Las Vegas is a unique city. As an Australian living in the USA, I found many similarities between the lifestyle I was used to in Adelaide and that of living in California, but Vegas is something else.
First of all, Vegas is situated in the Mojave Desert in the very southern part of the land-locked state of Nevada. Las Vegas which means ‘the meadows’ in Spanish, is a city of over 2 million people, which to an Aussie who is used to most people living on the coast, seems like a lot of people living in the desert, in the middle of nowhere, with no sea breezes to cool things down… nor really any meadows come to think of it. There is, however, a row of snow-capped mountains within 45 minutes drive from downtown which provide a spectacular backdrop to this intriguing town.
Of course, most people know Vegas for ‘The Strip’ which is apparently the brightest place on Earth when looked at from outer space. Vegas boasts a vibrant nightlife centered on a 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, where most of the themed mega casino-hotels are situated. Gambling has been one of the largest draw cards for tourists. A study conducted in 2013 showed that 15% of people come to Las Vegas primarily to gamble, but 71% actually gambled during their visit. Of all the gambling options available, pokies (poker/slot machines) are the most intriguing to me. I’ve never really seen the appeal of pokies before but they are every where you turn in Vegas. Apart from being in the casinos and hotels, there are pokies located in bars and clubs, nice restaurants, in the airport, and even at the supermarket. Despite winning (and then losing) $60 on pokies last week, poker machines don’t seem too fun for me… there’s no real skill involved, only mindless button pressing. A walk around the pokies can be kind of depressing. In any casino you can be pretty much guaranteed to see someone with an oxygen tank sitting for hours at the machines, smoking, glazed over and grey.
The city bills itself as the Entertainment Capital of the World and there is entertainment of all sorts on tap. In vying for people’s money, the casinos try to out-do each other with lofty entertainment options. Lots of big names have or have had long-term resident performances here: singers like Celine Dion, Elton John, Cher, Britney Spears, Donny & Marie Osmond, magicians such as Penn & Teller and David Copperfield, contemporary DJ’s like Tiesto and Calvin Harris, even Australian acts like Human Nature and the Thunder from Down Under. As well as this, there are plenty of pop stars and other entertainers who do one-off performances or short runs here too. There are musicals which come through on national tours and several Cirque du Soleil shows here. There’s a tonne of smaller, less well-known shows here too. There are reviews, cabarets and charity performances aplenty. As an entertainer who’s new in town: Vegas certainly seems like a good place to be for performance opportunities. Even from our short time here, the artist community seems very tight-knit and supportive, which is great!
On top of viewer-based entertainment there are all sorts of other experiences to be had too. The Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam are short helicopter rides away. There’s some of the best restaurants in the world in which to dine. There’s even a restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill whose patrons dine in hospital gowns and the restaurant offers a free dinner to anyone who weighs over 350 pounds. Just in case you’re unsure, there are scales located out the front so you can check. At 1,149 feet, the Stratosphere Las Vegas is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the nation. Branden and I recently had a drink at the top of the Stratosphere with a friend of ours. I have a pretty bad fear of heights and this was probably the least favorite place at which I’ve ever had a drink. I was NOT relaxed despite the beautiful view of twinkling city lights below us. Watching people jump out the window and abseil down to the bottom, wasn’t helping much, either.
Vegas is filled with transient people. Among the millions of tourists who visit every year, are lots of friends who come to town either for work or pleasure. It seems like every other week a friend is in town which is great because in a way we’re able to see more of our friends than we had been able to do living somewhere like Santa Fe. But a lot of our best American friends live in California or New York, so we are missing seeing them.
I feel as though there’s probably not any other city like Vegas in the whole world, let alone Australia. Away from The Strip, outside of the glitz and glam, Vegas is pretty gritty. There seems to be a lot of homeless people here and there’s a zombie apocalypse of mindless people walking around who have “lost their way” as Branden says. There’s even an astonishing 300-400 people living in the sewer/underground river system of Vegas. (Watch this short YouTube video to see more about this.) For many people Vegas is the city of sin: a destination like another world to spend a weekend where you can get up to no good with no consequence… after all “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Right? For us, choosing to live here was obviously not about the escapism so many people come here to achieve. For us, it was about affordability, convenience, and opportunity and – so far, so good!