Vegas can be a land of opportunity for many. For others, it's just another pit stop along the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
It's "Vegas" Baby
(But Don't Say "Nuh -VAH -duh")
Unlike other cities ("Frisco") no one gets mad if you say "Vegas." Everyone says it. Vegas residents are quick to correct you--and none too politely--if you say "Nuh -VAH -duh," using the correct Spanish pronunciation.
Locals delight in rebuking visitors for innocently "mispronouncing" Nevada. Yokels at a town hall meeting gave Michelle Obama static for not being hip to the peculiar pronunciation. 99% of them came from somewhere else and didn't know the local quirks when they arrived, so who are they to be so indignant?
Here's little-known tidbit about the Silver State: Nevadans are experts at pronouncing the names of U.S. states and cities. They would never botch the names of places they visit. (It could be they never go anywhere, so it's not a problem for them.)
Steve Wynn, arguably the state's leading citizen, uses the correct pronunciation. If, unlike Wynn, you want to fit in, pronounce the first "a" like "backwoods."
License plate promoting the peculiar pronunciation Nevadans are so touchy about.
Congratulations, Now You're a Transient!
Something like 5,000 people a month move to Vegas. What you don't hear so often is that about 3,000 a month leave.
When you're new in town, you might hear that Vegas is a "transient" town. At first, I thought they were talking about the homeless problem. Here's the explanation: As mentioned above, a lot of people who move there don't stay very long, making new arrivals part of the "transient" population. If you manage to stay awhile, you're no longer a transient.
A surprising number of people end up leaving because of gambling problems. They don't have that much experience with gambling, but develop an addiction upon arrival.
Getting a Job
Employers tend to be leery of newcomers because of the "transient" factor. Nonetheless, someone with an impeccable resume can get hired practically the day they hit the streets. Someone with highly marketable skills will get hired just as quickly in Vegas as anywhere else. The transient factor just makes employers look harder at your qualifications.
If your resume is a What-Do-I-Want-to-be-When-I-Grow-Up? resume, with puzzling career changes and unexplained gaps between jobs, your job search in Vegas may be more difficult. I didn't say impossible. The job market is strong enough that even those with less-than-stellar resumes will be accommodated.
Job growth in Vegas is explosive. Be aware of one thing: Most of the jobs are casino or casino-related. This means dealers, servers, cashiers, slot attendants, housekeeping staff, valet parkers, culinary workers. If you have zero experience, it might be tough.
On the other hand, you might be a good casino employee. If you are a people person with manual dexterity and can do a little math in your head, the casinos want you (as a dealer)!
An attractive woman with people skills can practically write her own ticket in Vegas (and not just as a sports book "ticket writer"). It's not unusual for cocktail servers at Strip resorts to make $50,000 a year. You have to be comfortable wearing a skimpy boob-baring outfit, however. You'll do a lot of walking in high heels and sometimes deal with heels at the tables. ("Heel" is an old school expression for "jerk.")
I met the owner of a successful construction firm. She told me she started in Vegas as a valet parker. An athlete in high school, she sprinted to shag cars. After living below her means for a few years, she had saved enough to start her business. Success stories like this are not that unusual in Vegas.
There are dozens of dealer schools and culinary schools. The same classes are offered at the College of Southern Nevada (a junior college). The classes are cheaper and just as good, if not better. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) also has an extensive gaming program.
Some casinos, The El Cortez, for example, are known as "break-in" casinos that hire personnel with little or no experience.
The casino companies also have regular administrative jobs like any large corporation. For years I have heard that you "have to know someone" to get hired with a casino company. The casino employees I have met bear this out. Yes, the odds are against you, but Vegas is all about beating the odds.
Several gargantuan mega-resorts are under construction on the Vegas Strip. Each resort creates thousands, yes thousands, of jobs. Someone has to fill them and they won't all go to people who are already here. It's safe to say the Vegas job market will remain strong for years to come.*
*Written before the economic meltdown (see below).
