To celebrate not being killed by the Plague yet, my family visited Las Vegas in June.
You are now allowed to go there. Las Vegas has one awesome selling point in this age of quarantine: It is not inside your house.
I’ll answer the big question first. Yes, everyone acted as if Covid no longer existed. Everything that hasn’t reopened will reopen soon.
Fortunately, thanks to vaccinations and the searing eye of the omnipresent sun, visitors are very, very unlikely to die of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus. On the other hand, you will soon have a fighting chance of being killed by the Covid-22 novel coronavirus.
Below are a few observations, for those who might want to visit one day.
Las Vegas, sometimes called the Windy City, was once a supremely tacky town in the middle of a desert, built by gangsters so that you could get a divorce while gambling and eating one dollar steaks. Then corporations took over and poured billions into the place, and now it is a blindingly shiny, supremely odd, iconically American work of art. It’s absolutely worth seeing. Just don’t get any of it on your skin.
To get the full dose of the city, you need to spend a lot of time on Las Vegas Boulevard, where all the biggest, shiniest hotels, casinos, shows, and malls are. Some call it the “Vegas Strip,” but you should never do this. Only tourists and rubes call it “The Strip.” Locals call that stretch of road the Big Monkey.
On the Big Monkey, you can gamble, spend $50000 on a low-end wrist watch, eat generally delicious food, and watch your bank account scream as it is slowly skinned alive. You can get a gondola ride inside a mall, see some leathery pop singer who had a big hit in the 90s, drink vodka in a bar made of ice, and watch a dance show where women show you their breasts.
Everyone is always drunk, you can gamble on gladiatorial bum fights, and, whenever you make the error of stepping outside, carnies on every streetcorner give you ads for prostitutes. Las Vegas has a lot of unique customs. For example, the casinos don’t have windows and they don’t have clocks. And the hotel rooms don’t have mirrors, in order to prevent you from seeing what you have become.
It is a special sort of reality bubble that makes its own reality-defying truth. In Las Vegas, building a city in the middle of a desert is a good idea, your cocktail waitress actually likes you, and poker is a game of skill.
The Edge of Destruction
When we visited, the temperature outdoors peaked at 115. The entire region was in the grasp of a crippling drought. The dams that keep the entire region functional (i.e. air-conditioned) were close to no longer working. Supply chain meltdowns cause McDonalds to run out of cups. Or meat.
Considering that, even on its best days, Las Vegas is a searing affront to the eyes of God, there was a delightful End of Days feeling to the proceedings.
If you want to gamble, this is a great time to go to Vegas, because you will have a chance to be the last person to survive an apocalypse. (Just be very careful about your timing, or you will be the first person to not survive an apocalypse.)
Rebooting Sin City
Months of shutdown have left the city with a topsy turvy feel. Everyone is either a new hire or has forgotten what their job entails. Nobody in the city has the slightest idea what they are doing.
Cab drivers are relearning their way around. Nobody at your hotel knows where you should get breakfast. Blackjack dealers hit on 23. The pit bosses break only one of your knees, instead of both as etiquette requires. Prostitutes take you home to meet their parents.
Everything Is Bonus Expensive
Once, in this magic land, you could get a steak for a dollar and valet parking was always free.
Now a sirloin is sixty bucks, valet parking is twenty-five, and when we went out for a nice dinner they charged us $14 for tap water. Seriously. Stick with gambling. It’s the bargain now.
The Land of Bad Impulse Decisions
It had been a decade since we were last in Vegas. All of the best ways to ruin your life on a whim were still intact. High-stakes gambling. Weddings on demand. Three foot tall daiquiris.
But one thing was new: Casinos now have tattoo parlors is them, right next to the roulette wheels. I’m sorry, but this is just sadistic. When a dude who has been drinking for 30 hours straight hits it big on the slots and gets engaged to a three-toothed divorcee from Winnipeg at 3:30 in the AM, and thinks, “You know how I’ll celebrate my good fortune? By getting ‘SEXDOG’ prison-tattooed on my forehead in Gothic letters,” someone needs to step in and say No.
Getting a tattoo there breaks the cardinal rule: “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” As tattoos must go home with you, I formally demand all tattoo parlors in Vegas be instantly closed in accordance with the ancient laws of our people.
Fine Dining Needs to Pump the Brakes
Every proper casino now needs a row of six hyper-spendy restaurants, each one lovingly crafted by a “celebrity chef.” This has resulted in a shortage of celebrity chefs. Most of the chefs Vegas shoves at you would not be recognized in bright light by their own parents.
Each of these restaurant clumps have at least one steakhouse with an intimidating meat-themed title, midwifed into existence by a “celebrity” chef with a weird European name. Because a steakhouse really needs that touch of genius. Only the most divinely inspired among us can say, “Um. Yeah. We’ll put salt and pepper on beef. And cook it in a big oven. But you can get a shrimp cocktail too. Creamed corn is extra, punk.”
So don’t worry. No matter where you are in Las Vegas, you won’t have to walk more than twenty feet to enter Josef Shruuuv’s BEEFGASM and pay twenty bucks for a baked potato.
You Aren’t Really Paying For the Potato, Of Course
What you are paying all that money for is the chance to stand inside a work of art. Don’t think of Vegas as a real city. Think of it as a hundred billion dollar, shiny, tacky sculpture installation. I don’t gamble. I can already get good food at home. I don’t like drunk people clubbing me insensate with two foot tall daiquiri glasses.
Still I love all the marble, the paintings, the statues, the shininess, the attention to detail that billionaires have lavished onto the place to compete with each other. I also love games, and I love the idea of a city built on punishing people for being bad at math. Hence, I really love visiting Vegas, in small doses.
Man, when we are touring its crumbling ruins in fifty years, it is going to be COOL.
It’s Kind of Not About the Gambling Anymore
You don’t need to gamble. I’m not sure anyone actually gambles in Vegas anymore. Most of us can gamble just fine at home, or close to wherever you live. I think the casinos are there because it’s just the custom. The casino is like your hotel’s appendix. In the old days, casinos offered all sorts of bargains to get you through the door, so that you would gamble. Now none of the big tourist hotels act like they give a shit whether you play slots or not.
(Things change very quickly when you leave the tourist core and visit the remote dirtbag casinos. A smoky, dilapidated world that deserves its own long article making fun of it.)
Las Vegas has to be huge and shiny now. Since you can lose everything gambling at home, shiny is the only unique product they offer. I really think everyone should go out there once. See this amazing pile of shiny stuff, this occasionally lovely, always interesting artifact of pure America, they have built at incredible effort in the middle of a vast wasteland. Take a good, long look.
Then get the Hell out.
We wrote this when not working on the Kickstarter for our new game, Queen’s Wish 2: The Tormentor. Check it out of you like computer games! Also, you can subscribe to this infrequent newsletter for free.