I spent last week in Las Vegas at a conference.

Las Vegas is a very strange place. It disturbs me on a viceral level. It is a climate where nothing grows. The shubs and palms around the hotel each had their own individual water pipe. Up the road from the hotel there was a large lot. Somebody there had stopped the water that fed some trees. They now stood large and barren of leaves in a dust grey field.

In the mornings I would awaken at 6 or 7am east coast time. That’s 3 or 4am Las Vegas time. I’d get in my car and go look for breakfast. In the east I know to never eat in a mall. In the west it there is rarely any commerce outside of a mall. Most of my breakfasts were in aging franchises. I like a bit of age on my environment. The signs that people have inhabited a place. The ways they have customized it.

One bagel place I ate looked like it had originally been some sort of lodge themed resturant. It had a cheap wood beam look with two stories of seating. They had ostracized the non-smokers to the secon story. Some elderly patrons, who I suspect spend most mornings there, were smoking and reviewing which casinos they had never stuck their noses into. All the windows were decorated with snow-in-a-can christmas scenes.

Except in the tourist neighborhoods, almost nobody walks in Las Vegas, Angry young men can be seen walking purposely to nowhere. Prostitutes wave as you drive by. I saw only one group of four kids walking someplace. Single people are occationally seen walking to their jobs, a number of these – in the early morning hours – are carrying a single sleeping child.

On a landscape of walled communities the car and the mall are the dominate life forms. Large video signs decorate the roadside. The University of Nevada has one at the mouth of the main roadway entering the campus. One outside a golf store advertises that financing is available. There are a lot of financing, loan, and check cashing stores.

The conference was in a hotel I found delightful. An old (meaning 1950 or 1960) huge two story motel wrapped around a simple court yard with three pools which nobody used. Everything a little worn out. Nice furniture. Friendly people. No gambling.

In most hotels in Vegas gambling machines outnumber the guests. The gambling machines are programed to make a series of noises designed to force you to give them attention. The people sitting at these machines don’t seem particularly cheerful. Their attention deficit disorder feed by a continous stream of stimulation. I suspect you could bankrupt a hotel by dumping a little Ritalin into their water treatment facility.

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