My City of Sins

Photo by Judd Weiss.

I live in the notorious Las Vegas, Nevada. I first visited this city in 2010 on my way to Los Angeles. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it over the past three years. I began working here in 2011, and moved here in January of 2012. As of February of 2013, I’m about ready to leave.

People ask me what I think of Las Vegas. When people diss it, I rush to defend it, and when people gush about loving it, I shrug and add my negative pieces. I’m leaving, right? I must hate it here; but that’s not true. It’s an awesome city and I love it, but I can’t stay here. This isn’t home.

Las Vegas is a lot of things. It’s the Electronic Dance Music capital of the US. I love the DJs I get to see regularly, from Deadmau5 to Tiesto, Skrillex, Knife Party, Nero, indie DJs, huge names, everybody in between. It’s an adult playground – with booze and drugs and shows and pretty lights. The people who live here have some solidarity with one another – especially anyone who works in service (which seems to be nearly everyone). We’re all in this together, making this experience for the tourists. There are artists here, performers, Cirque people – there are bartenders and dancers and magicians and poker players. I love it.

The Strip is an intense sea of lights and filled with contradictions. The beauty of the Bellagio fountains clashes with the glow-sticks held by drunken patrons rushing to snap their photo with the guy dressed like 1970s Elvis. Certain hotels are pieces of art themselves, filled with ornate gardens and fixtures and pictures – I can’t imagine how inspired the people who designed the interior of a number of these buildings must be, but I hope I find a calling that intense and have the means to make things that are photographed and experienced by millions of people.

Off the Strip, Las Vegas has its other quirks. Downtown is gaudy and hilarious, filled with Western imagery and gold-rush references. The first few blocks off the Strip in any direction are generally seedy, with abandoned buildings and too many bail-bonds and check-cashing places. Oh, don’t let me forget the pawn shops.

Get a mile or more away from the Strip and see the other side of Las Vegas – residential neighborhoods with… neighborly neighbors? Somehow it’s a small town within a big city, and people always seem to be reaching out to one another. There are a lot of retirees, and I find it interesting how open most older people are to the fact that younger people are out listening to electronica, taking drugs, and going to strip clubs.

There are locals here who were born and raised. There are transplants from all over, and there are people who’ve been here thirty years, telling me about the times before “all the highways” and what kind of shady work they took back in the “old days”. Then there are the temporary people like me, who come in for a short time, make some money off the place and leave.

I love the transience of this city. I work with tourists every single day, and I love that I will meet them, impact this moment in their lives and possibly never see them again. I love that my job is to make someone’s night incredible – that someone may actually experience one of the best nights of their lives (at a show, in a club, dancing, raving, partying, hugging their groomsmen or kissing their brides) and I’ll be part of making it, and that it’s just another night for me. I get to witness everybody’s joy, I get to try to fix the fuck ups. I’m not the protagonist – I’m never the protagonist – I’m helping them on their adventure.

It’s thrilling, inspiring, and amazing.

Yet it’s a city without a strong culture of its own. It adopts other cultures, like the casinos named after cities. It’s ironic, it’s presumptuous, it’s epic and it’s profoundly American, I feel, how it puts a bunch of completely conflicting things beside each other, and somehow there’s beauty in the clash. A fake Eiffel Tower, a fake New York city skyline with a rollercoaster running through it, with the palace of Caeser, a pyramid, a pirate ship, a circus tent, and two golden towers. How the fuck is that supposed to work? Yet it does. It’s stunning to see.

It’s ridiculous. My sleep schedule is remade and destroyed on a weekly basis, I’ve made and lost tons of money playing poker and blackjack, I’ve watched bouncers forcibly remove drunk people from clubs, I’ve partied with celebrities just out having fun. Floyd Mayweather once stuck a $100 bill in my back pocket after I stole a sip from his drink.

My job involves meeting new people every day, finding out what they need and selling it to them. Tables and bottles at nightclubs, strippers, new experiences, memories, smiles. It’s tremendously ever-changing, but it never goes anywhere. It’s the point – I love making magic and setting it free. But two years of this, and I’m ready to start building. I’m ready to start making something, with resonance and worth to more than just the one person with a shot of Patron in his hand smiling the biggest smile as he enjoys his last few days as the bachelor.

This city makes me lazy, it makes me jaded and then keeps convincing me to have faith, it holds me captive in every single time I hear someone say it’s the best night of their lives. Strangers telling me they love me – it’s almost like Burning Man when that happens. I make incredible experiences here in Vegas, I live incredible experiences here in Vegas. But these experiences are not for me to bliss out on. They don’t provide upward-moving challenges, or satisfy the greater need to contribute on a larger scale to not just the world, but my own desires to provide for my own and create a reputation in something far more cerebral, and far more concrete.

I adore this city, but I cannot make my home here. It is a place I’ve lived for a year, it’s a place I will live a little longer. I will have the rest of my life to tell the stories I’ve accumulated in my time here, I will have the rest of my life to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned.

I cannot help but love this city, for every moment that I believe it’s bad for me. I’ve been living on my own, self-sufficient, self-reliant. I’ve also isolated myself from any responsibility that isn’t inherently mine. I’m proud of what I’ve done here, proving my ability to take care of myself, to be on my own, to be alone. Now I need to relearn how to give and take, how to live with other people and address how I’m perceived, by people who actually get to know me, who have seen my growth and when I falter, not just the people who see glimpses of the best me I can put forward in my act. I’m just about ready to own my wild child ways and learn to play well with others again. I need to collect my sins and winnings, and walk away unscathed from this chaotic beauty that is this valley in the desert.

But I love this city. My beloved Sin City.

6 thoughts on “My City of Sins”

  1. Rarely has anyone managed to express the essence of the amazing, disturbing, cognitive dissonance that is this little apart (sic) of the world – yet you have, bravo!

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