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We're told that the key to America's Economic Recovery is to unleash the engine of the Free Market with Unrestricted Commerce and Consumerism.

There may be some truth in that, but there are some other things too.

As it turned out I was in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to catch Rush in Concert at the MGM Grand.  While there I took time to have a look around, and what I saw was both beautiful and IMO somewhat terrible.

The Fashion Show on the Strip w/ Trump Tower in the Background
As Lewis Black has famously said, sometimes in order to stimulate the economy what you need to do is Build a Big Fucking Thing.

One "Big Fucking Thing" is exactly what Las Vegas is, but as an economic stimulus - can anyone say it's working when Nevada still suffers some of the highest unemployment in the country?

Whether they can "Rebuild That" remains to be seen, but from what I saw - Vegas is certainly doing their best to become the Biggest Fucking Thing around.

(Warning - Very Pic Heavy Diary)

All the iconic Mega-Hotels are still there with some additions.

Trump Tower Obliterated by the Sun, just as it usually is by Facts and Truth
Treasure Island, I'm not thinking "X" marks the Spot.
Harley Davidson Cafe
Paris, Las Vegas & the Not Eiffel Tower
Not the Arch De Triumph...
Hail Caesars
The Fountains at Caesar's the Evel Knieval broke his Pelvis Trying to Jump
The Bellagio and it's Giant Water Ballet
The Mirage
The Venetian, which features it's own Canals which travel through the Hotel
Planet Hollywood
Christmas Tree of Lights
Clearly Vegas has been known as the "Adult Playground", the "Disneyland for Grown-Ups" for a long time.

Now that is quite literally true.  They now have their own Monorail.

Vegas Monorail
The Monorail takes some of the traffic off of the main strip, is fully automated with no actual drivers, but cost $5 per trip.  Day passes are available for $12 and other options are available for longer trip plans.  Having the entire system elevated seems to have simplified construction through an already well populated urban area vs standard train and lightrail systems. The system seems quite new and clean, it runs every five minutes during the day and on the weekends continues service all the way until 3.a.m., then starts again at 6.a.m. (Why bother shutting it down when there are no drivers - is a question I considered but didn't ask).

But the Theme Park Similarity doesn't just stop with the Monorail, they now have Custumed Characters filling the Strip, just as they do in both Disneyland and in Hollywood.

Sponge Bob Square Pants
Not exactly what Bugsy Seagal originally had in mind I would wager, but then again - what bigger and better set of Gangsters are they're to learn from - than Disney?

I found a lot of this rather jarring because my memories of Vegas when I visited with my Mom as a kid was that it was pretty kid hostile, with the sole exception of the Circus Circus Hotel.  Due to Nevada state law no one under 21 can enter a gaming area, except the problem is that almost everywhere is a gaming area. There are gaming areas in the airport, at the local 7-11, at McDonalds.  When I was a kid you could hardly help from accidentally wandering into a gaming area and violating the law.

Bumble-Bee from Transformers
Circus Circus with it's gaming area on the first floor and the full giant arcade taking up the entire second floor of the big top with live circus acts and trapeze on the third floor was a giant safe-zone.  Now that zone has extended all the way down the Strip.
Homer Simpson (Foreground), MIckey & Minnie Mouse (Background) in from of Ceasar's Palace
There's another aspect to this.  From what I could tell these people in costume - unlike Disney - aren't working for any of the casinos or the city.  They've independently decided to purchase a costume - some of them fairly elaborate - and spend the middle of the day hoping to receive tips for people taking a picture with them.  Some - a Spiderman and a Freddy Krueger -  wouldn't let me take a picture without a tip first, until I realized this was how they made their living.

They aren't earning a salary doing this - the tips are their salary.  That's really rough gig.

And also although this was November and relatively mild (about 70 degrees) I'm sure that's got to be a tough gig during the summer months in the middle of the bleedin' DESERT.  I've been to Vegas when it was 110 degrees. In the Shade.

