by J.D. Oxblood
Drive into Las Vegas from the South. Traditionally, that’s how it was done—after all, it was designed as a weekend playdate from Los Angeles, a quick cruise up interstate 15 from Barstow. If you don’t know Barstow, it is the unequivocal shithole of the southwest—seriously, this town makes Houston look inviting—though it is also marks the initial onramp to interstate 40, a 2500-mile slice of asphalt genius that will take you all the way to North Carolina crossing over much of historic Route 66. But don’t—turn left and drop onto I-15 and blast north across the desert. Or, if you’re coming from the East, jump off of I-40 in Kingman, Arizona, and take that long, slow ramp onto highway 93, the mountain laid out beside you dotted in scrub, the town of Kingman speckled before the grandiosity like a well-planned toy town in a train enthusiast’s basement.
On either route, when you drive into Vegas from the south at night, you can see the glow from miles and miles out, disorienting considering that you’re blazing through the desert and there’s nothing to see for miles but scrub, asphalt, and the inevitable roadkill. But there it is, just over the horizon, the taunting glow of sin, beckoning, whispering sweet temptations and empty promises. If you’re coming up 93, the joy is amplified, since as soon as you make out the neon glow you’re driving over the concrete majesty of the Hoover Dam. If you’re new-fashioned and fly into Vegas at night, and peer out the porthole, the pitch black suddenly erupts into a Technicolor assault on your senses, a floating city of roman candles set in an inky black wasteland. To get a similar sensation in my hometown you’d have to tow Manhattan Island out into the middle of the Atlantic. And yet, even when you fly into Vegas in the middle of the day—as I did this time around, feeling like a cheater for not driving, since I was only coming from San Francisco—you get a similar shock of dry followed by wet. Looking down it’s nothing, nothing, nothing—just stunning desert views of undisturbed hand-of-god wasteland—and then blam!—a city where there just shouldn’t be one. This is the cogent point about Las Vegas: there just shouldn’t be a city here. There’s no fucking reason for it. There is no trade route, no natural resources, no centuries-old port. This is human ingenuity and capitalist ambition and conniving gangster racketeering at its finest: if you build it, they will come. And come, we did.
Oh, yes we did. Drama of conflicting pageants, ugly burlesque breakups with concentric ripples of consequence, the rising price of jet fuel, the continuing economic recession, the rising price of pastie glue and the sudden rhinestone shortage that was shocking a certain subculture from Melbourne to B.C.—not to mention the rumor that glitter really DOES transmit social diseases, a falsity that was racing up and down the eastern seaboard and causing panic in the wake of a tour by a certain troupe from New York—no, nothing could stop the hordes of stripperdelic walking-talking euphoric glitterati from descending upon Las Vegas, Nevada like a cluster of Thompsonesque hallucinatory bats flocking to engulf a red convertible flashing across the desert like a crow-seducing glittering jewel.
Welcome. To. Las. Vegas.