A weird monument to ingenuity

Aug 11, 2017 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

As baffling as the city of Las Vegas itself is -- a water-sucking, massively air conditioned, energy and labor intensive hole of vice located in one of the least accessible and hospitable places in the country -- people's pilgrimages to it baffle me much, much more.

Driving through the city, which I did just a few days ago en route to California, feels like crossing a movie set. That is to say, all the facades of the buildings, plated in genuine imitation gold or painted to resemble Old West locales, pirate ships or spacecraft, seem contrived to the point that the place doesn't quite seem like a real human settlement. They look like an attempt by aliens landing here to fake human activity in order to trick us out of our money.

And it's working. This sounds funny, and it is, but it also was unsettling to me as I sped through the area with doors locked and music up. How many people are trapped in this place, behind those cardboard facades of marinas and France?

The sinfulness of Vegas doesn't affect my feelings on it. The people there could be doing anything, and I'd think of it the same way. Rather, the sinfulness of the place has led to it being constructed and perpetuated in such a way that any activity there is now tainted by the physical nature of it, the creepiness and the heat and the sense of desperation.

I don't care about gambling. I will take you for all you have at the blackjack table if you'll give me the chance, but put me in a dark room with no clocks in the heart of the desert, hidden behind fakery and advertising budgets designed to entrap me, and no matter what is happening there I will be unnerved by it, out of place. That the vices led to this room's construction is their only role in this feeling.

In some ways, I suppose Vegas is a monument to our power as a species. To trade one tired cliche for another, perhaps the fact that the city is so ill-conceived, yet exists anyway, shows that mankind can accomplish anything we set our minds to. If this is the argument Vegas defenders settle on, I am only more fearful. That, when given the chance to apply our creativity and intelligence, Las Vegas is what we build is only a bad sign for us. By all practical considerations, this city should not exist, and that we have made it exist anyway is a pox on our big human brains, not a boon. We should know better.

What action do I suggest, based on my feelings about this city, so palpable that I can go through several stages of them on one 15-minute cruise through on the I-15 South? It can't be destroyed; a million poor souls really do live there, or so I'm told. It's unlikely it can be usurped by another destination, as it's now built something of a name for itself. And I don't think the fundamental nature of the place can be changed, since its fakery is unreasonably effective at making money.

So the best I can do is offer some friendly advice. I don't think everybody has the same opinion of Vegas as I do. If you enjoy it, go, and have a great time. Make something good out of this for yourself and others. That is a positive end in itself.

But if you do feel as I do, overwhelmed at the very idea of even getting close to the city of Las Vegas, do not feel pressured into doing it. This column is your permission slip to sidestep peer pressure and do something you enjoy more. I'm not asking for national change or an upheaval in public opinion. I'm just asking that it be OK for me, and for those like me, never to enter Las Vegas again.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.