Leaving Las Vegas

It probably says something strange about my psyche that, unable to sleep as late as I could before departing for home, I had to get out of bed and write down the post percolating in my head.  At least it speaks to why I would choose to visit Las Vegas to hang out with a bunch of guys (and several of their lovely, lovely wives) who spend their time writing for a political-ish blog.  In any case, I wanted to preserve my fleeting impressions in amber before they faded too much into mist.

I’ll start with both the easiest and most important part.  Meeting everyone has been a total blast.  Up until now, I’ve existed in an odd limbo in relation to my colleagues at the League, where I pretty much considered them friends, but hadn’t met them in real life and so felt a little weird about calling them that.  It is wonderful to be able to erase the qualifiers and simply say that they’re my friends.  These guys are great, as are the spouses I was lucky enough to meet.  Seriously, just the smartest, nicest, funniest guys.  I don’t know why it was a little bit jarring to realize that nobody really looks like their Gravatars (I don’t resemble mine particularly closely), but once I got over the fact that Burt isn’t really yellow everything was just fun and easy and relaxed in the best possible way.  I really hope I get to spend time with these people again.  (Special tip of the hat to Jason for giving me an interpretation of “2666” that, if it doesn’t make me like it per se, at least lets me hate it less.  And to Scott for having theories about “Infinite Jest” that would never have occurred to me in a million, billion years.  And to Pat for explaining to me what a “point spread” is in a way I understand.  And, of course, to Burt for making it all happen in the first place.)

I am so lucky to be part of this group.

With that said, I can move on to my thoughts about Las Vegas.  I had never been here before, and… wow.  After several years as a New Yorker, I developed a deep aversion to being mistaken for a tourist.  (At least I think that’s a New Yorker thing.)  That sensibility is completely pointless in Vegas.  Everyone knows you’re a tourist.  There’s no point in being here if you’re not a tourist.  So go ahead and gawk at the rococo gaudiness of it all.  That’s what it’s there for.

Las Vegas does over-the-top in a way I couldn’t ever have imagined.  Everything is covered in layer of hard candy, festooned with blinking lights and surrounded by speaker pounding out dance music.  People wander around with giant open containers of frozen neon intoxicants nearly as tall as they are.  When on Friday night we asked our waiter where we could find a nice bar for everyone to meet later where it wasn’t loud and people could talk, he was genuinely confounded.  It’s loud everywhere, and why would people want to talk in a bar?  This city is like the world’s most glorious migraine.

What makes Vegas so remarkable for me is its utter, utter shamelessness.  Numerous times I said “hello” and smiled politely to someone on an elevator or something, and they’d return the greeting and ask matter-of-factly “are you partying later?” in the manner of “how are you?”  It was… disconcerting.  It felt rather like meeting Queen Elizabeth and saying “Gee, sister, those jewels you’re wearing sure must cost a lot.”  Well, yes.  But we don’t really talk about it, do we?  In Vegas, talking about it is like talking about the weather.

My thoughts cycled rapidly between “I can’t believe they have X here” and “Of course they have X here.”  A Parisian arrondissement?  But of course.  A miniature, Crayola-colored New York skyline?  You bet.  A multi-story wine tower up and down which stewards rappel on cables?  Check.  A gigantic chandelier in which is found a bar?  Right this way.  Ad infinitum.

This jumble almost seems to make its own kind of sense.  Almost.  When strolling through the streets of an ersatz Paris, one might encounter a gigantic slot machine with a Batman theme right next to a couple of go-go dancers atop a bar.  (It was my first time seeing real, live go-go dancers.  Ok, fine… real, live female go-go dancers.  I had the strange impulse to blush and avert my gaze.)  What that has to go with France is anyone’s guess.  And so it is with the sphinx, which is next to Camelot, which is across the street from the Statue of Liberty (and roller coaster!), and so on.  It almost manages to seem comprehensible.

And yet, despite the relentless good cheer of almost everyone I encountered (which really didn’t seem at all forced) (with the notable exception of the waiter in LVH’s Paradise Cafe, who gave me the look of death for having the temerity to ask for a glass of water) and despite the energy devoted to fun, FUN, FUN! it began to have the opposite effect on me.  It just began to make me feel weary and melancholy (the latter relieved by regular doses of wonderful company), and whatever vestigial introvert dwells within me began to come out.  It couldn’t have helped that I missed my husband and son, or that I didn’t sleep well or enough.  But even so, I wonder if my temperament is really suited to this kind of leisure.  I vacillated between finding the whole place outrageously awesome and deeply repellant, and I wonder if with more time I’d have become a drag on the people around me.