Renting an Apartment
When you rent an apartment in Vegas, you may not get to see it until the day you move in. Yes, you read that right. Many, perhaps most, apartment complexes show apartment hunters a "model," not an actual vacant apartment. They will refuse to show you the apartment you have leased. If you ask why, the likely BS reply is "company policy" or "our insurance doesn't allow it." I know, it's madness. At first, I couldn't get my mind around such a bizarre procedure.
The first complex where I rented, the rental agent let me see the apartment. "I could get fired for this," she told me. The apartment smelled like a dog kennel. She arranged to get me another apartment but couldn't show it to me because they were "watching" her.
Sure enough, she got fired. I ran into her by chance. "I hope it wasn't because of me," I said. Her conscience wouldn't let her follow the rules, she told me. She had been fired for her chronic willingness to help renters.
Typically you should not trust anything a rental agent tells you, not matter how sincere they appear. They essentially will say anything to get their units rented.
If you come to Vegas without a job, you might have to deal with one of these outfits. Some complexes won't rent to you without a job. You may have to show them your bank statement to demonstrate you have the cash to hang on for a few months.
Private rentals in condo complexes are abundant. Drive through a complex and you will see signs in the windows. You deal with owners and property managers who may actually be honest and concerned for your interests. Expect to pay at least $800 for a decent one-bedroom unit. Check craigslist or apartments.com to browse current listings. Condo landlords can be flexible on the rent if they think you will be a good tenant.
Vegas Real Estate
This is probably a good time to buy a home in Vegas if you're sure you're going to stay a while. Fortune Magazine listed Vegas as one of America's top six bargain centers for housing (link below). Prices are dropping but they may not have hit bottom. Sellers of new homes are hungry. They may even be desperate to unload inventory from the building binge that peaked in 2006.
There's an emotional hazard to buying a new home in a down market. Your neighbor down the street bought later and paid less than you for the same floor plan! They got a free pool! Some people get very angry when that happens. It's best not to fixate on what the other guy has. Count your blessings.
Don't be afraid to push for an outrageous deal. Don't fall in love with a house. There are plenty more like it. If you're not in love with the house you can be emotionally detached and make the seller jump through hoops for you. Make them beg you to take pity on them. They will plead with you that they can't possibly make you a better offer. Have them throw in free appliances, free flooring and cabinet upgrades, free landscaping. Don't worry when they say they can't.
Home salesmen are no different than car salesmen. Their job is to get the best deal for their employer, not for you. Be firm. Don't get sucked in by their folksy demeanor. They are not your friend, your buddy, your pal.
Your future home. A typical Vegas subdivision. There must be 100,000 houses in Vegas with the same washed out pinkish color. Color schemes are controlled by homeowners' associations.
Don't be one of the nitwits who pulls into Vegas with all their worldly goods in a U-Haul and says, "I'm sleepy. Let me get a nice room at this resort. I'm sure no one will bother the truck. They have security don't they?" Vegas has thieves like any other place. They'll rob your truck!
Moving with a U-Haul is a major pain. I've never tried PODS but this new concept looks like the way to go. They drop a container at your house, you pack it at your leisure, they pick it up. When you're ready, they deliver it to your new home. Here are U-Haul tips from a lifetime of moving:
When you "reserve" a truck, it's not like reserving a hotel room. You could show up on moving day with no truck available. It happens all the time. It's odd that they never warn you about this.
Check with the rental agent about availability of certain sizes. Don't reserve a truck size that is in short supply.
If you're concerned about your reservation not being honored, there's nothing to stop you from reserving a truck with TWO companies. The extra reservation will cost something like $50, a small price to avert a moving day crisis.
Get a truck that's bigger than you think you'll need. Don't skimp on shipping blankets and hand carts. Get a truck with a loading ramp, not a lift gate. Transporting a car: it pays to shell out extra bucks for the car trailer that you drive onto.
Vegas Beyond the Strip
A sunny place for shady people. (Sorry Somerset)
Decent affordable housing in Vegas is something of a mirage. The housing bubble has put desirable neighborhoods like Summerlin, Green Valley, Anthem, Aliante, Southern Highlands, and Silverado Ranch far out of reach. Recent price declines don't begin to put these homes in the affordable range.
If you can't afford one of the nice neighborhoods, your task will be to find a decent home in one of the marginal "older" neighborhoods built from the 1960s through the '80s. The typical block has several homes that are abandoned or in various stages of disrepair. Many homes only look abandoned. They're not! That's just the Vegas version of basic upkeep.
When the housing bubble was in full swing, these hovels went for $250,000. Now you can get a 3 bed/2 bath for under $100,000. You could luck out and not have a biker for a neighbor. Maybe your neighbor will actually be industrious enough to chop down the weeds or get that rusty old junker hauled away.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
Vegas isn't pretty. It is home to a sizable population of lowlifes, gangbangers, skinheads, pimps, hustlers, drug traffickers, dirtbags and jailbirds who turn block after block into rundown, dilapidated, trashed homes with rubbish piled high, dead cars up on blocks, dirt lawns, dead landscaping, and snarling Pit Bulls to guard the meth labs. Pride of ownership doesn't exist unless it's a perverse pride in who has the most disgusting digs.
It would be one thing if the blight were confined to a few notorious neighborhoods like Naked City, Alphabet City, and Sierra Vista. But that's not the case. Vegas has vast stretches of seedy older neighborhoods where househunters may uncover a decent block here and there. Apart from nice outlying subdivisions, Vegas is essentially a single sprawling bad neighborhood.
Formerly nice neighborhoods are trashed beyond redemption. Unsupervised children wander the streets, probably sent out of the house so their parents can do drugs. Menacing-looking guys hang out on the sidewalks. They could be fine, upstanding citizens but something tells me it's not a meeting of the Kiwanis Club. If Harleys don't shatter the peace, domestic violence does. Boomcars thunder into the night. It's the Vegas beyond the Strip that boosters would prefer you didn't know about.
By no means the worst example of a home in a typical older Vegas neighborhood. For one thing, it looks like the RV still runs.
It's Not All Bad
Desert Shores, December 19, 2008. After a light dusting of snow, the view toward Red Rock is pretty peachy. This is the Vegas so many probably imagine when they decide to make the move. Too bad it's such an elusive target. Click to glimpse the full-size photo.
Welcome to Foreclosureville
This was written for the boomtown conditions that normally prevail in Vegas. The economic downturn has even affected Sin City. Prior to the economic collapse of 2007-2010, Vegas was thought to have a recession-proof gambling economy. Even in hard times, experts said, tourists with disposable income would continue to flock to Vegas in sufficient numbers to ward off any severe impact.
If you don't already have a job lined up, now might not be such a good time to move to Vegas. In November 2010, Vegas was rated America's worst city for finding a job. The unemployment rate is among the worst in the nation. In December 2010 the jobless rate peaked at 15.5%. (El Centro, Calif., had 30.4%!) Thousands of workers have lost their jobs at Strip resorts. The local economy is in the tank. Because of the credit crunch, mammoth mega-resorts in the works have either been put on hold or had their completion dates pushed back.
If, on the other hand, you're flush with cash, come on down! The foreclosure bus pictured is not a joke. Speculators are swooping into Vegas by the busload to snap up distressed properties. You can be one of them!
Case in point: About 5 years ago, my neighbor paid $280,000 for his house. After foreclosure, it was snapped up by speculators at auction for $90,000. I'm told the easy pickings aren't as plentiful these days. When the foreclosure stampede started, the auctions were attended by four or five speculators. Now it's 40 or 50. After losing his home and his job, my neighbor split for Canada.
Update Nov. 2010: Nevada loses population for the first time since 1920. Read the USA Today article.
Update May 2011: The Vegas unemployment rate has plummeted all the way to only 12.1%. Looks as though the worst is over and everyone can breathe easy again! A job should be coming my way any day now. Update August 2011: Happy days are not quite here again. The dip in the unemployment rate was a result of workers fleeing the state in droves. The rate shot back up to 14%. If you were lucky enough to keep your job throughout this ordeal, the unemployment rate is just a nebulous statistic, like teenage pregnancy or the dropout rate.
