203 Las Vegas, NV: Bellagio

[The Bellagio]

Outside of the gallery room, the Bellagio looked like a cross between a mall and a spa. Domestic adornments like vases on pedestals rubbed elbows with brightly lit store display cases. There must be some connection between shopping to get an object for your money to make up for gambling losses, where you get nothing for your money. The restaurant in the Bellagio was called "Picasso," but I had to skip the prix fixe dinner; it was ninety dollars. Hopper portrayed late-night cafes and automats, but Las Vegas was king of hotel buffets, from down-home grub to haute cuisine.

Even though I was there in mid-September, when temperatures in other parts of the country were moderating, in this Nevada desert, the uncomfortably hot sun drove me in out of it, which partly explains how they can get people into casinos. The Bellagio's casino was like most. Dealers sporting tuxedos stood behind green felt tabletops beneath gaudy chandelier lights, ready for someone to come along and play a game of poker. Slot machines sang out a cacophonous variety of tunes, sounding like an Amazonian jungle at mating time. Nickel slots ringed the outside, near the show attractions. Then the quarter slots, dollar slots, poker tables, craps tables, etc. As you go deeper into the casino, you go deeper into the commitment to your gambling. The music gets more maniacal as the night goes on too, and the gambling fever builds.

It was only women by the roulette wheel. I watched a player win thirty-five dollars and one lose the same; neither batted an eye. People staring straight ahead at slot machines were isolated from each other even though they were one foot away from each other. They dreamed of winning, and a statue of the goddess of victory stands tall on The Strip. We forget that Nike is winged because she alights on someone's shoulders but flies away just as quickly.

Everywhere hovered security men behind shaded glasses, each with a wire from one ear to his suit. I wanted to interview a dealer, but they were not allowed by management, who also refused my requests. So I instead interviewed two greeters: a short woman named Eva from Ewa Beach, Hawaii and a beefy guy named Major from Glendale, California. All employees in this town showed off nametags saying where they came from, and almost none read "Las Vegas." I've never met a place that seemed prouder not to have any natives. They identify so much with being displaced that their only pro sports team's mascot is an alien: the 151's, named after nearby area 151, where UFOs are said to land.

When I asked about isolation in Vegas, Eva squinted, "Do you mean like from other cities and stuff?"

"From other people," I told her.

"I think so. Everybody seems nice," she smirked. "But that's because people are paid to be nice to you here."

Major chimed in. "I don't even know my own neighbors. Basically everyone just keeps to their own. They just try to get their work done. Like she said, your work is you get paid to be friendly! It's difficult dealing with all the visitors when you're not working. We're like, 'learn how to drive.' 'Get off the street!' They bring road rage from other cities. People can't drive in this town. A lot of pedestrians get run over every year."

Like its casino, the Bellagio's wedding chapel was also typical for this town where every day 450 couples overcome isolation by getting married. Some opt for the ease of the Drive Thru Tunnel of Vows across town.

Out front, a music and light show was going on at the Bellagio's 1,000 water fountains, which, with a sound like an explosion, fired water 240 feet into the air. The water danced and performed tricks, swirling heart shapes in the air that almost immediately disintegrated.

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