Outage and Outrage

On the evening of July 3, a storm swept over the Las Vegas Valley and shut off the power at Cashman Field. The baseball game was canceled, but 5,000 fans lingered in the gathering darkness for the fireworks show. Maybe it was just the beauty of lightning at work, or the holiday mood, or, as baseball novelist W.P. Kinsella would have it, “the thrill of the grass,” but the night was a model of patience and persistence for a city that needs both.

By July 6, the Strip had hosted its third murder in 11 days—a one-punch killing outside an O’Sheas restroom. Later that day, a gunman wounded seven guests at the funeral for the victim of a June 25 stabbing. The June 25 killing, and another on July 4, had taken place on Strip pedestrian bridges—those gleaming shared spaces over the boulevard, steel-and-concrete victories for the safety of the lowly urban walker. After the third killing, a Metro Police captain told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the killings were an anomaly, and proclaimed the Strip safe. Then he said that when drunk people are too close to each other, fights are inevitable. But if drinkers in close proximity will inevitably fight, and perhaps kill, one another, we cannot logically call the killings an anomaly. What we can call them is a logical, if extreme, result of behavior that is not only customary but encouraged on the Strip.

Of course, three people are not killed every 11 days on the Strip. Some miraculous mix of self-restraint and security presence keeps the peace. And here’s where the captain may have had it wrong: Proximity, up to a point, is a peacekeeper. Strip culture, with its invitation to intemperate preening, might bring people to the brink of blows, but it also binds revelers in a mutual surveillance that generally keeps things from going off the rails. At first glance, it’s a wonder that 37 million tipsy visitors don’t kill one another more often, but all those eyes have a way of wakening the last vestiges of self-control. In a town that bets on the id, a little shame can go a long way. Community puts the gentle in the gentleman.

Which brings us back to that baseball crowd. Through 29 summers of electrical storms, never had a ballgame been powered out at Cashman Field. And now it had happened on fireworks day—the one day fans would be loath to take the rain check and come back on dollar-beer night. But they were in it together; no one likes bitching at a ballpark. For an hour, they sat in the dark and watched the lightning over their Valley and their insolvent municipalities and their underwater homes. They sat peaceably through the unprecedented outage while strange violence brewed on the Strip. They waited as a community, hoping that if they just held on long enough, they would glimpse the rockets’ red glare.

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Armon Gilliam, one of the greatest players in UNLV basketball history, died from an apparent heart attack during a pickup basketball game outside Pittsburgh on July 5. Fans will remember him as an indomitable power forward who led the Rebels to a 37-2 record and the NCAA Final Four in 1987. But many Las Vegans have fond recollections of Gilliam off the court as well. Here are some of ours: