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Las Vegas 

Animals, creativity, and visual stimulation – makes you think of… what?

Sleaze, crass commercialism, and vulgarity – makes you think of… what?

When I told friends and family I was headed to Las Vegas for a vacation the universal reaction was: why? They all thought I would hate Vegas. I don’t gamble – at least not in the “gaming” sort of way – and I’m a frequent critic of the things one normally associates with Vegas: the hordes of low rent tourists jamming the Strip in search of their next cheap thrill; the Moveable Famine that is the endless casinos and shops of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Vegas specializes in lack of context: the idea of having the New York hotel directly across the street from the Monte Carlo hotel, just down the street from an Italian Lake; of having wild animal exhibits amongst an incredible sea of concrete; of high rollers in Rolls-Royces cheek and jowl with the great unwashed; painted blue skies on ceilings, dark casinos in the middle of the day: the idea that context is irrelevant; place and time don’t matter, all contribute to the sense of unreality and rootlessness that define Vegas.

There’s certainly plenty to object to. No matter how nice the casino or hotel building, it will be stuffed with tourists auditioning for an Ugly American ad; even if they’re from Asia or Europe. Badly dressed, fat, often smoking – this could be as bad as it gets. Except that it always seems to get worse.

But there’s another side of Vegas, one that most see but few really appreciate. The wildlife exhibits and aquariums are world class, and you can get closer to animals than any other place in the world that I know. The architecture is amazing; and the new City Center development takes Strip architecture in a completely new direction. There are an infinite number of high end restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines from many famous restaurateurs; art at a wide variety of prices; incredible shopping, including rare and unusual books, and some experiences that you just can’t have anywhere else, like the simulation of sky diving that I did within a wind tunnel (short, and not really all that sweet, but interesting all the same). And the show Le Reve is perhaps the most amazing live spectacle I have ever seen, making an extravaganza like the Super Bowl half time show look like a 5th grader’s class play by comparison. Vegas specializes in fast, high impact, expensive experience. You can have a lot of these experiences in a few days.

Even if you don’t gamble, you’ll spend plenty on these experiences, and anything you buy within the hotel complexes will often be outrageously priced, like my $8 glass of orange juice with breakfast. On the other hand, there are all sorts of deals to be had, and even very nice hotel rooms can be booked at very reasonable prices. And of course Vegas is unique is that the very nicest accommodations are “free”; they are comped to high rolling gamblers.

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