I am so glad I went.  I am deeply happy to have met these friends of mine, whose company I cannot wait to share again.  I am delighted to have seen this place with my own two eyes.  But it’s time to go home.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Thank you for this bittersweet postcard, Russell. You captured so much that resonates with me, all in a few short paragraphs. On the footbridge to “New York” yesterday I found myself asking Tod, “but are any of these people happy?”. And then, as if to remind me that I can find my own delight in any small moment I choose, the first people to next cross our path were a young couple with a little kid, smiling broadly and in fact looking quite happy as they made their way through the sea of humanity…
    And, right back at you with the kind words about the fine company that we’ve all enjoyed these past couple of days! I’d been looking so forward to meeting you and the whole gang, and I had a lovely time!

    • It was such a treat to meet you.

      I think that there are plenty of ways to be happy in Vegas if you’re inclined to be that way already. Indeed, I was mostly happy most of the time. (Though frankly I think my happy moments were related to the people I was with, and not so much to the shiny shininess everywhere.) But in those moments when I was wistful or a little too tired for my own good, man I could have used a quiet space to just sit and collect myself. For everything else Vegas has in grand supply, those opportunities seem thin on the ground.

  2. I loved this post for a few reasons, one of which is that I felt precisely these feelings the first couple of times we visited Las Vegas (or at least they were so close to the same feelings I can’t tell the difference). Over time, in the context of a decade’s worth of it being the place someone we love most wanted to live, my feelings shifted. The someone in question said to me once: “People are naked here. Pure want, pure greed, whatever – they don’t cover it up. And once you get used to it, you realize they’re just as much people as anyone else is, whether they ever put their clothes back on or not.” Perhaps that sounds cynical? It was certainly partially inspired by the locale in which we were having the conversation. And yet, it rather perfectly sums up his deeply generous way of being in the world. It stuck with me well enough that I suspect it’s at the root of my response to the absurd pageantry of the city these days: I slide into the sort of meditative state where the louder it gets, the calmer I feel.

    Adding the delightful presence of all y’all to the mix was the finest possible icing on the cake.

    • Yay! You commented!

      At the risk of being repetitive (and some things are worth repeating), I am so, so pleased to have met you. It was delightful.

      And I actually did find something refreshing about Vegas’ ability to be totally up-front with its appetites. “Look,” it says, “we all know you’re here because you want a particular kind of naughtiness that’s not readily available anywhere else. And here that’s totally OK.” It really did seem to me that the people who worked there actually wanted people to have a good time, and weren’t just saying that. (It could just be that they’re all very good at their jobs in that regard.) And I hope this post doesn’t seem judgmental of the people who go there to have fun. Life is too short to avoid fun.

      I think a lot of my reaction stems from two facts about myself. First, a large part of my soul is occupied by an aged, British spinster librarian who’s convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket. (This has been true of me since I was about seven.) It made me want to bash the people ogling the go-go dancers over the head with an umbrella, despite the fact that ogling is a perfectly acceptable pastime in that context. I’m sure the librarian would have adjusted to the new environment over time.

      Second, “oy, enough already” is almost a personal motto with me. I think it numerous times a day, for one reason or another. There is no such thing as “enough already” in Vegas.

      • The image of you as an aged, umbrella-wielding, British spinster librarian has been amusing the heck out of me while I’ve been reading certain of your more emphatic posts. (I’ve been browsing widely in the archives these past few days.)

        FWIW, also, I didn’t think the OP was you being judgmental; I thought it was nuanced and striking.

  3. It sounds like the Leaguefest would have been fun to go to, but I think my reaction might have been similar to yours. I get overwhelmed very quickly in social situations, even when I’m around close friends, and I need to slink off somewhere quiet for a few hours to recharge.

  4. I’ve been to Vegas twice, the first time I was 24, the second time I was 28. Both times I left feeling like I’d burned a year off my life, but even near the end of my second trip, I knew I was too old to get the most out of it…

  5. Great post. It was wonderful to meet you and all the others. We’re still here, but I spent just about all of yesterday in bed. Too much for the old immune system to take, I guess.

    We’re already talking about next year’s Leaguefest. DC perhaps? Or Montauk?

    • Right back atcha, man.

      And I would obviously be partial to a location on the East Coast. I don’t know Montauk from a hole in the ground, but I love DC.

      • Although I’m rooting for DC, Montauk is absolutely unbelievably gorgeous.

  6. If you insist on talking about how fun Leaguefest was, more people are going to want to go to the next one.

  7. Like I said, Vegas is missing an old London-style social club, where it is quiet and people drink at the bar and talk about horse racing or play whist in the courtyard or… if they’re feeling a bit knockered, just catch a shameless nap in the big chair next to the fireplace in the library.

    If we ever do a meet up with gambling again, we should go to Reno. There’s nature things to do there.

  8. I’ve spent the last two days recovering, and I’m still not sure I’m totally ready for the week. I had a blast, but you’ve captured my feelings about this weekend pretty much perfectly.

  9. Someone should stage an event for sock puppets…

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