Monday, July 14, 2014

... But I Wouldn't Want to Live There

I'm not much of a traveler. In fact, driving locally tends to exhaust me. I'd rather just stay home, and if I have to go somewhere, I'd rather it be a place I can walk to. Unfortunately, before I started thinking enough about footprints and such, I had created a life that required I spend a lot more time on the road than I like, driving my daughters to their various classes (the furthest of which is about 12 miles - one way). I am painfully aware of what a luxury it is to be able to travel as far and as fast as our automobile allows. I am well aware that walking 12 miles would require an entire day and that we probably wouldn't be returning home that same day. Without a car, we wouldn't be doing that class.

Part of that lifestyle we created very long ago was allowing our daughters to join the competition dance team, and occasionally, we end up traveling to dance competitions. Two years ago, we went to New York City for a dance competition. Last week, we were in Las Vegas.

Everything I was told about Las Vegas ended up being not entirely true. For instance, I was told that Vegas was cheaper. It's not. Nothing is cheaper in Las Vegas. At best everything was comparable in price to New York City, or home. At worst, and more often, it was more expensive. Food, beverages, souvenirs, accommodations, transportation ... everything ... and almost nothing was complimentary. I'm not looking for free stuff, mind you, but I was led to believe that Vegas hotels cater to their guests, because they want them comfortable, sated, and sitting in the casino happily spending. That wasn't my experience.

Frankly, going to Vegas was not on my bucket list. I had no desire to ever travel there, and it was an experience I could have lived long and happy without having gone through. In fairness to those who call Las Vegas home, I will admit that my experience in Las Vegas is completely limited to the "Strip", which is probably not the "real" Vegas anyway.

I did meet some very interesting characters, and I call them that, because everything on the Strip was absolutely fake. The entire 4.2 mile stretch is an illusion created to part visitors from their money, and it did a very good job of doing that. Nothing is free - not even pictures, and there are plenty of people on the streets who are more than willing to take a dollar from unwary travelers in exchange for allowing them to return home with a photographic reminder of having met Chewbacca, Pee-Wee Herman (and his bicycle), a Showgirl, or one of the Minions from the cartoon film Despicable Me. We saw all of them, and many more characters. We only saw one Elvis, though, which was kind of disappointing, especially considering I missed getting a picture with him.

We also saw so many people who were panhandling in various ways from simply holding a sign that offered some plea for assistance to making and selling crafts. The panhandlers in Vegas seemed a lot more genuine than the panhandlers in Portland, Maine, in that their need seemed more real, and they weren't just doing it as a way of earning a living. I don't doubt that some of the panhandlers who live in Maine really do live on the streets, but there are an awful lot of stories about our northeastern homeless population who aren't really homeless, who earn more money that I do, and who are scamming the public. True or not, it makes people unwilling to give handouts. I suspect many of the street people in Vegas really do live on the street, and I even saw many of them looking pretty comfortable in their chosen spot (with comfortable being a euphemism for the fact that they looked as if they really did live there, but not implying that their lives were easy or comfortable, because they looked neither).

Our hotel room did not include any amenities, like coffee makers or refrigerators, which was both surprising and surprisingly difficult. I know - after a paragraph about the homeless population, I have the audacity to complain about not having a coffeemaker in my hotel room. Right?

The hotel did have a Starbucks, where I could purchase coffee. Four coffees cost almost $20. After spending nearly our entire day's food budget on just coffee, the next day, I resolved to find a better option for our morning meal. So, in the early morning on Tuesday, while my daughters slept a little longer, I walked down the Strip in search of a less expensive cup of coffee and some breakfast that didn't cost almost $100 (room service is pretty pricey). The Strip in the morning is an interesting place.

I met a man who thought I was German, which was interesting, because in the fourteen months I lived in Germany, without even opening my mouth, everyone knew, just from looking at me, that I was an American. I'm not sure what this man saw. He held out a hat for a "donation." I gave him a gold dollar. Then, for some reason, I bought an extra danish and an extra cup of coffee at the Walgreens. He didn't want the coffee, because he has high cholesterol and can't drink it, but he was appreciative of the apple danish.

Further up the strip, closer to my hotel, I saw a man with a sign that said, "Need cash for weed." I asked him if it worked. He said, "Sometimes." I didn't give him any cash, but I did give him that extra cup of coffee the other guy didn't want. He wished me good karma. I wished him the same. I saw him again later that day, and he thanked me for the coffee.

The next morning, when I went out for coffee, the weed guy wasn't nearly as cheerful. He said he'd slept "under that bush over there." I offered to buy him a cup of coffee, but he said his cup of coffee was different from my cup of coffee. He didn't remember me. It was kind of sad, but not surprising. I know a few people who drink not coffee and a good memory isn't one of their strongest traits. I suspect that the first morning I met him, he'd already been lucky to have someone who was willing to give him that cash he needed, and he'd already had his morning "coffee."

We were fortunate that we were able to get out of the city for a few hours during our southwest adventure on a bus tour to the Grand Canyon, that included a stop at the Hoover Dam. There's a lot to say about that visit, but of note is the fact that this ten-year drought the southwest has been experiencing has taken a visible toll on the area. The bus driver, who lives in Vegas, told us that they were on water restrictions and couldn't water their lawns.

Lake Mead, the lake created when the Hoover Dam was constructed, is the primary source of water for most of the surrounding communities, including Las Vegas. There is a visible line where the water level should be, and it is about 100 feet lower than needed to maintain the level of usage. In my opinion, water restrictions should be a lot more tight than just not being able to water one's lawn.

The white rocks in the picture should be underwater.

Interestingly, bottled water was actually pretty cheap. The whole atmosphere on the street along the Strip was kind of like a festival with people hawking all kinds of wares. We could purchase a bottle of ice cold water for $1, which was cheap, compared to $2 to $3 a bottle at the hotel and at Walgreens. At any festival here in Maine, bottled water from street vendors costs double what the street vendors in Vegas charged.

In a drought-stricken region, the only thing that was cheaper to purchase than the prices I find at home, was water. I thought that was interesting.

On our flight out to Vegas, we spent a few hours in the airport in New York City. We met a couple who were on their way "home" to Vegas, and I put home in quotes, because they were native New Yorkers, on their way back to where they lived in Vegas. They were very nice, but the only good thing the woman had to say about Vegas was that her rent in Vegas was cheaper than her rent would be in New York City, and she'd never be able to afford an apartment in NYC like she had in Vegas. Otherwise, she hated everything about Las Vegas and was trying to work out a way to get back to the east coast. I thought that was interesting, too.

I was, kind of, excited about experiencing dry heat for the first time in my life. I've always lived in very wet places, where precipitation is expected, and we aren't disappointed. Unfortunately, I must have dragged the moisture with me on my westward journey, because it was overcast and/or raining (their equivalent of a rainstorm is a barely notable weather phenomenon here - I love perspective) the whole time we were there, and it was just exactly the kind of humid heat to which I have been acclimated my entire life. It was a little disappointing.

I spent a week in Las Vegas. I didn't gamble - not even once - and I was never even tempted - not even once. I spent enough money just trying to feed us and find a decent cup of coffee that I was not even mildly curious about wasting any money on gambling. I was disappointed that none of the major restaurants or hotel bars carried any local/regional microbrews. All of the beer that was for sale was the crappy mass-marketed stuff I would never buy at home, because it's crap - cheap crap, but crap nonetheless. So, I didn't drink either.

I'm probably the first person ever to visit Sin City and not enjoy its particular amenities.

I will say that Vegas is a very poor choice as a location for a dance competition that primarily consists of young girls (ages 6 to 18). The casinos through which we had to walk no matter our destination, the bars on every corner, the large numbers of transient folks, and the "stripper" cards that littered the streets are bad enough, but the people who were wearing black tee-shirts emblazoned with some slogan about "girls" and handing out cards were incredibly unsettling. I didn't ask. I didn't take their cards, and most of them, seeing that I was with children, wouldn't even look me in the eye as we walked by.

Vegas is not a family-friendly vacation destination. Just sayin'. Take your kids someplace else, unless your goal is to show them the slimy underbelly of our civilization.

I experienced my first food dessert - not the actual dessert, but the middle of the city in Las Vegas, where the only food is high-priced restaurant food or fast-food, or trucked in, mostly processed, drugstore food. There were a lot of bananas, apples and oranges, but no other whole fruit (lots of packages of single-serve cut up fruit like melon, mango and berries). The closest grocery store was the Albertsons, and I don't know how far it was from where we were, but too far to walk. An apple was almost a dollar. A banana cost 75 cents.

The Farmer's Market I found online was too far, and we didn't get to go there. It was nine miles from our hotel, and after traveling a mile or so by cab from the airport to the hotel at a cost of $23, including the tip, I realized that taking a cab to the Farmer's Market and back would be cost prohibitive. I didn't have the time to figure out the bus schedule. If I have any regrets from my time in Vegas, it is that I was unable to see real people living real lives, and I'm pretty sure that's what I would have seen at the Farmer's Market.

I can not say that I enjoyed the trip. It was interesting, and I saw some stuff I won't forget, but I didn't experience or see anything that changed how I live my life. I knew the southwest would not be a choice of location for me, especially in the face of resource depletion. Without electricity, without cheap fossil fuels, and without the water provided by Lake Mead, Las Vegas can not function. It would be a ghost town, at best. At worst ... just say I know I wouldn't want to be there during a collapse.

If I can say one positive thing, it would be that Las Vegas made me appreciate my life here in Maine. I'm not a "bright-lights-big-city" kind of girl, and nothing about that sort of high-roller lifestyle appeals to me - not even a little. Maybe I'm an anomaly, but I like real life. I like my garden. I like my chickens in the backyard. I like things simple.

Frankly, Vegas didn't have anything I want that I can't find here in Maine. At least now, I can honestly say that I don't like Las Vegas, because I've been there, and I know it's not the place for a girl like me.

World's largest Ferris Wheel. No, we didn't ride it, because it would have cost $85 for the four of us, and we can ride the (albeit much smaller, but with an awesome view of the ocean) Ferris wheel here at home for about $4 per person.

Yes, sometimes I am rather juvenile. It stands for "French Connection UK". It's a clothing store.

Rosemary growing as an ornamental in a planter outside the mall. This was probably one of my favorite things.

Vine covered motorcycle was pretty cool, too, but it's no match for the vine covered bicycle we have sitting in our backyard. I think the vines on the motorcycle might be fake, but the ones in my backyard are very real ;).

The view from our 18th story window. The mountains around Las Vegas were actually pretty cool looking.


  1. It's ironic that you posted this now. I was watching a movie scene filmed in Vegas yesterday (The Stand) . I mentioned to my hubby that Vegas is a accident waiting to happen. They get their water (some) from Californian and that Lake Mead was probably running dry. Not watering their lawns? They need to empty out all those hotel pools and fountains. Think of the evaporation alone! Vegas is not my cup of tea either. I love going to rural, small towns where it's quiet :) We may go to either the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone soon. That I can handle as long as we don't wind up next to a bunch of noisy RVs...

  2. Yes, I think the rosemary would be my favorite thing also.

  3. I've never been and have no desire to visit Las Vegas. I couldn't tell you how many people that shocks. Reading your post just makes it even more undesirable. Give me a small town over a big city any day!