I hear you, Vegas Hater. Not that I want to, of course, but I don’t really have a choice. I’ve been subjected to your beer-fueled anti-Vegas rants at my local watering hole. I’ve stumbled upon The Hate while foolishly perusing the unfiltered comments section of local newspaper websites (especially following a story about a UNLV study suggesting that one in four Las Vegas residents would rather live elsewhere). I’ve even suffered the tiresome refrains of friends who incessantly glamorize Portland, Ore., or Austin, Texas, as that legendary (ahem) “real city” where the beer is always colder, the people always smarter and the grass always just a little bit greener. Yeah, yeah—you want to move there and farm something, right?
Yep, Las Vegas is once again under attack, and unlike the periods of anti-Vegas sentiment in the past, this time it’s also coming from the inside. Fueled by extraordinary financial woes, the emotional impact of the recession on Las Vegas emerges. Hundreds of thousands of people relocated to Las Vegas in the past 20 years, lured by a lie that suggested “Easy money!” while slyly glossing over the harsh realities of living in a city where much of the fun comes from creating something from nothing—or at least gambling on the idea. Making things worse is the overwhelming feeling of being trapped in one’s home. For many of you, the mobility of the old five-year buy-sell-move pattern provided a nice emotional buffer from actually having to settle down here. That pattern is an option no more. Cash is hard to come by, credit even more so. You’re stuck here, and many of you are sick of it. I get it.
But guess what? You know all those accusations you throw around, those things you complain about (the lack of culture, the lack of friends, the lack of good breakfast joints and coffeehouses)? You are now officially part of the problem. Your tenuous, superficial love affair with Las Vegas—the one based all on good weather, low taxes and the quick buck—was never really committed, was it? You always had one foot out the door, ready to bounce. Whenever another city would wave its big, bouncy beaches in your face, or wrap its long, artistic arms around your waist, you were all like, “Vegas and me? Naaaah … We’re just booty-call pals. I’m not really into Vegas …”
Well, friends, perhaps it’s time to get into Vegas. To embrace Vegas. To try to understand how and why this city in the middle of nowhere even exists (risk!), what fuels it (change!) and what drives those of us who love it (freedom!). As the only major U.S. city founded in the 20th century, Las Vegas is dynamic and not bound by tradition or sentimentality. Change isn’t challenged here, it is expected. You complain that Las Vegas isn’t like the place you left? You’re right, it isn’t. Figure out what makes it unique. You complain that Las Vegas is all about money? You miss the point; money has always been the great equalizer here, not the great divider. You complain about a lack of community? A population number does not make a community; an engaged citizenry does. Bitching anonymously on websites does not count.
In fact, bitching at all doesn’t count. Participation is what counts, and whether you do that by visiting a gallery, supporting a local business, coaching a soccer team or simply smiling when someone looks at you, your effort will go a long way toward re-creating what old-timers call the “electric togetherness” that connected our community long before The Big Migration. Most of you aren’t going anywhere for a while, so you are better off looking at your stay in Las Vegas like a marriage instead of a jail sentence. After all, the food is much better at home than in jail, and the time off for good behavior, especially in a city like ours, can be a lot more fun. I even know of a few places where the beer is colder than in Portland. Welcome to Las Vegas, friends. Now make yourself useful.