This morning I woke to the sound of a metaphor—or perhaps it was a cat—yowling outside my window. It was a desperate sound, disturbingly poised on the aural spectrum between soiled baby and trapped feline, and my sleepy mind immediately decided it ought to mean something. It was … Las Vegas, struggling to be reborn. It was … a cry of pain from deep within the post-recessionary psyche of my city. Or not.
It’s hard to get a read on the town these days. On one hand, there is the view out my front window: Foreclosed home, yellowed yard, folks who bolted so quickly they apparently forgot the cat. On the other hand, there is visible evidence that, in a town built on defiantly conspicuous consumption, those who can consume are doing so with great gusto.
This is good news. The top 1 percent of Americans takes in 24 percent of our national income, but they account for 100 percent of Vegas bottle service (excluding comps for industry pros and pretty girls). So let’s pause for a moment to thank the rich—not the old-Nebraskan-thrifty-rich like Warren Buffet, but the young, thirsty and profligate who truly understand what it means to serve the greater Vegas good.
One of the benefits of being middle class and Las Vegan is the comforting knowledge that we are either the home or the home-away-from-home of innumerable—or perhaps not innumerable but merely ubiquitous—well-dressed people in their 20s who are capable of squandering great gobs of money on blue cocktails. They stay up all night, I am told, drinking in the nectar of the neon jungle, shuffling home in special post-clubbing slippers (that’s for the girls; the boys, unless something has gone horribly wrong in recent years, head off to the Del Taco drive-in), sleeping in, and then venturing out to their 168-hour-a-week jobs as Director of Night Beverage Hospitality Marketing Innovation at PalmLava.
I’m having a bit of sport with the denizens of our local glitter caves, but the fact is that the Vegas club scene is a monumental achievement, with true global significance. Nine of the nation’s top 10 grossing clubs are here in Las Vegas, and at the moment it is precisely the clubs, more than the casinos or the architecture or the lights, that are propping up the city’s international image. Those nine clubs pumped well over $300 million into the Las Vegas economy in 2010, but their collateral impact on our local bottom line and our global brand is much larger.
This wonderland is not disconnected from the hard realities of contemporary Las Vegas. If the soft shoulders and rheumy 80-proof eyes depicted in this magazine’s party pages are the glorious yin of Las Vegas, the front page of the local daily is the malodorous ying yang. Earlier this month, we learned that Nevada ranks 51st in the United States for children treated by a primary-care physician. That puts us below states that are not even states, such as, say, Wyoming. (Dammit, if we want to make it to the big time, we’re going to have start beating Mountain West schools.) The good news is, we’re only 49th for percentage of children with health insurance. We also learned that University Medical Center—the city’s only public hospital—is on the brink of closure. UMC has always been on the brink of closure, because it does not serve blue cocktails. Some institutions know what it takes to thrive in this town, and some don’t. UNLV, for instance, has come to the realization that the only way to get sufficient on-campus housing and a football stadium is to turn half the campus into a shopping center. When you’re facing $50 million in budget cuts, it’s time to dabble in capitalism. One can only hope that Rebel Tuscan Village, or whatever they’re going to call the place, has a good nightclub.
The free market’s taken a beating around here, but it’s increasingly looking like the only weapon in our problem-solving arsenal. Gov. Brian Sandoval has made it clear that we shouldn’t expect any new taxes to fill our yawning state budget hole, and straight cuts would have drastic repercussions for both community services and our economic future. (So much for education as the engine of innovation.) What we need, then, is a good old capitalist Hail Mary: We’ll just have to consumer-spend our way out of this mess. Sure, plenty of us are still digging out of the mess we spent ourselves into. But so be it. It’s time to create a new Vegas boom, a bubble gassier than all previous bubbles, resulting in a vastly expanded tax base that will, with no new taxes whatsoever, return us to the halcyon days of surpluses and rebate checks.
This is where the young people with blue cocktails come in. The one sector of society that appears to be ready not only to open its pocketbooks, but to tuck dollars in all sorts of unexpected places, is our golden youth. Armed with unlimited, if inexplicable, resources and an insatiable desire to linger in artfully lit salons, our wealthy twentysomethings can drink our way to prosperity. As the ever-colorful Brookings Mountain West think tank, with ho-hum visions of solar panels and windmills dancing in its big collective head, has repeatedly told us over the past year, we need to diversify our economy beyond gaming.
Duh. Let the carousing begin. If you are young and rich, start clubbing an hour earlier tonight. Do it for your state.