Dr. Strange-town or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Las Vegas

I’m sure I’m not the first to say that Las Vegas is a very strange place. It is an amazing, exciting, vibrant place to be, and you can have a great time there, but you do have to learn how to consciously overlook the Ick Factor.

By which I mean that on your way to watching the sun set over the Strip through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the sleek steel-and-hardwood bar on the twenty-third floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where you will be drinking a $16 signature cocktail, you will nevertheless have to run a gauntlet on the street below of poor immigrants peddling business cards with the phone numbers for hookers. People of unfortunate circumstances making money off other people in unfortunate circumstances–very sad. You will have to pass by said hookers dressed as sexy cops in leather and handcuffs. Very sad. You will have to pass by obvious meth addicts asking for money. You will have to pass by people who in everyday life are probably bus drivers, accountants and bank tellers, all making complete drunken asses of themselves in public. Ick.

sunset from the bar on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental
the Strip at Sunset from the Mandarin Oriental Bar

But then you enter the soothing and peaceful cocoon of the hotel, and, without having to pass through a casino for a change, you take an equally quiet elevator to the bar in time to watch the clouds turn crimson, the same colour as your cocktail, and all seems right with the world.

I went for a long walk along the Strip one crisp, clear day. Distances are deceptive in Vegas and I ended up walking for much longer than I had planned. So I decided to treat myself to a lunch at the Venetian Hotel, which was where I happened to be when I got hungry.

Canaletto restaurant, canalside at the Venetian

The Venetian has a replica Grand Canal that winds its way throughout the hotel. You can even pay for a gondola ride. There’s a restaurant where you can dine overlooking the Canal.  And as I sat there, drinking a glass of Pinot Grigio and eating a very good pesto gnocchi, and staring at the clouds on the faux-finished ceiling, I could almost let myself believe that it was Venice at sunset.

The faux-finished clouds by the Grand Canal at the Venetian, in the distance

Except that if you look closely enough, you start to see little dots in the clouds, and if you look closer still, you can discern that the dots are actually security cameras and smoke alarms and the occasional dark spot where perhaps a cover has fallen off. And except that the real Grand Canal isn’t inside a shopping mall. So you can’t look too hard at the illusion after all. It’s like when Neo realizes he’s living inside the Matrix.

Clouds up close at the Venetian.

And that’s how I learned to love Las Vegas. For the brief time I was there, I resolved to let myself live inside the Matrix. Not like Neo, who wants to get out once he knows the truth, but like the traitorous Cypher, who prefers steak to gruel, and takes blissful ignorance over reality. I went to the glitzy shows, I drank the champagne, I ate the artistically prepared gourmet cuisine.

But still the nagging questions kept intruding. Viewing that pstunning psunset from the Twenty-Third Pstory, after I had walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Meth and had been led beside the still waters of the Grand Canal–why am I so lucky that my cup of signature $16 cocktail runneth over? Why am I so lucky that goodness and mercy follow me all the days of MY life, and not the lives of those below? Was this sunset real or are there matrices upon matrices?

“Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation.”  –Dr. Strangelove

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