I wasn’t missing Las Vegas when I climbed aboard the red and gold trolley chugging up Powell Street. (There was just room for three, so my sister, my mother and I squeezed on board among two dozen other passengers. I inhaled as if trying to slide into a dress I swore looked big enough on the hanger.)
And I wasn’t missing Las Vegas when I was enjoying a temperature that hovered in the mid-50s. (It felt as if the city of more than 800,000 had secretly decided that, if they just left their refrigerator doors open and the AC on all night, it would stop global warming.)
And I certainly wasn’t missing Las Vegas amid the chorus of frantic car horns and ghostly trolley bells. (They were a welcome replacement for the sweet and romantic melodies of slot machines.)
I wasn’t missing Las Vegas at all. It was my last spring break of college, and my first trip to San Francisco. While gallivanting around the city in trolleys and taxis, I kept comparing this strange land with home. It was almost a sort of test. I was looking to be convinced of what my friends — and even my own mother — had told me: That I’d want to leave Vegas for Frisco. I couldn’t help but look for what my friends knew I’d find: That somethin’ somethin’ that made the city alluring, sexy and unique. I found plenty of that somethin’ somethin’ here: They honk more in San Fran, they like their shoes, history and parks (complete with buffalo herds and unicorns). And they like their hills. The sightseeing bus’s pre-recorded audio tour voice claimed that San Franciscans think their hills are charming. (Lies! They’re steep, feet-bleeding paths of death.) The Victorian-style houses are charming, though, as are the men.
Maybe they were right — those friends and relatives whose predictions blared in my ears like a “Bohemian Rhapsody” chorus that was nearly unanimous: You’ll never want to come back. You’re gonna hate Vegas when you return. Oh mama mia, mama mia!
But that never happened. Sure, I noticed the differences. I saw why everyone would say I’d want to stay there. But my heart belongs in Vegas.
We took a late flight back. Frankly, I was relieved. I thought of all the characteristics that make Vegas wonderful. How the theme of Vegas is themes, and how no one really understands the city like locals do. How Vegas bottles up its real charm. Sure, the Strip is big and magnificent, like a porn star’s breast implants, but only locals know that around that four-mile stretch of cleavage there’s real personality. San Francisco, on the other hand, knows it’s brainy and beautiful, but it’s far too self-absorbed in its awesomeness. In all the glorification of the city, it kind of lost itself in trying to be taken too seriously.
Vegas, though, has always been lost — and has never been serious. It’s carefree by nature. (Which, judging by our voter turnout, isn’t always a good thing.) There’s no sense of immediacy or ownership. Because the majority of people in Vegas came from somewhere else, their hearts belong somewhere else. That means any culture that develops here is almost an accident — and if you care about Vegas and culture, you have to be daring enough to find it. Maybe it’s that challenge that makes the city worthwhile.
As the plane descended into McCarran, I laughed under my breath at the group of twentysomethings blasting music from a cell phone and getting warmed up Dixie cups of in-flight booze. They were excited for all the reasons I wasn’t.
I had my own reasons for excitement. I looked over the shoulder of my sister, who was holding the window seat hostage with her butt. The city sparkled. I said to her, “Vegas is the prettiest city.” But I was probably saying it more to myself.
Gregan Wingert is the Desert Companion intern and a UNLV journalism major. Next spring break: Cancun!