“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” the saying goes.
A dozen mental images come to mind when thinking of Las Vegas; a sea of flashing neon lights, slot machines dinging and whirring, loud overweight men making drunken-decisions, barely dressed women giggling in groups, roulette tables with shouting strangers huddled around one unsuspecting gambler who has no idea what they’re doing but ends up winning anyway, the high stakes tables with World Series Of Poker winners gambling their riches under a baseball hat that they’re getting paid to wear.
When I travel, I try to visit my destination with an open mind and an open heart. Everywhere in the world, people, customs, places, and laws are different. Traveling means observing the world around you and adjusting accordingly.
As I strolled through what felt like 200 miles of a maze of every luxury brand you can think of, food chains, and indoor malls that had blue skies and moving clouds, I forgot what time it was and what I wanted to do. This is the appeal of The Las Vegas Strip: there’s so much going on― so much over-stimulation― that you lose touch with reality. With a small few steps, you stumble down the rabbit hole of gambling, shopping, eating, and who knows where you’ll end up.
The Las Vegas strip is an extreme allegory of America: bizarre and beautiful, devoted to excess, consumption, and immediate gratification. Like in America, there’s something for everyone, but it’s up to you to figure out what it is—and if you’re going to passive aggressively fume with anger/jealousy about what kind of fun other people are partaking in.
Do you enjoy neon lights, bottle service, and smoking indoors? Do you enjoy fine art, concerts/magic/Cirque du Soleil shows, and spending $275 on a tasting menu? Do you want to gamble away a small fortune? Do you want to go zip-lining over a crowd of people? Do you want to see a movie? Do you want to go to a museum? Do you want to go to the spa to relax? Do you want to get on a tiny plane and see the Grand Canyon?
Don’t worry, Las Vegas has something for you.
The hoards of tourists walk down the street with the flash of neon lights during all 24-hours of the day and night. Bars beg you to join them for bottle service by putting women in pasties, thongs, and giant feather wings on the sidewalk to entice you with their tits (and coupons!). The smoke-filled casinos invite you in and don’t want you to leave, controlling the air and sounds so you’re in a trance.
Vegas showcases the sloppy parts of being human: the messy, inexplicable struggle of being “moral,” while having an insatiable diet for “sin.”
Experiencing Las Vegas is a trip, for lack of a better word. I’ve never been on psychedelic drugs, but I imagine a walk through The Strip on a Friday night is similar: swirling colors, screams of children and drunken debauchery, and 360-degree invasions of personal space. Dizzying. Pulsating. But still, maybe kinda fun in a weird way?
Things that are legal in Las Vegas: gambling, cannabis, open containers of alcohol in public, all you can eat buffets.
Las Vegas supports your vices, whatever they may be.
“A little bit of this town goes a very long way. After five days in Vegas you feel like you’ve been here for five years.”
After wandering aimlessly in the neon desert, narrowly dodging a naked, winged angel at high noon on The Strip and talking myself out of walking into several Chanel boutiques, I realized my guard needed to come down.
I was on vacation, after all.
Admittedly, the last few weeks have been a little rough.
If you’ve been paying attention to any kind of media, you know what’s happening in politics right now. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely told her truth to the world about now lifetime appointed Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Ford’s allegation that Judge Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her some 36 years ago, a charge he vigorously denies. The national discourse has sent a signal to countless survivors wrestling with their own traumas that their experiences, memories, and voices are not valid.
Every time I turn on the TV or the media, it’s bleak. It has been since 2016, but it feels like it just keeps getting worse.
I’ve been attempting to avoid the news, social media feeds, and basically, reality. Las Vegas was the perfect escape.
But as I flew above the Grand Canyon in a small plane on an afternoon tour, marveling at the vast landscape that’s developed over the past 70 million years, I realized how small and insignificant I am. In a, “wow, my problems truly are insignificant in the grand scheme of things,” kind of way. Hundreds of years from now, my name/life/genes will be gone. My problems mostly exist in my head or are of my own making.
500 years ago, I’m sure a hypothetical 29-year-old woman in the Havasupai tribe (which means “people of the blue-green waters,” a name that comes from these incredible clear mineral-rich pools in the Grand Canyon) was worrying about far different things than I am, like how to survive the seasonal migrations between the canyon floor and the plateau above, just 6,093 feet in elevation, which seems like a pretty terrible hike that people do for fun now.
The landscape, depth, and scale of the Grand Canyon are indescribable. From above, its overwhelming size looks like a scar healing on the Earth’s surface. In a sense, I guess it is; from the years of planetary shifting, natural disasters, ice age melting… The Grand Canyon, and all of North America, for that matter, used to be underwater.
