My first impression was of taupe, tan, plush, dark wood, and cream velveteen. The hotel seemed built with an eye for what someone imagined inoffensive luxury would look like. Everything that wasn’t gleaming stone was either shining metal or carpeted. Staff stood by every door to insulate guests from carrying bags, opening doors or having to walk ten feet alone from the front desk to the concierge. A bronze Richard MacDonald sculpture of a slim, impossibly elegant trumpeter stood alone on a round marble table in front of the elevators. (I ran a finger down the length of her spine, wondering at her musculature. She was pointed a different direction almost every time I went by. Moved by staff or guests, I never found out.) We had lunch on a veranda surrounded by palm trees and water fountains and ignored napkins with a higher thread count than most sheets. Very little felt real.
Thirty:ninth floor. Top button in the lift. As couch-surfing goes, I leveled up. The room was a four minute walk from the elevator. Again with the scale. The closet was big enough to hold a mattress, the bathroom that and half again, and the room was even more meticulously crafted than the hall to imply richness yet stay innocuous. Nothing was brightly coloured or printed with a solid pattern. Nothing looked experimental or even extravagant, but more as if everything had been chosen through focus group. Magazine cover bland and comfortable.
In spite of the obvious tax bracket of untouchable leisure, I rearranged the furniture as soon as I arrived, hauling a heavy glass table aside so the eight-foot sofa could be turned around the face the floor to ceiling window wall. (The bed was gigantic, too, but not mine.) Having such a thing face the room was a waste. The photo here is the view from my pillow of The Strip. Though it was nicer at night, it was more difficult for a phone to photograph.
As an introduction to a trip, I had never experienced anything quite like it. I had expected to be buffered from Vegas toxins by people I like, but I did not expect to be buffered by trickle-down economics as well. Moving from a mattress on the floor of a sketch-fest apartment to one of the aristocratic hotels was a more interesting leap than I am accustomed to. Vegas is decadently artificial, yet there I was, swaddled by an extraordinary amount of care. It didn’t make it better to be in such a place, but it changed the timbre of the thousand cuts I experienced there, a socially conscious mermaid visiting the shores of privilege. For example, the only white skinned workers I could see were the ones who interacted directly with hotel guests. Another, everyone is paid to pause and greet you when you walk by, no matter how involved or strenuous their current task might be. Just by your presence, you interrupt their flow. It’s mandatory. It’s awful. It made me deeply, visibly uncomfortable. My skin crawled a tiny twitch with every hello.
The so-called city of excess, pleasure, and party doesn’t back up what it markets. Be wild! But within very particular measures. Stay up all night! Except that everything is closed by four. Go crazy! But only in ways the powers that be have measured and accounted for. It’s the most proscribed public place I have been.
I was waiting for my ride to the DefCon shoot, an event where a bunch of hackers all ride out into the desert to destroy a variety of targets with advanced and complicated weaponry, when I decided to demonstrate the peculiar boundaries of the city of sin. I had been talking with a friend, tracing in the air the imaginary and artificial cultural box we were standing in. The easiest way to offer my point, though, was to lie down on the ground, so I did. Nothing more complicated than that. I lay down on the polished and sealed cobblestones of the sidewalk next to the valet pick-up of one of the more expensive hotels on the Strip and started counting. I did not look distressed. I did not make any noise. I simply stretched out and waited.
It took less than a minute. Someone was there almost immediately, “Miss, what are you doing? You can’t do that. You have to get up. You are upsetting the people on the cameras.” The man who calls the taxi, hand to his ear, up to an almost invisible microphone, his thirty minute line-up forgotten, less of a priority than I was, peacefully lying on the ground.
Not many places in the first world are so terrifying or for so many reasons.
I am glad I went for a completely different set of events, I’ve come back from Vegas with a lot healed in my head and heart, but I have to admit that little moment was a source of intense satisfaction as well. Part of the way I’m wired declares that it’s important to be able to social hack a place as efficiently as possible. Can’t break the rules properly until they are fully understood.