Adventures from Back of Beyond

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lost Wages: Fantasy and Illusion

Las Vegas is a land of incredible fantasy and illusion. At once elaborate and contrived, sybaritic and decadent, here over the top displays of conspicuous excess are taken to an entirely new level of wastefulness.

Big buck developers have built in this land of dessicated stark desert artifical lakes several acres in size. For show, precious water is shot high into the sky with a resonating boom by powerful fountains in some of these lakes. The wasteful evaporation rate in the dry heat, when humidity levels commonly drop into single digits, must be enormous.

Here you'll find a fake volcano, also surrounded by a prodigal lake, that erupts on the hour like Old Faithful, wastefully shooting water and flames high into the sky.

Fantasy is taken to a preposterous level that quite like this is simply seen nowhere else on Earth. Thanks to its fortuitous location near the massive hydroelectric plant on the Colorado River at Hoover Dam, Las Vegas burns literally billions of watts of electricity to power millions of lights. Every night is turned to day, every day.

Conceptually, each mega-resort lined up on the Strip does a superb job. Each tries to outdo the next with a different extravagant and well conceived theme. The execution of that theme, no matter how well imagined, is however an entirely different matter.

Enter the huge black pyramid of the Luxor, and inside you'll find a second inverted pyramid rising from the floor (it's an IMAX theater). Rows of rooms border the upward slanting interior walls, rising to the pointed top, where a powerful light shoots up a single beam which is actually visible from outer space.

Vast fragrant floral displays grace the interior of the European-themed Bellagio, where outside water fountains perform a graceful ballet twice an hour, to the tune of a melody amplified on outdoor speakers.

Immerse yourself in a lush garden oasis several stories high inside the Mirage, where you'll find dolphins swimming in an outdoor pool.

Wander through the streets of an Arabian bazaar resembling the stone city of Petra inside the Aladdin, where it is always dusk beneath a softly lit blue sky.

Yet scratch just beneath the surface of any of these brilliant creations, take just a peek behind the facade, and you cannot miss that something is seriously awry. Despite the elaborate fantasy, the billions of dollars spent constructing the illusion, Las Vegas cannot hide its utter lack of class. Try as it might, the city cannot escape it's seedy roots.

Where else will you find billboards proclaiming "Girls!" permanently mounted to trucks that do nothing but continuously cruise the Strip 24/7?

At a $150 million production at one of the gaudy shows, the stage floor gets jammed and won't open, requiring management (if the patrons are lucky) to refund tickets.

Enter the ubiquitous casinos, where omnipresent gamblers blankly stare at slot machines, mindlessly pulling the handle or pressing the button for the "maximum bet." It's a sad sight.

People walk the Strip conspicuously consuming liquor. Trash is deposited anywhere and everywhere, even in the highest end hotels, where you'll find discarded drinks littered throughout the premises.

Down-and-outers are hard to miss. And where they're not, millions of slack-jawed wide-eyed tourists fresh off the jet from Iowa or South Dakota are anxiously awaiting to be quickly parted from their money in any of a myriad of scams designed for suckers and fools.

The spell of fantasy and illusion combine to make ordinary normal people lose all sense of the value of a buck while in this place. In the end, that's what pays for these wasteful displays of excess and extravagance.