T’S JUST ANOTHER weeknight in Las Vegas, which still makes it crazier than New Year’s Eve in 99 percent of the rest of America. You can watch it swish past from your car windows or you can get slow and street-level and truly appreciate life’s rich pageant. Somewhere south of the Stratosphere, a woman with an Aquanetted corona of taffy-colored hair emerges from the Aztec Inn Casino through a sparse field of nickel slots and carpet that probably dates back to the Toltec era. She has a plastic bag of takeout — is the cuisine secretly delicious or does she just lack the energy/sense to hit the White Cross?
A man hunches on the sidewalk, the peeling-paint wall above him providing shadow from the neon glitter of THE WORLD’S GREATEST SOUVENIR SHOP a hundred feet away. A man with a tangled beard shuffles past and, half-roused, the man on the ground extends his hand, “Hey, hey … can ya help me out with …”
The bearded man stops, extends a dirty-fingernailed hand from a ragged sleeve and points accusingly, if shakily. “Who d’ya think yer askin’!?”
The man on the sidewalk finally focuses. Their eyes lock in mutual recognition, both laugh and Beard plonks down on the sidewalk next to his newfound compatriot.
On the other side of the gift-shop lights, the Sahara still looms, chipped away, busted and snitched bit by bit like an ancient Egyptian tomb. But to open in 2014 as the SLS! (I recall one evening at the Sahara back in 2012, I wandered through a hallway and double doors into a black-and-purple vestibule with “SLS” etched in 3-foot silver letters and 8-foot-square glamour shots of the two guys who bought it. They were planning this even then.) Tonight the normally dark monolith is flashing with light, traffic out front jammed with horns honking, like back when Dean or Judy used to play the Conga Room. But tonight police are blocking the street because of a fire further down the Strip and the endless procession of cars turning into the drive are just doing a three-point turn at the padlocked chain-link.
A few hundred yards down eight empty lanes, a herd of emergency vehicles flash red and blink blue around the base of a shiny silver tower — you almost expect Bruce Willis to come storming in out of 1992 to rescue the president or his ex-wife or Damon Wayans, except they’d have to CGI in more smoke and overdub extra panic. Trios of girls, clompy and wincing in their platform heels, stop to gawk; foreign families in shorts, carrying plastic bags from the Walgreen’s, pause to snap a picture. Emergency personnel of various uniforms scurry about as a five-story ladder gently unfurls up toward the parking deck. Lights are still on in a few picture windows, the penthouse is particularly aglow, but most of the residents of this (mercifully undersold) luxury condo are out on the street, calmly holding leashes and purses.
Back under the Stratosphere, the doors of a city bus glide open, but no one gets on. You can hear it even from across the street, louder than the faint wails of the poor saps riding the X-Scream 100 stories above. “NO GOOD GODDAMN SONS OF BITCHES!” A man in a sweaty T-shirt, clutching a cylindrical object in a paper bag tumbles out of the rear door, then spins back toward the bus, fists raised. “YOU CAN GO TO HELL!” He leans back against an illuminated panel of blue swimming pools as a few people slip in the door. The man heaves himself forward, pulls his arm back and swings a jab into the side panel of the bus. He pulls back and punches again, a last roundhouse flying wild (“SHIT!”) as the vehicle rolls away, unperturbed.
Las Vegas: Where a man will pick a fight with a city bus. And you can get odds.
LISSA TOWNSEND RODGERS