It is warm, about 95 degrees. I am drinking lots of water to stay hydrated. My body is used to the moisture in the air, not the dry heat of Las Vegas. My hotel is at the end of the strip and my taxi drives me through all of the lights and action to get there. I am excited to be around all of the activity and meet my daughter here to celebrate her 21st birthday. Last time I came here I was still drinking, and the alcohol along with the heat swelled my eyes up and made me look like I got punched in the face. Coming to Las Vegas sober, I am an observer. As we drive down the strip, I see people walking on the sidewalk with long slim colorful cylinders of alcohol. It is legal to drink in the street here. They look like they are having fun as they walk with their friends and stare at the lights. The girls are wearing short dresses and high heals, and the guys are wearing short sleeve collared shirts and cotton pants. They are young and looking for fun. There are also people my age in more comfortable shoes going to shows and escaping their 9-5 jobs in search of some excitement. I am here for my daughter but also here for myself.
I arrive at my hotel and I enter my 1 bedroom suite that will be my home for the next 4 days. My daughter isn’t arriving until the next day, so I unpack my clothes and put my suitcases away. Then I fill up the bath with warm water, and make use of the jets. It feels amazing and luxurious to sit in the warm tub with the jets soothing my body. I feel my body start to relax from having worked all day and then jumped on a flight right after work. It is 10:00 at night, which for me is late but in Las Vegas people are just starting to go out. I get out of my bath, into a hotel robe and put on a face mask. As I lay on the bed reading I think to myself that I am probably the only person in Vegas that is staying in their hotel room tonight and not going out. I feel happy though, as I look out my floor to ceiling windows from the 59th floor at the flashing lights of the strip. It looks fun, like Disneyland for adults.
There are so many options of activities right at my fingertips here. I could go see people singing, dancing, flying in the air, or taking their clothes off. And I could also sing, dance, fly in the air and take my clothes off if I wanted to. I saw a billboard driving through the strip that you can call a phone number and an attractive girl will come directly to you. And for the ladies, I can go watch overly pumped up men dance around in a G string. And if I get bored with all of that, I can go watch trapeze artists flying in the air or swimming under water. I can also sit at a card table and put my money down and try and get more money. I can bet that I know better than the person handing me the cards that works here full time and has the House on their side. It is a lopsided bet in their favor, but they will give me free drinks so I soon forget this fact. I will be lulled into believing that I can put in a small effort and get a big reward.
But I don’t participate in any of these things. Instead I watch it from afar in my hotel room and relax, and wait for my daughter. My daughter has never been to Las Vegas and I will be her guide to introduce her to the lights, temptations and the risks of having too much handed to her too easily. She is coming to Las Vegas to see something that she has never seen before, to experience something that she has never experienced. She can ride a roller coaster on top of a hotel, she can swim in a pool 20 stories in the air, as well as eat dinner in the dark. This is all new to my daughter, and though it is exciting, it is not reality. And even though it seems like this fantasy city sprung up spontaneously out of the desert, it didn’t.
There are real people behind everything that is happening here. There are the people who had the vision to build the buildings and create the activities. There are people that actually built someone’s vision. There are the people now that maintain the vision and the buildings that were created by other people. And there are the people that come here to perform. Las Vegas for all the lights, tall buildings, swimming pools and flash would be nothing without the people behind it. The truth is we come to Las Vegas to see people. We come to watch, listen, talk to, and sometimes feel other people. We come here to connect quickly without working at it. We come here so that someone else does the work of trying to connect with us, and we can sit back and not put forth much effort, besides opening our wallets.
When my daughter arrives the next day, we lay by the pool and have people bring us food and take care of us. Then we go out to dinner and a nightclub and dance with the hundreds of other people in the club. This is her first time in a dance club of this caliber. I see her excitement, her energy, her curiosity. The world of easy access to pleasure is opening up to her. It is a fun place to be, and she will have great memories. But the morning will come, and so will reality. She will still have to study in college, work at her part time job, navigate the social scene, and work at making real connections.
Nothing worth having is ever easy. She will learn this. Things that are handed to her with seemingly no effort on her part will be the things that end up taking the most from her. She will learn that no other person or thing can create anything for her that feels better than her creating something for herself. There is no rollercoaster, show, drink, person, or experience that can take the place of the power within her. She doesn’t know this yet, but as the weekend winds down and her eyes start to glaze over from the stimulus overload of Las Vegas she slowly will realize this. She will eventually realize what I have learned. That there is no escape from hurt, loneliness, and feeling insecure. That these feelings are a part of life, and that if she tries to escape them they will come back with double the force.
Life is like Las Vegas, it is beautiful and it is painful and she can’t have one without the other. She will do what we all did, and think she has it all figured out. She will think that she knows something that we don’t, and that she can get through life with minimal pain and suffering. She will boldly sit down at the table and think that she can put in a small effort and get a big reward. She hasn’t learned yet that the greatest fulfillments she will have in life will come with the greatest sacrifices.
She will grow up, and she will look back at this weekend and remember her innocence and she will smile to herself. Because for all the sin in this city, there is an innocence in the person who still believes that they can find life’s answers here.