“Where are you headed?” my cabbie asked innocently enough after picking me up at my Vegas home to take me to the airport. On my way to Costa Rica, I was in a particularly good mood, but my affable driver was confused. “Are you from there?” he asked. It was a weird response, considering Costa Rica’s reputation as a tourist destination, but he pressed on after I told him no: “Is your husband from there?” “Nope, no husband! But actually, I did move to Vegas from there.” I’ve written at length about why I ended up living in paradise during a rough period in my life – and why I moved back to Vegas for my dream job. But, as my confused cabbie at least somewhat understood, we are talking about two very different places with two very different lifestyles. And I had a thought: I have never talked about actually living in Las Vegas.
I was born near Washington, DC and lived in various cities around there and then in Orlando until I was 16. Being the “local” in a tourist town has never bothered me. But Vegas is different, as people associate it with hedonism: gambling, staying out all night, even strip clubs. This may be the “happiest place on earth,” but it has a dark side.
All of this makes us locals chuckle. “How do you do it?” exhausted tourists often ask as they nurse a hangover on Sunday afternoon, as I show up fresh-faced for brunch. The answer is, I don’t.
Outside of a select group of nightclub devotees, most fun-loving locals are on a completely different social rotation than the visitors. We attend private cocktail parties, dinners and galas on the Las Vegas Strip during the week, and for the most part hang out in the suburbs on the weekends when the “weekend warriors” invade town. Yes, living in Vegas is the best of both worlds: Henderson and Summerlin both have great restaurants and bars, plus easy drives to Whole Foods, yoga studios, dry cleaners, etc. It’s funny to me how surprised my friends are who visit me that I have a more “normal” lifestyle than they do, coming in from LA or NYC. And prices are still so low. I have a three-bedroom townhouse-style home with a backyard for my two dogs – for about the same rent than I paid for one closet-less bedroom (of three) that was so narrow I had to get off my bed by scooting to the end, years ago in Manhattan. Yet, the Strip is there when I need it, for shows, amazing dinners, a glass of champagne with friends.
The best things about living in Las Vegas are the unique events we get invited to. We not only have access to all of these great restaurants and shows, but we get invited to be a part of their history, too. When Human Nature opened at Venetian, its producer, Smokey Robinson, sang the finale with them on stage – after the Supremes’ Mary Wilson took a bow and Deniece Williams (“Let’s Hear it for the Boy”) jumped in to sing “My Girl”. No restaurant opens at Wynn or Encore without Mr. Steve Wynn himself making the rounds. And Cirque du Soleil’s “Beatles Love”? I have seen it twice. On both opening night and its five-year anniversary, I sat in awe, watching Paul McCartney bop in his seat, singing every song, as Yoko Ono sat stone-faced nearby.
If I ever leave Las Vegas, I will miss its small town-ness, even though it is one glamorous small town, with unparalleled access to amazing people and unique experiences. Yes, Vegas is a deservedly tourist-luring spectacle with so much to offer wide-eyed visitors.
But actually getting to live there is what’s been the life-changing experience for this local.
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