Everyone has an opinion the second I mention that I'm from Las Vegas. People feel like it's appropriate to ask: Was your mother a stripper? Where do you people really live? Do you know where I can get blow? It's fairly offensive. For the record: My mother was never a stripper, I live in a pretty cool 1940s house, and I can only find you cocaine in Los Angeles. Sorry.
This is the city where I was raised. It's a charmless place full of strippers, gambling, and alcoholism. If every Beavis and Butthead era Mike Judge character sprang to life in all of their drooling, nasty, shaky-lined glory, I imagine they would all come here and fit right in. Here's why:
Photo by Megan Koester
Everyone Is Drunk
Vegas is a 24-hour liquor town. I've been wasted before 9 AM too many times to remember. There are so few restrictions regarding alcohol consumption in Nevada that being drunk in public is basically a way of life.
Most of my friends were problem drinkers by the time they turned 18, myself included. I would give a lot of rides during high school—not because I was being nice, but because so many of my friends lost their licenses by almost killing themselves or someone else while operating a vehicle under the influence. Las Vegas' roads are filled with drunk drivers. The light poles on certain valley streets are bent or knocked down every few miles like matchbook prongs. These are large physical reminders that drinking plus driving equals bad.
But never fear, dears. This place has just as many ambulance-chasing lawyers as it does drunk teenagers. In a wreck? Need a check? Call up your 'roided out ex-sports star of choice. There are plenty who live here and own law offices that specialize in suing the living shit out of people.
Women Dress Terribly
Grown ass women of Las Vegas look like wanna-be Kim Kardashian duplicates most of the time. When they aren't singlehandedly supporting the spray tan industry, ladies of Vegas like to impersonate overweight Bettie Page. No one looks normal. How do men respond to these idealized versions of sexpots? As it happens, not very well. In 2011, Nevada had the highest rate of domestic violence murders by men against women in all of the US.
This attitude drips down to a street level. Catcalling happens everywhere, but there is a huge difference between leering and hollering like a heina. Every dude who comes here seems to think it's okay to act like a royal douche to everyone he encounters, women especially. More than once, I've been asked, "Oh, you're from Las Vegas? Were you on a stripper scholarship?" Because so many girls living in this shitty excuse of a city actually strip to pay tuition. As a kid, I remember driving past billboards featuring vacant-eyed, bobble-headed women with advertising copy that read: "OUR GIRLS DO IT ALL" and "LOOSEST SLOTS AND SLUTS IN TOWN."
As you can imagine, dating is a nightmare. I recently moved back home after a stint in NYC, and my pool of options shrank considerably. It's a major dumpster-diving-for-dick situation for all the straight ladies. Please send help.
At Home I Feel Like a Tourist
If you think your small town bar scene sucks at home, you've very obviously never spent time in this glitter gulch. The amount of bars not chock full of tourists or video poker machines can be counted on one hand. Casinos own absolutely everything in sight. If something even remotely cool pops up, we have to enjoy it while it lasts because chances are it will be gobbled up by one of those cheesy and generic institutions or some E to F-list celebrity.
Case in point: one of my favorite local bars was recently bought by Darin Feinstein—owner of the extremely uncool Viper Room in LA, and Corey Harrison—a cast member on Pawn Stars. Only the old guy from Duck Dynasty or Guy Fieri would have been more eye-roll-inducing investors. At least Guy graduated from the University of Nevada. Bars that were once not-that-bad are now filled with monster truck bros. The countdown to Vince Neil karaoke and TGI Friday's-style bar food starts now.
If anyone knows of a Vegas bar that isn't overrun with mouth-breathing What Not To Wear candidates, please tell me about it. I have come to enjoy hanging out in old man bars just to avoid the sheen of hair gel and Britney Spears' signature perfume.
