LAS VEGAS (continued)

One of the reasons people used to flock here to work or retire was supposedly for the climate. Winters are quite mild (although nighttime temperatures can occasionally drop below freezing), and the spring and fall are usually delightfully comfortable and sunny. The summers are something else, however. From about mid-June to mid-September temperatures often reach the 110-115 range, and if outside, you can roast like an ant under a magnifying glass in the sun. So for nine months out of the year you have almost an ideal climate and then three months of brutally hot weather.

No matter how hot it may be outside, however, the hotels and casinos are air-conditioned to sub-artic levels.  You often don’t need a jacket when cruising through the streets during daytime hours at any time during the year. But if you plan on entering a hotel, casino or movie during the summer, you had better bring a jacket or sweater with you or you’ll find your lips turning blue and icicles forming on your finger tips. My wife who hates the cold all the time, bundles up like she’s going dog-sledding in Alaska when we go to a summer movie or casino. I think that Las Vegas hotels and casinos use about one-half the world’s energy resources during the summer months.

When we first moved here one had to go down to one of the Strip’s mega-hotels to throw your money away in the casinos or eat in one of their over-priced restaurants. Then if finally dawned on gaming industry executives that local residents like to squander their money just as much as tourists, so they started building hotels with casinos, restaurants and movie theaters in residential neighborhoods. I mean why schlep a half-hour or more to the Strip with all it’s traffic jams when you could just as easily burn through your cash at a casino that was only a 10 or 15 minute ride from where you lived and had better parking facilities. These hotel/casinos consistently advertise on TV how much they “love” locals. Especially well-heeled locals (mainly seniors) who don’t seem to mind dropping a bundle with each visit they make to one of these “lovefests.”

If you’re unfamiliar with with Las Vegas the one thing you need to know is that the hotel/gaming industry rules the state of Nevada with an iron fist. There is no state income-tax in Nevada and this is supposedly compensated for by 6.25% gaming tax the industry pays the state. That and a huge sales tax that most heavily socks it to the poor. But why not; the poor don’t have any money to gamble with anyway. And it’s not like Nevada provides any decent services to begin with. Its school systems are consistently rated among the worst in the nation, and outside of public schools little else is offered by the state. Also, the 6.25% that the gaming industry pays is about one-quarter to one-third of the tax paid by casinos everywhere else in the country. But anytime a state legislator mumbles something about raising the gaming tax, it’s like the wrath of God descends on him with sledge-hammer force, and nothing further is heard from him.

It’s worth a trip to one of the Strip’s mega-hotel casinos just to see the epitome of gluttony in action. For those of you hankering for a dose of that old-time religion, a tour of the craps tables will will often find players praying and beseeching God with every ounce of their being, for their number to hit. Most of the casino space is filled with slot and video poker machines with every thing from penny slots to $25 per bet or higher video poker. Of course the penny slots usually require a bet of 300 pennies (that’s $3 dollars for those of you living in Pahrump, a small town outside of Las Vegas) for any kind of a decent payout if you do hit something. And video poker machines require a 5 coin bet to hit a jackpot. Many poker machines also have 3 or 5 or up to a  100 lines you can bet on, so do the math as to how expensive this can be. Nevertheless, people flock into these casinos full of good cheer, merrily betting away the kids college funds or next months mortgage payment, but what hell, this is what Las Vegas is all about, right? Besides, they bring you free drinks if your playing, with just a buck or 2 tip to the server. And casinos are the one place left in the world where smokers can light up to their heart’s delight. While taking in all the noise coming from the various machines, and the noise from the crowds, especially if somebody does hit something big, you can also inhale all that yummy second-hand smoke.

I could go on and on about casino activities but I think you get the picture. Writing about life in Las Vegas would not be complete, however, without mentioning local traffic. The number one sport here outside of gambling is running a red light. It seems so antiquated to stop when the light turns red, especially if trying to make a left-turn, that cars continue pouring through a full 10-20 seconds after the change. Also, as I mentioned last time, more trucks and SUVs are on the roads here than anywhere else. And traffic jams are legendary, especially around the Strip area. If you allow yourself to get caught in traffic on the Strip during evening rush hours or weekend nights, you’ll regret being born in the first place. And while I certainly have not travelled around the world, I’ve been to most of Europe and parts of the Pacific, as well as cities in this country, but I have never seen a more clogged, bumper-to-bumper intersection than Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. I think cars have been trying to make left turns there since Elvis performed on the Strip.

A few months ago the wife and I visited a local casino one Saturday to see a movie, eat dinner, and perhaps do a little gambling. When ready to go home we headed to their garage which had 7 levels of parking, only to be told we could not gain access to our car. It seems someone had lost so much money in the casino that he went up to the seventh garage level and was threatening to jump to his death. The police closed off the entire garage while they tried to talk him down, so anyone that was parked there  could not leave. There we were held hostage, so to speak, while this fiasco went on for 4 hours. (With my patience worn to a frazzle, if they had let me in the garage, I probably would have pushed him off the ledge.) The next day there was no mention of this incident in the local newspaper. Seems the casino moguls felt it would be bad publicity to publicize such an event. And they always get their way.





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