I had business in Las Vegas the last couple of days. Las Vegas is probably my least favorite city. The conference I attended was lodged in Harrah’s, which meant that no matter where I wanted to go, I had to wade through rows and rows of slot machines, colonies of Keno players, and other assemblages of people who have come from all walks of life to have a good time.
The thing was, not a one of them was smiling. There were young couples, groups of gawking frat boys, middle-aged Italians, elderly singles being pushed by their offspring in wheelchairs, or perhaps hobbling along on walkers. Men and women of all ages, manners of dress, languages and dialects. All had flown to Las Vegas, the sleepless city, the city that knows how to keep a secret, the city of lights and fortunes, and every blessed one of them looked like someone awaiting execution.
Perhaps people have more fun at the shows and restaurants. But you can get better versions of each in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, heck, even Atlanta. No, what sets Las Vegas apart is the gambling, and perhaps the prostitution. Millions of people visit every year, and I wonder, does a one of them find what he is looking for?
Do they even know what they seek?
Which I suppose can be asked of us all, not just the poor souls sitting numbly in front of those cold machines with the pretty, pretty lights. The answer, I think, is that we are seeking something that will fill the great Empty.
It runs right through the middle of you, this emptiness, and though every good writer has tried to describe it, and though we all know it is there, we are most of us terribly afraid to think about it, which is perhaps why a place like Las Vegas can exist at all.