Lessons From Afar

In the spirit of the season, here’s what we learned on our summer vacations—and what it might mean for Las Vegas

The wheels keep on turning

Just before the family trip back to my homeland, we had run the story of “The Vegas Wheel” on these pages (June 30), so I was primed for perspective when we did the ultimate touristy thing in Chicago: ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier.

Going in, I felt that the wheel wasn’t a good fit for the Strip. Why would a place renowned for audacious spectacle turn to an attraction that was an audacious spectacle nearly 120 years ago? The wheel debuted at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair—a showcase of humankind’s aspirations—where it delighted millions of visitors who also learned about the exciting potential of electricity. Why, in our greatest hour of economic need, would our cutting-edge city resort to such an unoriginal stunt? In other places, it’s a fine idea—like in the city where it was invented.

And so after our ride, which slowly took us up to 150 feet for amazing summertime views of Lake Michigan and the breathtaking Chicago skyline, I realized that, well … a Ferris wheel is still not a good fit for Las Vegas. We don’t have the skyline, we don’t have the lake, and we might be the only city windier than Chicago.

Then, the very day I came home, I read that a second Ferris wheel had been proposed for the Strip. — Phil Hagen

Inspiration from the Gipper

Set aside for a moment your opinions about Ronald Reagan’s legacy and whether a museum should be as comprehensive as possible. You have to admire the showmanship, the storytelling and the patriotism on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif., which includes a pavilion housing a retired Air Force One jet.

Yes, it’s his finely scripted story, the way he would want it. So as expected, there’s no mention of his first wife, no review of Iran-Contra, no outtakes or bloopers. On a hill with a majestic view, the museum contains a room screening harrowing footage of the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt, displays dedicated to his “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Berlin and a replica of the Oval Office. Original art, state gifts, clothing, letters and other memorabilia are placed throughout the site, which includes a large piece of the Berlin Wall and the president’s grave.

The attraction executes its mission perfectly and provides one template for how to think about the Mob Museum: Up-to-the minute technology, blended with thoughtfully curated artifacts, provide an immersive experience into the sights and sounds of a polarizing era, and interactive features such as a Teleprompter let visitors feel a part of the action. Even better, the Mob Museum can be a whole lot less constrained about telling the dark side of the story—after all, that’s the best part. — Paul Szydelko

Vegas moments

In this magazine, we have a regular feature called “Vegas Moment.” It is a two-page photograph that captures one of the million unique instances that, when collaged together, create this week in your city. These moments arise from vibrant public places, full of interesting things to look at and diverse people crossing paths. The problem is, outside the nexus of the Strip and downtown, the sidewalks of our city are something of a sensory deprivation zone—they tend to hide their Vegas Moments, daring the eye to look closer. Over time, I embraced the challenge and came to believe my neighborhood sidewalks were as full of Moments as any other sidewalks in any other town. It was a sort of Zen state of total acceptance.

Then I had to go and ruin it all by going on vacation. It all came crashing down during a walk along Santa Monica’s Main Street. For an eight-block stretch, both sides of the narrow road were filled with brightly painted shops and gateways to hidden courtyards. There were strange tin toys behind plate-glass windows. The streets smelled of coffee, beer and handmade soap. And—in the middle of the world capital of commuter civilization—people were walking, everywhere, on a Thursday afternoon. Finally, my 10-year-old son, a budding photographer, looked up in delight from his battered old Nikon.

“Dad, there are so many Vegas Moments here!” he said. “Too bad it’s not Las Vegas.” — Greg Blake Miller

Rebel town

As I walked into Angel Stadium in Anaheim in mid-August, I was absorbed into a stream of red-clad fans who, like me, had come to watch the Angels defeat the lowly Baltimore Orioles. The feeling of being surrounded by so many like-minded people was comforting. They came wearing Torii Hunter jerseys and carrying their rally monkeys—true believers, those Angel fans—and I found myself wondering why Las Vegas can’t establish that kind of camaraderie.

Even something as cherished as UNLV basketball somehow brings division in our city, most notably this past spring, when the hiring of Dave Rice over Reggie Theus as the team’s new coach led to heated sniping among longtime fans. The hire even drew criticism from Rebels legend Jerry Tarkanian, who coached both men at UNLV but disturbingly went public with his unalloyed support of Theus. What does it say about Las Vegans if we can’t even come together on the one passion we share? With our city taking plenty of shots from outsiders on everything from our economy to education to health care, maybe it’s time for us to realize that we’re all playing for the same team. — Sean DeFrank