On Borrowed Luxury

Beyond my laptop monitor, at this very moment, is a gilded mirror, in which I can see the reflection of an impressive bank of floor-to-ceiling windows. Beyond the windows, a desert stretches for miles after you survey the lush golf course, high rise casinos, and barren mountains. Yep, I’m in Las Vegas.

I just left the casino floor. I went down to get a Diet Coke to drink and figured the casino would bring me one if I played at a machine long enough. I was right. I enjoyed a small glass of Diet Coke, and it only cost me $100.

It’s not an original thought to say that Las Vegas is an oasis of contradictions. You find yourself surrounded by luxury — opulent casinos, pricey restaurants, and the allure of potential riches — and poverty — financial, emotional, and moral. For every luxurious casino promenade, there’s a meth addict huddled under a flight of concrete stairs, in a hundred degree heat, sleeping. Maybe passed out. Maybe dead. It’s quite the tapestry.

Trying your hand at blackjack or the slots can be fun, if not rewarding, but you’re always guaranteed a win when you people watch. You do see elegance and, here and there, some obvious wealth. But, on the whole, you see a lot more ordinary crude, rude, blunt, unsophisticated, uneducated, foul, and superficial. All here for the fun, the excitement, the action. And maybe the promise of that one pull of the lever that will change their life forever. Then again, you don’t build palaces like the modern day casino on winners.

As you walk amongst the hoi polloi, you gaze upon massive billboards, advertising the hottest musical acts, ventriloquists, impersonators, and magicians. At street level, it’s decidedly less magical. The street performers crowd the hot sidewalks, some mildly interesting, most incredibly bad. Barkers voice every tour and service imaginable, and gangs of sad looking folks in colored t-shirts flick cards at you advertising escort services with little emphasis on the escort part of the operation. Still, the bright lights, towering buildings, and air of excitement drown out the animated and unanimated detritus, at least to some extent.

It’s difficult to reconcile the Las Vegas experience with anything else in your life. There’s simply too much of everything. It’s all out of proportion. Your normal boundaries, parameters, and guidelines — simply obliterated. Pancakes at 4am? Why not. Bungee jump off a skyscraper over a roller coaster. I’m game. Pedicure while you pet a white jaguar born inside an active volcano with rubies for eyes? Sure. There are no rules (as long as you pay), no deadlines, no expectations. Just the throbbing orb of indulgence.

The casinos stand as a testament to our love of excess, of riches, of luxury. But, for most of us, we just borrow the luxury. We slip on the Emperor’s clothes, parade around for a bit, and, then, return home to laundry, bills, and responsibility. Maybe Vegas is the break from the mundane that lots of folks seem to need. In the end, though, there’s a reason Las Vegas is home to America’s magic scene. Sure, it’s a little bit magical, but it’s really one great big illusion.

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