Both this shopping frenzy and Vegas remind me (former English teacher that I am) of these lines from the poem The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; —
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
I tried to balance a bit of nature with a bit of Vegas, but I must admit that I gave too much of my heart away to Cirque du Soleil’s show “O.” At least I plan to read a good book and chill on Black Friday.