Arnold Williams (notebuyer) wrote,
Arnold Williams

Being in Las Vegas

One of the pleasures of Las Vegas is that people are interested in your town. One of the downsides is that the image they have of the town was shaped by stories that are no longer true: just as in Chicago, you don't count on going into town to find speakeasies run by local hoods evading Prohibition, so in Las Vegas you don't count on going into town to find casinos run by the Mob trying to take each other over in a hail of bullets. There are people who find danger romantic, but that particular fear is misplaced. Yes, there is crime here: human nature remains the same. But there is also the Nevada Gaming Commission, tasked with cleaning up the casinos, and the interesting fact that gaming is still something that has to be run right to make a profit. Harrah's found that out when they went bankrupt, and since then has developed one of the most elaborate descriptions of how things are to be run.

Part of my enjoyment has been helped along by the many books written about Las Vegas. For those who want history come alive, there are fewer better choices than Sun, Sin and Suburbia, which takes a good tour through the whole town, rather than concentrating, as most guides and histories do, on downtown and the Strip. Think of it has history for locals. It contains what I have come to think of as the most perceptive comment about the city, from UNLV history professor Hal Rothman: "Las Vegas is a hard town that will make you pay for your inability to restrain your desires." Result? Those religions whose training focuses on the ability to mold your desires into the shape required to live a moral life visibly prosper here. There are more churches in the neighborhoods I drive through than I've ever seen before, of different types, from Mormon to Catholic to Muslim to obscure Anglicans like me. It's kind of interesting to watch the balance between hedonistic excess and quasi-Victorian morality, both existing in town, neither really comfortable with the other.

What books and articles brought Vegas alive for you?

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