When I left Iowa City, the long hilly drive down Dubuque Street felt like a loss. I mourned the beautiful and wild years I spent there. The many sunrises and promises. Memories from every street, and the gravity of my leaving forced me to pull the car over. My ugly-crying was impairing my vision, and I wondered if the person who named “BJaysville” did so to cheer up sobbing graduates closing their most formative chapters. One last chuckle before venturing into the unknown.
I thought I would feel that way when I left Las Vegas. I thought the nostalgia would hit me on the long drive down the I-15 past the Strip. I waited for the onslaught of memories, of fond farewells to familiar places. I was prepared to pull over for the hot tears, but they never came.
It wasn’t grief or fear I felt as I drove past the sun-soaked billboards lining the Strip. It was fresh, calm relief.
Less urgent than “Get me out of here,” my thought was, “I’m glad that’s behind us.”
Vegas is harsh. If the weather doesn’t kill you, the drunk drivers will. Your vices will find you. Your friends will leave, your plants will die. It is not a city for the faint of heart. I could go on about its lack of culture, about the “Santa’s Village” feel of a place that represents something imaginary to millions of tourists. A scavenger hunt for the craziest story, the biggest win, the most hilarious loss.
But I won’t. Leave that to the pros.
When you venture outside of the debauchery, it is a city of people who wish they would have left, but feel it is too late. It is for the jaded tough. For the stubborn.
When you move there, locals will ask “Have you survived your first summer yet?”
What they are really asking is “How tough are you?”
And if you pass their test, they will welcome you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. They will show you things and share insight for survival. They will teach you about where they’re from (and no one is from Vegas) and make you feel a little less homesick. The people are beautiful, weird and scrappy and their knowing smiles will save you.
You will not get to look at a sky full of stars, but you will see more nudity than you ever thought possible. You will start to feel like 100 degrees is cool enough for a jacket. You will win, but mostly you will lose, and you will learn not to waste money.
And maybe, little by little, Vegas will become your home. Or maybe it will give you perspective on where your heart truly is.
That is the gift Vegas gave to us.
Vegas, I would liken you to a drill sergeant. You whipped us into shape and made us stronger. For that, I thank you. I didn’t always like you, but I am grateful to you.
Goodnight to the city that never shuts down.