“Wow,” is all I could say as the pilot circled one of the ancient plateaus. The desolate landscape in the middle of nowhere felt otherworldly. Or, what I imagine Mars looks like.
It reminded me that Las Vegas was built in the middle of nowhere from nothing. The juxtaposition between the excess of The Strip versus the depths and isolation of the Grand Canyon struck a chord with me. Molded out of clay and red rocks in the middle of a completely barren landscape in Nevada, Las Vegas was created as a destination in the west that’s entirely dedicated to fun.
That’s not so bad, right? We could all use a little more fun these days.
Look, I try to have fun. I really do. But these days, it’s tough.
I’ve been battling a severe case of self-loathing and depression for the last—hmm, well… forever—but I’ve also just never been great at having fun. I don’t participate in the traditional vices that people use (like drinking alcohol), or dancing, or gambling… I’ve just never been very good at having it. So I gotta find my fun anywhere I can. For me, it’s in food and a very small amount of legal cannabis.
At 9:40pm, in my Uber from the Palms Casino (a little off the strip) to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, I checked Milk Bar’s hours on my phone: they close at 1am. Wow, that’s late. Vegas time is on another level… or maybe I just don’t get out much.
I didn’t need a dessert, mind you, but you know when present-you plans ahead of time so future-you will have a snack for when you really need it? That’s what I was trying to do here. Earlier in my visit, I’d ventured to a legal marijuana dispensary to find a high-CBD/low-THC edible so I could try to finally relax.
By the time my edible kicked in, I had Milk Bar Birthday Cake Slice + Crack Pie + Bday Cake Truffles waiting for me to indulge in. I needed it.
By the the time my final night in Vegas rolled around, I finally let go a little.
Bright light city gonna set my soul gonna set my soul on fire. Got a whole lot of money that’s ready to burn, so get those stakes up higher, there’s a thousand pretty women waitin’ out there, and they’re all livin’ devil may care, and I’m just the devil with love to spare.
Viva Las Vegas, viva Las Vegas.
—”Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley, 1963
Las Vegas Travel Guide + Ideas
Where I ate in Las Vegas
- Scotch 80 Prime | $$$$ | Steakhouse/Fine Dining | In the Palms Casino
- Jaleo | $$$$ | Spanish Tapas by molecular gastronomy chef Jose Andres | In the Cosmopolitan
- Momofuku | $$$ | David Chang’s
- Pok Pok Wing | Chef Andy Richter’s Thai life-changing cuisine and chicken wings | In the Cosmopolitan
- Eggslut | $ | All day egg-y awesomeness in the form of sammiches | In the Cosmopolitan
- In-n-Out Burger | $ | Fast casual burgers & fries | Closest to the strip is in the Linq Hotel, near the Flamingo
- Milk Bar | $ | Christina Tosci’s bakery with a sense of humor, known for birthday cake, crack pie, and cereal milk ice cream | In the Cosmopolitan
- Bouchon Bakery | $ | Pastries by Michelin Star chef Thomas Keller | In the Venetian
Where I stayed in Las Vegas
- Cosmopolitan Hotel
- Palms Casino & Hotel
- Four Seasons Hotel
- The Venetian
What I did in Las Vegas
- Maverick Helicopter Tours | I did the Soaring Eagle Sightseeing Tour for $199 on a 9 seat plane, but the helicopter tours looks incredible.
- “O” by Cirque de Soleil | A crazy acrobatic show centered around a pool at the Bellagio. Any Cirque show is worth your time. They are incredible.
- Go shopping | Even if you’re not going to buy anything, just look around at the stores. Las Vegas is one of the largest and most successful shopping districts in the United States because of gambling; win big, why not buy a Louis Vuitton? There are SO MANY NICE MALLS. The Forum Shops at Caesars, Miracle Mile, Fashion Show, The Shops At Crystals, The Grand Canal Shops…
- Lay by the pool all day | It’s warm enough. There’s people taking your drink order. It’s relaxing (which you need in Vegas).
Las Vegas Photo Diary
Photos from my trip to Las Vegas, organized by food + stay.
Milk Bar Birthday Cake Slice, Crack Pie, Bday Cake Truffles
Jaleo Rossejat Negra Squid Ink Paella,’Ferran Adrià’ liquid olives, and Salmon cones
Bao @ Momofuku (in the Cosmopolitan)
Ike’s Wings @ Pok Pok Wing (in the Cosmopolitan)
Tacos @ China Poblano
Scotch 80 Prime
I’ll leave you with this: