Until we moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s I had spent my entire life on the East Coast, first in NYC and then in the Washington,DC area(with the exception of course of the 3 years I lived in Europe.) Born and raised in Brooklyn I was an East Coaster to the very core of my being, so it took some adjusting to become accustomed to the patterns of life that exist here in the West. When I retired from the Government, the Washington area winters just seemed too cold or snowy or icy to put up with any longer. So the choices on where to live narrowed down to Florida where many people we knew had gone before us or Las Vegas which was then being touted as THE up and coming place for retirees, mainly because it had a lower cost-of-living, and splendid entertainment opportunities such as incredibly high-priced shows or throwing your money away gambling in the casinos. The one thing I had always hated about the East Coast was the high humidity levels in the summer, especially Florida which seemed to me to be one giant rain forest. Since Las Vegas was situated in the desert, the humidity problem was taken care of, so Las Vegas it was, as the leading choice of where to live. (This “in-depth analysis,” by the way, was generally how I made decisions in life, winging it by intuition.)
The Las Vegas valley which is about 600 square miles surrounded by mountains on all sides, and includes several other towns such as Henderson, is one of the driest places on Earth. Average annual rainfall for the valley is about 3.5 inches in a good year. So the first thing I didn’t know or realize was that 2 million people live in one of the driest places on the planet whose water supply was meant to accommodate something more like 200 people. But to make it more of a challenge, the valley has been experiencing a severe drought since about the late 1990s. Las Vegas gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn gets its water from the Colorado River, which in turn gets its water from the snow melt runoff in the Sierra Mountains. Today, its more like the Colorado streamlet instead of river, because for about the past dozen years or so, the winter snow pack has been minimal and the rainfall almost non-existent. Who could have foreseen such a possibility-a drought in one of the driest desert areas known to man.
The water level in Lake Mead has dropped so low that the city is desperately constructing new water intake pipelines well below the existing pipelines. It is feared that within a couple of years, if the water level keeps dropping, it will be lower than the existing intake lines and hence no water for 2 million people plus all those tourists here for a jolly good time. The level is so low now that an Air force plane that went down in World War II in Lake Mead now has its tail sticking up above the water line. I told my daughter, who lives in the Washington,DC area, that the day I turn on the water facet and nothing comes out, will be the day we move back east into her basement.
We initially bought a very large house (over 3000 square feet) on 2 levels with a 3 car garage for about half the price of what a similar house would have cost in the Washington,DC area. But as we grew older, and since it became just the 2 of us, and it seemed like such a schlep to climb to the second floor, we decided to downsize. I guess such is the process of getting older, the systemic nature of life itself. So we sold that house and bought a new one that was about 1000 square feet smaller and all on one level. It was also a lot easier to take care of and was in a guard-gated community which became increasingly important since crime is one of main pastimes in Las Vegas. This is where we are today.
Through the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s seniors came pouring out here to retire and housing prices began skyrocketing. New developments were being built, primarily for retirees, as housing prices kept increasing and the population kept growing. It seemed like we had made such a wise decision, as more and more speculators were buying houses for investment, since everybody knew housing prices could only go one way, and that was up, right? Of course as we all know, the bubble burst and Las Vegas, indeed the entire Southwest, has been especially hard hit. Housing prices started plunging as fast as they had risen, developments that were partially under construction were halted in midstream and remain like ghost towns, the construction industry, which was the second largest enterprise after gaming, was decimated and Nevada became the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Whole shopping center have gone out of business and new ones that were planned have been halted. Seniors suddenly stopped moving here for retirement as if the area was infested with the bubonic plague. I don’t know if its because they can’t afford to retire, or because of the drought, or they just feel that Las Vegas isn’t such a swell place after-all, but seniors are staying away in droves, except for the wealthy ones that are doing the touristy thing on the Strip. Except for the mega-tourist hotels a pall hangs over most of Las Vegas as it continues to muddle its way through bad economic times. And that’s where we stand at the present.
I was going to to include in this dissertation, a review of the gambling and entertainment scene, the fact that Las Vegas is like the SUV capital of the world, the general overall craziness of its drivers, and other nifty things about life here in the southwest, but this entry has gone on longer than I expected, so I’ll save that for another posting. In the meantime save up your money for a trip out here. The economy needs all the help it can get.
great post, it paints a realistic picture for people who haven’t experiences it . i hope to read more on las vegas culture.
Can’t wait for Part II of the Las Vegas dissertation. 🙂