My husband and I were avid globetrotters until COVID came along and shut the planet down. Recently, after 3 years of staying close to home, we decided to join the multitudes who’d determined that it was once again time to venture out into the big, wide world. Where did we choose to go? Las Vegas, Nevada of course.
In hindsight, this seems like an odd choice for senior Canadians after a long stretch of distancing, masks, and quiet home life. But our family was driving to Disneyland and we would meet them in Vegas. We could visit friends who live in the Vegas suburbs, it was our August wedding anniversary. We looked forward to an exhilarating adventure. And an adventure it was, just not always the kind we expected.
After hearing all the news of lost baggage, delays, and more in airports around the world this summer, we entered the international terminal ready for battle. We had done as much preparation as possible. Our fate would now be determined by the gods of airport bureaucracy. Luckily, despite having to navigate some long lines, we still had time to get a bite of breakfast before boarding the plane. We were thankful that we were in Vancouver instead of Toronto. Pearson has been dubbed the worst airport in the world in recent months.
We had a short, uneventful flight. Then we landed in Vegas and found ourselves among the masses—a sea of maskless people. What a shock! We had been wearing mandatory masks in the Vancouver airport and throughout the flight. Suddenly we had been transported from our little neighborhood of polite distancing people into a throng of bare faces, up close and personal. We quickly found a taxi to whisk us away to our hotel room.
Vegas has always been a town of relaxed rules and we found ourselves compelled to adjust to its post-COVID mentality. We had been to this city of lavish excess twice in the past—once in 1979 and again in 2013. Time and a global pandemic have changed the way of things in Sin City. In the seventies, Las Vegas was touted as a place to find abundant cheap food and well-appointed hotel rooms for a good price in exchange for spending lots of time in the casinos. We were overwhelmed by the size and opulence of Caesar’s Palace back then. Vegas was a dazzling 24-hour display of bright lights and pinging, whirring slot machines. Our 2013 anniversary trip revealed a more sophisticated city. We stayed at the Bellagio with a view of the fountains, took a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, ate at fine dining restaurants, and saw some amazing shows.
Late August of 2022 revealed yet another side of Vegas. We wound our way through packed crowds of people at almost every turn. Hotel receptions were overflowing with lines of cranky tourists due to staff shortages and multiple failures with automated check-in. Temperatures rose to 41 degrees Celsius as beleaguered parents attempted a family cool-down in teeming swimming pools. There were no ‘deals’. Souvenirs, food, clothing, shows… everything was expensive. Saturday morning we couldn’t find a place to have breakfast without waiting for more than an hour in line. In spite of all this, we managed to find our niche and enjoy ourselves—spending time with the family, enjoying some fine cuisine, and visiting with friends.
After we returned to Vancouver, I felt something gnawing at the pit of my stomach, a sadness. What was it? We’d had a pretty good trip. Then it came to me. If I looked past all of the ups and downs of our short visit to Las Vegas, I saw a disturbing picture—one of desperation. Yes, there was homelessness and drug addiction, perhaps more than ever. But this went beyond that. In Vegas, desperation had swirled around us no matter where we went. It was in the empty laughter, the glazed eyes, the need to find more fun or more money or more drinks, more, more, more.
I am still haunted by something I witnessed walking to dinner on our second day of vacation. A woman stepped to the side of the moving crowd, bent over, put her hand on the wall, and started sobbing. She had exited the merry-go-round.
We decided that this would be our last trip to Las Vegas.