Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Las Vegas

PBS is running a two-part documentary on Las Vegas this week. The timeline jumps back and forth between the history of Vegas and the present. We watched Part One last night, and historic-timeline-wise, it ended with the immediate post-Rat Pack era. The coming attractions for tonight's episode showed how Vegas fell out of favor during the late Sixties-early Seventies.

The first Vegas I can remember as a little child was the post-Atomic, Frank-Dean-Sammy making Ocean's 11 Vegas. I had never been there, but we all knew what it was: It looked like Miami, you went there to gamble, and it had singers and comics and ladies who took their clothes off. Things that would normally be considered "bad" to do were somehow okay in Vegas, because it was some kind of make-believe place where adults pretended things.

By the time I was a teenager, "Vegas" stood for everything that was wrong with the Establishment. Nobody who was as honest as an Earth shoe went to Vegas, and no bands featured on FM radio played there. Now, of course, there are plenty of oldies shows in Vegas featuring those same bands, or whichever ones have enough surviving members and brain cells.

Today's revived Vegas has elephantiasis. The emphasis is on extravaganzas. But the fundamentals are still there: The gambling, the entertainment, and judging from the latest commercial where two young lovelies are introducing themselves to a series of men as various cartoon and sitcom characters, there are still plenty of things grown-ups can pretend.

According to Marc Cooper, whose blog I read on a regular basis, Las Vegas is the most honest place in America. Cooper wrote a book by that name, and is one of the commenters on the documentary. "Las Vegas is a place where the currency...is currency."

The Vegas that interests me most is the one presented in the documentary by the hotel housekeeper, the cocktail waitress turned realtor, and the showgirl who moved from New York, where she was barely surviving as a dancer. This is a working woman's Vegas, where jobs are plentiful, you can make a decent living and get a good house, and even raise a family. These are the locals who are living in the real Las Vegas, a place where you can make the American Dream come true.

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