That would be horrible if this was you're only way to put food on the table.

Overall though - Vegas has come a long way to modify the "Sin City" image with great deal of "Family Friendliness".  The main attraction is in many ways no longer just Gambling, it's now Shopping as much of the strip has been converted into a giant mile long outdoor Mall. Starting with the visual megalopolis - the "Fashion Show".

Walking past the Wynn Towers I could see the logos for Cartier & Chanel prominently displayed, not necessarily ads for how loose and generous their Slots were.

Much of the sidewalk has been remodeled into a clean rolling curving (Disney-styled) brick walkway rather than cold grey concrete with years of cigarette and gum stains. (You can see it best in the SpongeBob pic above).

Railings and walls have been put up to prevent people from crossing the street at the corner...

Corner Railings
To help reduce the conflict between foot and automotive traffic foot bridges stretching from one Hotel to another - and sometimes leading directly through a section of that Hotel's own MALL - corralling the foot traffic right to open doors of Neiman Marcus and Cinnabun - have been built.
What's interesting, as these bridges are now public spaces that aren't neccesarily owned by either hotel on either side, is that they've spawned little bazaars of independent commerce, everything from people setting up tables and selling sunglasses or water for a $1 per bottle to homeless panhandlers, busking musicians with drums, guitars and violins, five-card monty games, hustlers with free passes to the local strip clubs and Big Casino Shows and of course - the Jesus is Coming Crowd here to save the Sinners of Sin City.

Yeah, but save them from, and for, what exactly?

The Bazaar on the Bridge

I actually dared to stop and challenge one of the Yellow Sign Carrying guys on the issue of whether Salvation lay in simply invoking magically name "Jesus" as if it were "Abra Cadabra" when you feel you need some magical help in your life, or when you want forgiveness for you wrongs - or does true Salvation come from following in Jesus footsteps, by loving and helping those who are least among us, by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and showing grace and forgiveness for those who transgress against you?

After a short discussion he said - "Ok, you're my Lord now -command me!"

I told him to jump, but he didn't.  He then said, "If you were my Lord, then I would have to Obey you and do as you command."  Which is not that bad an answer, the problem being - for me - that so many people who claim to be "Christian" and are willing to push their ideas onto other people - are following the Commands of Christ.   But that's probably a rant for another time.

In some places, as you can see the crowd was sparse, in others fairly thick.  Lots and lots and I do mean LOTS of people were carrying full shopping bags.

The smell of Money and Commerce was thick. Like fresh Brimstone.

The Cosmopolitan
If you Had Money - you could certainly have the world at your feet.
Giant Chandelier inside the Cosmopolitan which you have to go past due to Pedestrian Bridges
But in the end, Vegas - is an Illusion.  
Nice set of Windows... or are they Windows?
It may be bling-bling and caviar on the Strip, but out in the rest of the city - it's a fairly quietly desperate and depressed city.  Going back and forth to our off-strip Hotel near the Vegas Convention Center I could see street walkers and plenty of shady things going down.
Windows Warping in the Wind?
It's a Giant Digital Billboard for Walgreens
As if you can't already see plenty of Billboards on the side of Buildings, they're literally driving down the Street to get in your face and sell you something.
Billboard Trucks Line the Strip
And when putting the Billboard on the back of a Truck doesn't work anymore, how about on the back of Tricycle or Eight?
Highly Mobile T-Mobile Ads
Even in the Bathrooms at the MGM Grand - They have Digital Signage to Sell you Crap!
Just like the idea of unrestricted and unregulated Capitalism, from the Hustlers and Panhandlers outside on the Street to every inch of the Strip - Vegas is all about the Art of the Hustle.  The promise of getting Rich Quick or Something for Almost Nothing. From a distance it may be very beautiful and inviting...
The Wynn & Encore Double Towers
It's when you get up close that things turn ugly very quickly.


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