Hell is expensive. This is my first thought as my plane lands in Las Vegas. The
Luxor hotel's glass pyramid seems dangerously close to the runway's edge, as do
its chocolate-and-gold sphinx and rows of shaved palms. I wonder if these rooms
tremble when jets land. Behind the Luxor are mountains kissed by dust the hue of
bone; to its left lies the Strip, where color is so bright it looks like it has
died, rotted, and come back as a poisonous flower.
I have been forewarned. First, I am told flying in at noon is "not the way to
enter Vegas." Correct entry is at night. This way I would have the full
treatment of neon and glowing sky. As a child, I was taught not to buy into
anything at night. The spoiled, chipped, or dangerous could be easily disguised.
Yet here, in one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, nighttime
is the appropriate time "to enter."
Exiting is another matter. According to a recent cover story in Time, Las Vegas
has the highest per-capita suicide rate in the country. This coincides with its
enormous expansion, yet the most talked-about suicides -- those of tourists
leaping from hotel balconies after losing everything they had -- are dangerous
myths for a city poised to become America's newest economic icon. In fact,
tourists taking their own lives surrounded by the glamour of the Strip comprise
only a small percentage of the fatalities. The bulk are those who moved here for
jobs, who live just beyond the lights. Eight times as many residents kill
themselves here as do visitors.
Second, I am told that in Las Vegas I will feel more alive. Anything can be had
here; this is the last place before the millennium where real money can be made.
An open season: anything goes; like America used to be. My friends in Los
Angeles, who seem to know such things, say forget about winning. This is the
town where you get to stub your cigarettes out in an egg, sunny side up, at four
o'clock in the morning -- if you can remember what time it is, and you won't --
and then get in your car and drive.
This will happen before I leave. But I will be driving just to clear my head of
the suicides and failures. On Paradise Road, near a white asphalt lot filled
with empty Boeing 707s, I will sit in my car watching early-morning business
flights descend into the starch of a Nevada dawn and I will sudden...
... middle of paper ...
... in the morning, I will begin to drive.
In Los Angeles, several months later, I call Jackie's apartment. A man answers
the phone. I sound bewildered. Jackie, he states, is getting the boys ready and
packed, the apartment cleaned out, she's still working at the law office, she's
busy. When I ask this man who he is, he laughs.
"Who, me? Friend, I'm the new husband."
Jackie waves to me as she pulls her car onto Las Vegas Boulevard. The slot
machines inside the Sahara's casino are chattering like drugged children. I feel
unclean, as though I have been bitten by something contagious. At the casino's
doors I turn and look at the city beyond. It burns a blue not unlike a gas
cooking-flame turned down, barely touching its own air, until it is only a hiss.
This Las Vegas blue is the neon of the Stardust Hotel lit each evening. It is
the blue of the darkened Congo Theater before Kenny Kerr performs, and the blue
leftovers of sunsets that attend suicides. It is how poverty creates its own
blue skies, hoping God will be kind in a town leaving nothing to chance. It is
the whispered question before the trigger is pulled, the last blue moment when
all we can ask is why.
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