Photo by Megan Koester
The "Vegas" You Think You Know Isn't Even In Las Vegas
That's right, folks. The only part of Vegas that people ever see—the Strip—is actually located south of the city limits, in the unincorporated towns of Paradise and Winchester. These areas don't actually have a municipal authority, which gave developers free reign to build up the exorbitant hotels and casinos along the Strip. Las Vegas proper, to the north, is where most of the people live—in dusty desert communities devoid of all the glamour of the hotels and casinos. That said, you'd never know that the Strip isn't technically "Vegas." Even the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is located half a mile south of the Mandalay Bay entrance because apparently Paradise, Nevada is the only version of Vegas that matters.
Downtown Is a Joke Downtown
In the past few years, a sudden change has occurred in this neighborhood. Gone are the shoddy 7-11s we used to loiter near while bumming for cigarettes, and the bombed-out hooker coffin motels. These dusty gems have been replaced with concert halls that look like the backstage scene in Wayne's World and brunch restaurants. Oh yes, the brunch phenomenon has finally hit the Las Vegas Valley. We are pretty much Los Angeles' ugly little poseur stepsister who was left in the desert to rot and also be completely behind in everything from fashion to craft beer and cocktail worship.
So the city is rapidly gentrifying, but much like the rest of this corporate-spawned wasteland, our sad little downtown is being snatched up and bought by an "entrepreneur." In a real estate fever only a dot-com dweeb could catch, Zappos darling Tony Hsieh has purchased most of the buildings and abandoned lots in this pocket of the 'burg. So far, I've seen a park built entirely of storage containers go up that hosted a $50-a-head Sheryl Crow concert. This kind of development will push out the below-poverty-line residents from their weekly motel rooms to make space for specialty candle shops and more brunch spots.
There are a handful of people who want to make a difference downtown—as in make a huge profit on businesses that are such long-term gambles it's insane. I can hear the board meetings now: "Instead of funding arts or helping the homeless in this area, we should totally parking lot the shit out of it! Art is hard! Building a shoddy version of Downtown Disney is way easier!"
High Schools Look Like Prisons
Nevada has the 13th highest incarceration rate in the US. This is probably because Vegas schools are windowless, cinderblock buildings that alternate between freezing and sweltering temperatures. I remember going to school and feeling like I was definitely being prepped for prison. Sure, plenty of people felt like this in high school, but did the architecture resemble an actual cellblock? The classrooms in my school district were so overcrowded that we'd have certain classes in non air-conditioned trailers in the parking lot. Some days, our dress code was waived because otherwise kids would pass out due to heat exhaustion during remedial geometry.
At least a quarter of my asshole schoolmates did end up in the clink. That is, if they didn't drop out first. Las Vegas' graduation rate is the worst in the nation at 63 percent, which means that not only are we surrounded by future criminals, but they are future criminals who can't read.
"Classy" Doesn't Exist Here
I went to a sex club in a strip mall a few days ago. Mainly just to have the experience, possibly write a Yelp review, and to feel a bit better about myself. My partner and I walked in on what I could only interpret as Martin Luther King's dream come to life. Two gigantic black women were in a dungeon-themed room, one in chains while the other went to town on her junk. Twenty or so various men of different ages, races, and walks of life were sitting or standing around jacking off over the scene. As I lost a little bit of respect for everyone involved (including myself), a part of Dr. King's dreamy speech echoed in my inebriated mind. "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
On the way bright side, weed is finally being legalized. Maybe I will just become a stripper after all, buy a house, and see how it all pans out. That's classy, right?
What Happens in Vegas Stays In Vegas
Whether it's for a bachelor party or some kid's 21st birthday, everyone comes here to lose their inhibitions and go fucking crazy. It's called Sin City for a reason. People often forget that there are still laws here, like this asshole who beheaded a guinea fowl at the Flamingo's Wildlife Habitat for sheer amusement. As the saying goes, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas—but when live here, you're stuck cleaning up after all the other people who treat the city like a toilet.
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This post was updated on October 6, 2016.