Smoking is still allowed indoors, our drivers are some of the worst in the country, LINQ parking structure flooding like clockwork with every major rainstorm and slot machines in grocery stores are, apparently, an acceptable way to have extra pocket money.
Yes, Las Vegas is a unique place.
For people born elsewhere, living here is a subtly strange experience. The days of mundane normality are sometimes punctuated with brief reminders that this small town in Mojave holds a place of honor in the imaginations of people around the world.
The sheer resilience of our tourism industry over the past year – in the face of relentless and lingering concerns about the pandemic – demonstrates how important our city has become to a world desperate for a bit of escape. As Christmas weekend approaches, the undeveloped freeway that connects Vegas to Southern California has seen its foreseeable congestion of tourists pilgrimage to the city of neon lights and blackjack tables. And next weekend, despite new concerns about the Omicron variant, dozens of people eager to taste our city will be packing hotels and resorts across the valley for a unique New Years experience.
Of course, the perception that people from the outside have of Las Vegas is different from that experienced by the residents. When people elsewhere hear you are from Las Vegas, they imagine you are staying in a penthouse suite at Caesars, or that you can smell the spray of the Bellagio fountains from your backyard. In reality, of course, living in Las Vegas isn’t much different from living in any other suburban city… except it is. And it’s different in weird and unexpected ways that are hard to articulate to those who haven’t experienced it.
We do things our way in this corner of the desert. Of course, many of us may be used to seeing slot machines at gas stations – but for the vast majority of Americans visiting our state, this is instantly identified as one of the strangest indicators of gasoline. ‘they’re not in Kansas anymore. And at this time of year, it’s actually one of the more subtle ways to set us apart from the rest of the world.
Beyond the beautifully decorated Christmas trees and white stucco walls of our homes and apartments, this bustling city approaches the holiday season with a unique eccentricity. Where else in the world does Santa Claus zipline above the heads of drunken tellers basking in the glow of flashing neon lights? New York City may have the Rockefeller Center “tree”, but even that pales in comparison to the opulence of a 42-foot-tall Christmas tree and 7,500 poinsettias on display in the Bellagio Conservatory.
And, of course, the 8-minute coordinated fireworks display planned for New Year’s Eve is rightly considered a spectacle to make Times Square’s bullet drop really boring.
Even away from the Strip, there is something remarkable this time of year that is not directly related to doing things more “Vegas” than anywhere else. The small town feel one gets when visiting the many churches, town centers and local events in the valley is unexpected for a town of this size. The sense of community in the region’s suburban sprawl rivals anything one might find elsewhere.
Perhaps this is due to a certain shared feeling about how the world perceives our hometown as “different”. We know we live in a special place and we can’t wait to share it with those around us.
There is a love for this city which is palpable and evident to those who settle there. Perhaps this is because, for the vast majority of residents, living here is a deliberate lifestyle choice, not just the product of circumstances. There are a number of life events that can drive people to Nevada, but deciding to build a life in Las Vegas requires a commitment to loving this quirky corner of America in all its imperfect glory. After all, few people would choose to live in a scorching summer heat, take on some of the nation’s worst drivers, or endure a weekly influx of party tourists if they didn’t like all that Vegas has to offer.
Much of the rest of the world assumes Nevada is a romantically distinctive place because it is home to Las Vegas. However, in truth, it is the other way around. Nevada’s unique culture is responsible for making this entertainment mecca what it is today. This desert oasis simply could not have captured the imagination of the world if it had been created in California, Arizona, or any other obscure stopover in this great United States, for it would not have distinctly virtue. Nevadan to embrace the unusual way we do it.
It’s one of the reasons it’s easy to fall in love with Nevada – and why Las Vegas, in particular, captures the hearts of so many who venture outside the crowded confines of the tourist corridor. Beyond fountains, lights, and the extravagance of mega-beach resorts, Nevada is home to some of America’s most breathtaking landscapes, most welcoming local communities, and most proud residents (rightfully so) that l ‘we can find anywhere.
Christmas and New Years Eve in Las Vegas, for those who didn’t grow up here, is certainly a “different” experience to see – but so is every season in the sunburnt urban sprawl of. “Sin City”, the snow-capped shores of Lake Tahoe or the wacky outposts of rural Nevada.
That’s why we love it here and why “home” really means Nevada.
Michael Schaus is a Las Vegas, Nevada-based communications and branding consultant and founder of Schaus Creative LLC, an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their stories and drive change. He is the former director of communications for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and has over a decade of public affairs commentary experience as a columnist, political comedian and radio host. Follow him on SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.