The project that promised to generate worldwide interest is the MGM-Mirage CityCenter. Said to be the largest private construction project in history, CityCenter opened in late 2009. The unsettled world economy threw a damper on what should have been the most spectacular opening in history. The 12,000 jobs created did little to stave off misery for locals. See the link below.
The Adult Disneyland
Residents set out to prove there's no such thing as too much gambling.
When your friends and family find out you're moving to Vegas, they may say, "You sure must like to gamble!" There's an impression that Vegas residents spend all their free time gambling. To some extent that's true.
No question, Vegas is a gamblin' town. Gambling is woven into the fabric of everyday life. If you don't work in a casino, you know people who do. Monday morning scuttlebutt around the water cooler includes gambling stories as naturally as the usual chatter about kids, golf, shopping, or movies. "I hit a royal!" is a phrase you'll get used to hearing. During football season the guy talk is all about point spreads and parlays.
Other than the Mormons*, virtually everyone gambles in Vegas. Casinos send out buses to pick up retirees. Casino night is a family outing. The kids go bowling, to a movie or the arcade while the parents hit the slots. Neighborhood casinos offer babysitting services. You see guys still in their work clothes flinging the dice. Whether this is a degenerate lifestyle is open to debate, but there's no question about this: It's FUN. Friday and Saturday nights in Vegas are party time. People fly to Vegas to get a break from their humdrum lives, to have a little sinful diversion. Vegas residents can do it any time they want. Business is booming at neighborhood casinos. Companies like Station Casinos scramble to build resorts fast enough to fill the demand.
Casinos that cater to locals have paycheck-cashing promotions, typically free slot play or casino credit. Corporations that push payroll direct deposit face tough going in Vegas because so many locals love to hit the casinos Fridays after work flush with a liquid paycheck.
*Mormons are heavily represented in Vegas, with their familiar church spires poking into the sky almost as frequently as the neon monuments of neighborhood casinos. They are the best evidence that at least some Vegas residents lead healthy, wholesome lives.
No Disneyland for Kids
A Vegas School
Not every kid can grow up with access to the finest schools, libraries, museums, and parks. Families coming to Vegas for jobs and affordable housing don't have the luxury of being choosy about schools and other facilities. Every Child Matters, an advocacy group, ranks Nevada 43rd* in its assessment of how likely a state's kids are to live happy healthy lives. There is a severe teacher shortage with no signs of abating. For at least 20 years the city has been in a mad dash to meet the demand for infrastructure. The demand has been met (sort of), although with little evidence of planning or vision. Who had time?
Recreational venues for children are diminishing, not expanding. Wet 'n Wild, a 65-acre water park, was demolished when a casino company bought the property. Scandia Family Fun Center, a miniature-golf course and video arcade, was closed when a condo developer bought the property. Then there was the All American Sports Park, a multi-sport complex that went belly up in 2001. Meanwhile Vegas has been adding soccer fields at a strong clip.
Vegas does have a 3-acre zoo but it doesn't need a real zoo because the Mirage Resort has a zoo-like attraction on the Strip.
* "Nevada is near the top of every bad list and the bottom of every good list," is a familiar description of the state.
Wet 'n Wild: Demolished
Living the Ultra Life
They don't call Vegas the "Entertainment Capital of the World" for nothing.
Vegas continues to reinvent itself. Modern Vegas has always been your dad's or grandad's idea of fun. The schlockitecture, garish stage productions, and cafeteria food were strictly for the leisure suit crowd. Now all that's changed. Vegas is a new center for programmed hedonism, formulated fun. It's the cool getaway for Generations X and Y, who find Vegas the perfect party town. It's Spring Break all year long. My young coworkers really love the place. The excitement of living in party central is mind-bending. There's no end to ultra-trendy clubs and lounges. There are ultra pools, ultra buffets, ultra limos, and ultra performers. Not to mention ultra shopping. You can mingle with Paris Hilton, LiLo, Snooki, JWoww, or the Kardashians just about any time you want.
