As I come to the end of my 7 month experiment as a quasi-resident of this oasis in the desert I can’t help but try to create a neat ‘what have we learned’ montage in my mind, like the final credits of an episode of No Reservations. This is the second of three random observations about the Las Vegas we don’t see on a weekend bender on the Strip. Click here for Part One and Part Two.
The Las Vegas Strip is welcoming of anyone and everyone. No matter your background, economic situation or interests there is something on the Strip for you. The Harley Davidson Café sits just down the road from M&M World and across the road from Louis Vuitton and Marquee. Every casino has a high roller room in which it will cost you $100 to pull the slot machine lever just once as well as machines where each pull can cost as little as a penny. It is this open arms approach that makes me call it the Most American city in America.
But there is one class of people consistently ignored if not downright discriminated against up and down the length of the Strip; the long-term, work-at-home resident.
If you want to live on the Strip and be a productive member of society but have no office in which to complete your work, the Strip wants nothing to do with you.
Of course, that entire population might be limited to me alone, so what do the casinos care?
It is for this reason that as the sun set on football season and I spent less time placing bets and more time writing about bets already won or lost that I started spending more and more time away from the Strip in search of somewhere I could work that wasn’t the same room in my small condo where I had spent countless hours since September.
And so I founded what I refer to as the ‘Maryland Avenue Office’. You will recognize it by the big ‘Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’ sign on its wall.
In addition to the long term residents that ring the city in endless cookie cutter suburbs and the down on their luck people living in the shabby apartments near the Strip there is another resident of Las Vegas, often forgotten about by visitors to this city. College kids.
UNLV isn’t some remote campus on the hill far removed from the temptations of the Strip, it is a very short drive East. With a campus comes cheap restaurants, fast food joints and coffee shops. Places designed for those with little money and lots of time. In short, perfect places for someone to spend hours on their computer. And so because of that I have spent more time over the last couple months working just across from the campus than in casinos. And the biggest takeaway for me has been the utter normalcy of it all. A college coffee shop is a college coffee shop. Even if you can see the Wynn in the distance.
With all of this time spent around students, I have tried to take my college experiences (at least the ones I can remember all these years later) and overlay them on to this setting, yet I fail miserably. Where I ended up at a tiny bar each Saturday night that blasted David Alan Coe and Hank Williams while students drank cheap light beer, do these kids end up in the clubs of the Strip?
At FSU, football Saturdays were the highlights of the social calendar, events that the remainder of the year rotated around. Here the stadium sits miles from campus and at the game I attended, UNLV students were out-numbered probably 10-1 by the visitors (Washington State). What sense of community exists among UNLV students? How do eighteen and nineteen year-olds remain productive living so close to America’s playground?
It is the greatest of contradictions to me; the American tradition of time spent on a college campus, a time to transition from child to adult, a time for young people to mature, figure out what life they want to pursue and get those mistakes out of their system before becoming serious – all taking place right next to where adults come to behave like children again.
In the last month as the weather has started to warm (no, seriously it was chilly here for the majority of December and January), my mind has shifted into its annual spring fever mode.
On weekends filled with warm weather and the bright desert sun, I feel guilty not being outside, especially since my entire fall was spent in sportsbooks watching football. This spring fever has led to a few extra hours at the pool in my complex but that gets old rather quickly for me; there are only so many magazines to read.
One recent Sunday, as spring training kicked off a few hours to the south, I wondered if any major league teams would be coming to Vegas for an exhibition game. Typing a search into Google, I was reminded that UNLV’s baseball stadium sits less than two miles to the east of my condo.
Inside of 30 minutes after typing that search on my computer, I sat in the stands of the small UNLV baseball stadium. On one side sat UNLV fans and students, cheering on the players by calling them by first names. Players they have watched for years and seen in class. Fans greeted each other in the stands, and caught up in the opening weekend of the season. It was a scene being replicated in small college towns all across the country.
For those few hours as I spit sunflower seeds, the Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers played into extra innings, palm trees rustled in the light breeze and the sun slowly disappeared behind the Spring mountains it was easy to ignore the tops of the monstrous casinos peeking out above the stands and think of this as a college town in the middle of the desert. I could have been back in Tallahassee watching the Noles. I was no longer in VEGAS, BABY, VEGAS.
After months in Las Vegas it was nice to find a small sense of real community near the Strip. It was nice to be reminded that amidst the sun-burned drunks stumbling from Margaritaville to Caesar’s Palace there are still some people who make a life here. It can be done. You don’t have to spend every moment in Vegas like it is day three of a weekend bender. It is that serene scene at Earl E. Wilson stadium that I will take with me when I leave town on Saturday and return to my regularly scheduled life as an adult back in Denver.
Even if the planes buzzing the field on final descent to McCarran were a regular reminder that the machinery of Vegas will never stop producing dreams that can’t ever truly be filled.