When electric light first made its way onto city streets in the late 19th century, urban walkers were at once amazed and aghast. Long rows of gas lamps, strung into the distance like amber beads, were replaced with iron towers that rained unfiltered light from on high. Some were 200 feet tall; night was no longer merely punctuated by light, but transformed into a new category of illuminated time—nightlife.
In its pre-canopy days, Fremont Street became the iconic landscape of Las Vegas precisely for the disorientation it caused. Above you was the blackness of night, but around you it was so bright that the eyes themselves shifted into day-mode, using the retinal cones rather than the night-vision rods. Outdoor lighting disturbs the natural rhythm of things—it shakes the body from ancient habit; it takes us outside ourselves. There is a word for the state of being outside oneself. It is “ecstasy.”
Which brings us, as all things have in the past week, to the Electric Daisy Carnival.
One’s first instinct, after all the breathless coverage, is to simply put it behind us. Las Vegas, for better or worse, has never worried quite so much about dehydration, mood-altering substances and the possibility of irresponsible behavior. But the worry served us well through three hot summer nights: A month of warnings, not to mention ubiquitous watering stations, may have kept a few young revelers alive. It’s stylish, once panic has passed, to view it as unwarranted, but advance anxiety has a way of spurring proper preparation.
Somehow, we got this thing right. Cloud-like groups of sloe-eyed girls in bikinis and straw fedoras made their way from the Cosmopolitan to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway; they arrived in small cars painted with pink flowers and the words “Viva Las Vegas”; they shed their aviator glasses and most everything else and danced 10 hours a night as the world slowly melted away. Somewhere, summer jobs were waiting for them on Monday—OK, Tuesday—morning. They had come to Vegas to escape a world of fine print and belt-tightening and odd requests from harried supervisors. This is why people have always come here—the crackling neon sky, sidewalks aglow, the endless illuminated rhythm of the night.
Las Vegas was built for this. We are the electrical antidote to the flatness of fluorescent days. We admire the stars and dare to compete with them. We take the risks that other cities fear—but we take them wisely and prevail where others have failed. The last petal is off the daisy, and the city still stands. Now that we’ve survived those 200,000 kids and their glow sticks, perhaps we should turn similarly panicked eyes to the plywood stands advertising “TNT” in the liquor-store parking lot. Again, it’s time to play, but play smart. The sun sets on Independence Day; America’s neon night awaits. Be safe. Look upward. Exhale.