Some of the locals casinos have lavish bowling alleys that feature late-night disco-style bowling. The lights are dimmed to the point that you can't see the pins well enough to take aim. The only illumination is from black lights and other swirling effects. After you fling the ball it's hard to tell what happened. Did I hit anything?
There are fancy disco bowling balls, disco bowling shoes, and so on. The alleys are fixed so you can't roll a self esteem-lowering gutter ball. Sam's town says it better than I can. Here's why their content master makes the big bucks:
Bowling with an attitude is at Sam's Town every Friday and Saturday night. The Extreme Bowling Experience is a combination of state-of-the-art disco-style lights, foggers and special effects that transform the bowling center into a nightclub with bowling lanes. Extreme Bowling hits the scene every Friday and Saturday night from 11:45 p.m. until 3:00 a.m.
Vegas is a first-run moviegoer's paradise. Casinos have posh multiplexes with up to 24 screens. Fans of revival cinema have to pound sand. There is no such theater in Vegas. When Ebert and Roeper rave about an intriguing indie film, you'll have to wait for the DVD. No theater in town shows these movies.
You don't have to feel totally marooned in the desert if you like arthouse movies. There's the CineVegas Film Festival with its Arthouse Screening Series at Neonopolis downtown. (News flash: The 2010 festival has been called off because of the bad economy.) Neonopolis is Mayor Oscar Goodman's brave attempt at lending downtown Vegas some character. It has been teetering on the brink of closure practically since it opened. Better see it before it's too late.
Most American cities have neighborhood bars that reflect an area's distinct character. Vegas has none to speak of. As a city, Vegas skipped its adolescence. It went straight from toddlin' town to metropolis. It missed the stage of development that allowed other cities to establish enduring traditions like San Francisco's Buena Vista Cafe, The Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood, or Nick's Famous Coney Island in Portland, Oregon.
The Musso & Frank Grill was a hangout for the Hollywood Rat Pack. Vegas had its own Rat Pack hangout, the Sands, which was of course was imploded to make way for the Venetian.
What Vegas has is PT's Pub, a chain with "over 37 locations" according to their ads. They don't specify the actual number because they're constantly adding new branches. Every PT's pub is pretty much the same, giving it a McDonald's-like dependability.
The Vegas version of the neighborhood bar. No matter where you are, you're never far from PT's.
Drinking on the street: On the Strip, tourists are shocked to see people walking around with a drink in their hand. Go ahead! You won't get busted, I promise. Away from the Strip, however, it's not a such good idea.
Vegas does not have a major league sports team. Mayor Goodman and the city fathers and mothers are bending heaven and earth to land a franchise. "We'll never be a major league city unless we have a major league team," the mayor says. It's downright humiliating that a mega-metropolis like Vegas takes a back seat to Nashville (Tennessee Titans) and Oklahoma City (the NBA Thunder aka Seattle SuperSonics). The lack of a franchise puts Vegas on similar footing with second-rate burgs like Albuquerque or Bakersfield.
It's strictly a prestige play, like joining a country club just for the bragging rights. Vegas already has a goldmine in race and sports betting. The economic impact probably far exceeds that of a sports franchise. The mayor could launch an initiative to nurture that valuable market. But no. He'd rather trip over a pile of found money trying to kiss the ass of some temperamental team owner. So much for knowing which side of your bread is buttered (or however that saying goes).
City boosters harp on the sports team issue so much that you forget Vegas is already prominent on the sports scene. Vegas has hosted the National Finals Rodeo for several years. NASCAR races are held at the Las Vegas International Speedway. All the big championship boxing and UFC bouts happen here. Combined, these events are arguably more significant than a sports team.
Vegas has minor league baseball and hockey. The baseball team is called the 51s, after the fabled Area 51 north of Vegas. Rumor has it the government uses the area to study alien spacecraft. The Vegas Wranglers are part of the East Coast Hockey League (aka ECHL). Vegas had an arena football team, the Gladiators, but they moved to Cleveland.
