Viva Home | Caroline Horwitz
“How often do you fly here?” the woman seated behind me asks the flight attendant.
“I live here,” he says.
“But how do you live here?” the woman’s friend asks, her voice full of query, not insult.
“A suburb’s a suburb wherever you are,” he says.
The women pause to consider his words, then resume the same line of questioning.
“Do you live near the Strip?”
“Do you go there all the time?”
“No. Every once in a while.”
They seem perplexed, unwilling to accept that someone who lives in the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world could have a life comparable to their own, punctuated by supermarkets, movie theaters, and other mundane fixtures.
I often find it funny when tourists say they can’t imagine anyone actually living in Las Vegas, as if a place with tens of thousands of hotel rooms, hundreds of restaurants, and seemingly limitless plumbing in the middle of the Mojave Desert could actually exist and operate without the presence of full-time residents.
“There’s more to Vegas than the Strip.”
Most locals have uttered this phrase-turned-cliché at one time or another. Tourists think they mean the Hoover Dam or Red Rock Canyon or Fremont Street. What they mean is, “We live in a place not unlike yours. We don’t spend our days rolling dice and slurping hurricanes. We pay our bills, take our kids to the park, and stop by Walgreen’s when we’re out of shampoo.”
I admit, when my husband informed me five years ago that he was being transferred to Las Vegas, the typical fantasy reel played through my head. Date nights strutting along the megaresorts. Becoming a cardsharp and dominating the blackjack tables. Sampling the cuisine at every Zagat-rated restaurant. Attending shows, concerts, and performances in lieu of a mall AMC. And the sun, always, the glorious sun.
Since we don’t possess an unlimited entertainment budget, most of these practices are, predictably, occasional treats rather than mainstays in our lives. Also, my lack of interest in card games did not dissipate even after moving to a gambling mecca, so my blackjack skills remain sub-par. The only one of my decadent expectations that came to fruition in full was the weather—the Las Vegas sun is an irrepressible beast.
It’s true that Las Vegas means something because I never intended to live here but do; because I made friendships when I needed them most, when I had no one here but my spouse; because my child was born here. Las Vegas’s identity is, for me, unalterably linked with these parts of my personal life, as I suppose it is for countless others. But don’t most people have a past or present home that fits this description? These feelings of nostalgia hardly speak to the city’s individual character.
I hope the next time a stranger or far-flung friend asks me what it’s like to live in Las Vegas, my response won’t be curt or contain a shrug, that I won’t fault them for their assumptions. I hope I can tell them the truth.
Living here means having a next-door neighbor who’s a retired magician and a hair stylist who moonlights as a Dean Martin impersonator.
Living here means a lackluster job market for professional-level post-grad work, and the humbling realization that in this city you can make more money parking cars than writing copy.
Living here means meeting a law student who drives downtown, dons a Pokémon costume, and takes pictures with tourists to earn extra tuition money.
Living here means regularly losing friends to relocation. For many, this is a stopover city, a layover in habitation. But you will become even more grateful for those who remain alongside you. Finding close friends is tricky in this land of transients. Such events as “speed friending” actually exist. You approach friendship with hesitancy as well as eagerness, fully knowing the odds: Neither you nor she will likely live here in ten years.
Living here means getting used to smoke again. The other places you’ve lived have all passed legislation exiling smokers outdoors, but not Vegas. Smoke is the blood that flows through her veins.
Living here means idiotically making a reservation at a Bellagio restaurant on your first Valentine’s Day in the city, after which you’ll wise up and swear off the insanity of the Strip on all holidays.
Living here means blue skies in January, blossoms in February, and cookouts and swimming by March. It also means shutting yourself in the air conditioning through most of June, July, and August. Day after sweat-soaked day of one hundred degrees by eight a.m., one-fifteen by four p.m. Everyone bears the same scent of sunscreen until Halloween. You can feel the sizzle of the asphalt through your flip-flops.
Living here means mountains in every direction. “I never thought of mountains being here!” says almost every guest who visits you. “I just pictured flat desert.” Perhaps it’s because you grew up in horizontal Ohio, but their grandiosity and enormity are always at least in the back of your mind. Soak this up, you tell yourself on routine commutes and errands, staring at the horizon. You won’t live near mountains like this forever.
Living here means being wary of wildlife. You know there are rattlesnakes in the desert even if you’ve never seen one. You’ve heard about tarantulas encountered on hikes and scorpions lurking in toddlers’ bedrooms. You’ve twice spotted a tiny but positively evil-looking black widow on your own patio. There are the carcasses of coyotes on lonesome northern stretches of 95. There were the wild burros near Bonnie Springs who took offense to your staring at them from your car and stalked toward you with ears pinned back and teeth bared. Your brain finally registered the threat just in time to pull away before the male stuck his head in your open window. As you peeled out of the vacant lot and spotted his mate and dark-coated foal, he gave a last-ditch kick from his hind legs. “And stay out,” he seemed to snort.
Living here means squinting out the bright airplane window over Lake Mead and knowing you’re almost home. Spotting the reflective surface of the Wynn, the New York-New York roller coaster, or the Stratosphere tower does not announce the beginning of vacation but the end (that godawful, familiar Strip is your hometown skyline). It means that, after flying for a full morning, yet somehow arriving by nine a.m., you will be on your couch within the hour.
How do I live here? How anyone lives anywhere. I tick off its shortcomings while wearing it with the ease of a favorite t-shirt, knowing full well that nowhere else, for the present at least, encompasses my life the way this city does.
Caroline Horwitz’s work has appeared in Brain, Child, Animal, bioStories, Lowestoft Chronicle, Mothers Always Write, and The Summerset Review, among others. An essay of hers was nominated for the 2015 Best of the Net Anthology, and another was listed as a notable entry in The Best American Essays 2014. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University and lives in Las Vegas with her husband and son.