Viva Las Vegas!

“Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money that's ready to burn,
So get those stakes up higher
There's a thousand pretty women waitin out there
And they're all livin devil may care
And Im just the devil with love to spare”

Of course, you recognize those lines which Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman penned in 1964.  Elvis Presley sang them first.  Many different renditions followed including ZZ Top, Wayne Newton, Engelbert Humperdinck, U2, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, The Killers, and The Dead Kennedys.  Given that diversity of performers, each of us probably has a personal favorite version of “Viva Las Vegas.”

“Viva Las Vegas” also is the event title for Rockabilly Weekend.  In fact, when you Google (is the verb capitalized?) “Viva Las Vegas,” Rockabilly Weekend is the first item that pops up on the computer screen -- at least on this week’s algorithm.  The Orleans Hotel & Casino hosts the event each Easter.  This is the sixteenth year.

The Orleans is west of The Strip but not too far.  We will have more about that and Rockabilly Weekend later.

Las Vegas Boulevard (South) is The Strip.  To many, it IS Las Vegas even though it is south of the city limits.  Mega casinos.  Bright lights.  Flashing signs.  Snarled traffic.  Noisy and bustling.  Nightly fireworks at the Treasure Island.  Water displays at the Bellagio.  A semi-replica of the Eiffel Tower.  People everywhere.  Swarms of people!

Interestingly, The Strip has at least two distinct feels.  The north end, where the Thunderbird, El Rancho Vegas, and Stardust once stood, no longer has much vitality at all.  The glitzy casinos upon which Las Vegas was built now are mostly vacant lots.  A renovation of the Sahara is to be completed by the Fall of 2014.  Circus Circus and the Riviera are antiquated and dwarfed by the newer high rise casinos built to the south. 

The Stratosphere more or less anchors the north end of The Strip and is a bit more than two miles away from the bronze shimmer of Wynn towers, which stand on the site of the once iconic Desert Inn.  They are the line of demarcation between the old Strip and The Strip portrayed on CSI.  In between are souvenir stores, some nondescript non-casinos, the abandoned shells of half-constructed casinos, and buffet-style restaurants for just about every style of ethnic food you can imagine.  East Indian.  Mexican.  Korean.  Barbeque.  Sushi.  Kosher.

The two-mile walk down The Strip from the Stratosphere to the Wynn allows you to see some of the Vegas humanity.  They are not the happy, well-dressed folks who appear in ads or whom the Chamber of Commerce wants to represent the city.  They do not seem to be having a good time.  Instead, they are people asking for change with hand-lettered cardboard signs expressing their poverty, bad luck, hunger, or need.  People looking for a bush or a semi-private place to urinate.  Women in form-fitting spandex that accentuates every roll of fat.  People handing out fliers for shows, strip clubs, adult entertainment, and restaurant discounts.

That stretch of The Strip shows the throwaway nature of our society, Las Vegas’ continuing search for the latest and greatest gimmick to draw visitors, and how hard the 2008 recession hit a city built on tourism, gambling, and hedonism.  But it was not without humor.  One cardboard sign was neatly hand-lettered and read, “Aliens took my weed.  I need lots of money to replace it.”

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