I had never been to Las Vegas, and I grew up only six hours away in San Diego. I have terrible luck when it comes to gambling, I used to go to the Indian gaming casinos near San Diego and just follow my friends around watching them gamble and every once in a while stick a couple dollars in the 5 cent machines. I guess I wasn’t much of a risk taker. Las Vegas wasn’t even about gambling for me. It was about the entire scene. The crazy elaborate lights and buildings, and the mass of people from all over coming to lose money and get sloppy drunk, the lounge acts, the tiki bars, and for better or worse, it has been a staple of American culture for a long time. It was something I wanted to experience at least once.
I was kind of scared to drive on the Vegas freeways. The cars just sped and swerved around out of control, half of the drivers probably drunk. It was nerve-wracking for me and my Subaru putting along. I drove into downtown Vegas on Fremont during the day to check out “old” Vegas. I love the old signage with the thousands of little bulbs.
I went into a coffee shop for a pick-me-up, and while scrolling around instagram I saw a picture of an old friend next to a Las Vegas hotel. He was in Vegas at the same time I was, so I texted him and said, “Lets hang!” and he obliged. I’ve been doing that a lot on this trip. I keep popping in on friends I haven’t seen in forever, hoping they’ll hang out with me. He’s a super talented designer, and I loved talking shop with him. We planned to meet later that day at his hotel.
First I had to find a tiki bar. For some reason, I assumed that the Tiki bars in Vegas are the best tiki bars in the world, the pinnacle of kitsch, coconut drinks and paper umbrellas. There was tiki bar in Chinatown in NYC that I frequented called Bar 169, one of my favorite places in Manhattan to hang out, drink cheap beer and shoot pool. This place wasn’t bad, it stuck to the script as far as tiki bars are concerned. It was pitch black inside(I assumed they did this for people with epic hangovers) with bright gambling machines covering the bar. I ordered one of the more ridiculous drinks, which was served in a hollowed out piece of carved coconut with a big umbrella floating on top.
I drove out to the Hard Rock Hotel where my friend was staying. We got a beer and went up to his hotel room and chatted for a couple hours about art, design, where our lives are taking us, and plans for the future. I guess that’s usually the conversation that happens with someone you haven’t seen in a few years. He’d just been married and they were looking for a place together.
We talked about helping to support the communities of artists, musicians and creatives in our respective cities, which I felt was harder to do in New York. Over there it feels like more of an “Every man for himself,” situation and is very competitive. I’ve always been a competitive person, and I knew that was keeping me from meeting other creatives in NYC. I thought of them as the competition rather than part of a community. I’ve always admired my friend for his ability to build a community spirit, and wanted to strive for that as well.
Old buddy from San Diego
After we talked, I went out to the Vegas strip for the full experience. I couldn’t partake in the sloppy drunk experience, because I was driving, and I didn’t want to gamble because of my terrible luck, I’ve spent way too much money on this trip already. So what was left was the lights, the buildings, the noise, the energy, the gaudiness, and the kitchyness. I walked up and down the strip until 2am documenting it all with my camera. I watched the crowd get drunker and drunker as the night wore on, and looked up in awe at the incredible facades of the casinos. It’s funny, the exterior of every casino is so different, but when you get inside they’re all pretty much the same.
It seems there are two very different ways that people look at Vegas. They either take the “Vegas baby, yeah!!” approach and dive in head first, or the “Its a den of sin and vice in which I’ll never partake.” I say live and let live, whatever floats your boat. Why do we always have to be under control all the time? Let it all go once in a while.