March 24, 2008

A Jamaican in Las Vegas (Part One)

Geoffrey PhilpThe minute I landed in Las Vegas--a city ripe for the destruction by the God of wrath from my fundamentalist childhood--I knew my ideas about sex, sin, and scarcity would be challenged. But here I was in the middle of "Sin City" celebrating my fiftieth birthday and checking out things for myself.

As my wife and I walked through the McCarran Airport, we were immediately confronted with the famous "one arm bandits," and by the time we reached the Luxor, we had already had an eyeful of moving billboards on flatbed trucks with the signs: "Girls who want to meet you." For if ever there was a place built with a purpose, it is Las Vegas--a city founded on the idea of satisfying Alpha male desires that revolve around sex, power, and chance.

A vacation in Las Vegas is like living through a twenty-four hour after-party with an anal retentive host. Sure, every now and then you'll run into an empty beer can or a corner where someone has hidden a glass of whiskey (I hope!), but for the most part the streets are very clean. And I am convinced that the many moving walkways above the streets that connect the hotels are designed not only to keep the pedestrians always from the traffic, but also to get the visitors back to their rooms, even if they are too drunk to walk. All they have to do is plop down on the walkway and hold on (not too fast, now) and try to make it to the next one, and the next one, and the next….

So, yes, I will admit it was a lot of fun taking "The Deuce" down to the Stratosphere and seeing so many places that I'd only seen in the movies (Sahara, Frontier, Caesar's Palace) and wondering how many of the many "stars," who started out dirt poor, must feel when they are now regulars on The Strip.

Once we reached the Stratosphere, the highest point in Las Vegas, it was reassuring to hear a familiar voice coming from the Starbucks: "In this life, in this life, in this O sweet life/ We're coming in from the cold."

Atop the Stratosphere, we had a 360◦ view of the desert and Las Vegas--a gambling town with a serious water problem. But they have also dealt with this issue by creating a culture that values water conservation by offering residents tax incentives to use water saving technology and desert landscaping--a Southwest aesthetic, if you will.

And yet in the middle of the desert, what's striking about Las Vegas is the abundance. "You have to do everything big in Las Vegas, honey," said Lee, our Black-Irish waiter (it was St. Patrick's Day) and he was right. From the shows like Ka at the Mirage (a breathtaking spectacle) to the kitschy Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur, everything about Las Vegas spells excess in a gaudy, unashamed manner that you can't help but love. As the sign at the Luxor (thanks, Debbie Kasprzyk) said, "Less is not more. More is More."

It would have been easy to dismiss Las Vegas as a city of sin, sex, and vice or to say it's a town of gamblers and ex-gamblers. But I got a different perspective from the many visitors, cab drivers, bell hops, guides, and retirees whom I met on my vacation: People like you and me trying to make a living in a city with an insatiable lust for excitement. (Yes, I also saw the seedy side of Las Vegas). Perhaps, it was also fitting that as we were leaving our hotel, the unmistakable voice of Joan Osbourne came streaming over the clang and clatter of the slot machines whirring in the background:

If God had a name, what would it be
And would you call it to his face
If you were faced with him in all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question

And yeah yeah God is great
yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

For photos, please follow this link: Jamaican in Las Vegas


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Anonymous said...

Going to Vegas eh? Someone's living large! Congrats on your 50th by the way.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Leon!

Jdid said...

always wanted to go to vegas.

happy belated by the way

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, JDID!

Fuzz said...

Geoffrey, so glad that you had a good time in Vegas. Did you ever make it to the Grand Canyon? It is quite a sight to take in. I've actually only seen it from the bottom-up: my family took a week-long white water rafting trip down the Colorado River. It was quite a spiritual experience for the serenity and isolation of billion year-old & mile-deep rock on blue sky. Something to write about someday! Btw, I just posted my own "you make my day" awards. Thanks for the big up, it helped me get back to blogging!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Jeff, good to hear from you again. Yeah, I made it to the Grand Canyon and then some. I just haven't had the time to write the post but I am getting thee. I'll post it before the end of the month.

I'll be heading over to your site.

Bless up,