Vegas is home to the legendary UNLV Runnin' Rebels, a one-time powerhouse in college basketball. Every year brings hope that the glory days will return. UNLV also has football and baseball teams.
Yes, Vegas culture is a bit of a joke. There is no opera, no symphony. The art museum is a smallish facility attached to a neighborhood branch library. It's not a real museum like you might expect in a city of Vegas's stature. Tucson, Arizona, for example, has an actual museum. Even an unimposing burg like Fresno, Calif. has its own art museum. News flash: The Vegas art museum closed for good on Feb. 28, 2009. Vegas supports casinos, not museums.
Vegas doesn't really need its own art museum because Strip resorts (Bellagio and Venetian) have them. The gallery at the Wynn resort was closed to make room for more retail, something Vegas could always use. News flash: Another museum bites the dust. Liberace! The beloved Liberace Museum has closed. News flash: Museums come & go. The long-anticipated opening of the Mob Museum is slated for spring, 2011.
Vegas doesn't have a large central library. It has a system of branch libraries that double as community activity centers. You hit the books amid the hubub of support group meetings, musical presentations, even church services. Parking is tight. With so much commotion, screaming children and loud talkers, it is no wonder more and more people use bookstores for a quiet retreat. The libraries offer free wifi, however.
The library bases book selection on popularity. They buy useful texts sparingly but will stock dozens of copies of the latest Danielle Steel novel. The Danielle Steel section is roughly five times the size of the assortment devoted to financial information and advice.
You can go online to get on the waiting list for books in short supply (most books). When demand for a book slackens, the library will summarily discard it, regardless of its place in the pantheon of literature.
Library discards are sold at the in-house used bookstore to raise money not for badly needed books but...pianos(!). I bought the library's copy of Catch-22 for 50 cents. They couldn't spare the shelf space for a modern classic.
The strippermobile caused a brief flurry of excitement before city council grouches threatened to clamp down. It was a promotional gimmick devised by the all-nude Déjà Vu and Little Darlings gentlemen’s clubs. Promoters decided to withdraw the vehicle rather than fight city hall.
No, you're not hallucinating. A glass-enclosed flatbed cruised the strip giving ad hoc bikini shows. Bear in mind, there was no nudity or lap dances. Vegas occasionally tries to pretend it's too dignified for such shenanigans. “It’s time someone in the community has the guts to say this is about class and decency," huffed one outraged citizen. It's not often you hear class and decency included in a sentence about Vegas.
Face it: These hard-working (excuse the pun) women are as much a part of the Vegas entertainment industry as dealers and cocktail waitresses. Those who look down upon and despise them are just denying what Vegas is all about. The only thing shameful in the episode is the spineless city council who won't stand up for what Vegas really is.
Credit Mayor Goodman for at least one good idea: Create a red-light district on East Fremont Street with legalized brothels and a medical clinic. It never went anywhore (excuse me, anywhere).
Update June 2011: Term limits prevented Mayor Oscar Goodman from seeking re-election. Vegas still has a Mayor Goodman, however. It's Oscar's wife Carolyn, who coasted to victory over a field of challengers that included prominent businessmen. Voters wisely dismissed the notion that business leaders have a secret magic wand they can wave to restore the Vegas economy to its former vigor. They also rejected the assumption that an elderly grandma isn't up to the task.
Vegas is one of the greatest splurge centers in the Universe. The Forum Shops! Fashion Show! All of the mega-resorts have shopping complexes that make Rodeo Drive look like a flea market. Outlying malls include the Meadows, the Henderson Galleria, and the Boulevard Mall. The Boulevard Mall is set in a neighborhood riddled with violent crime and drugs. Shoppers have been attacked there.Dining
Vegas is great for dining choices at the Strip and neighborhood casinos. There are a few popular "mom & pop" eateries dispersed among the neighborhoods. In the Las Vegas Review-Journal's annual "Best of Las Vegas" poll the chain restaurants usually win (for example Best Italian: Olive Garden, Best Seafood: Red Lobster). It creates a mistaken impression that Vegas is a culinary backwater.
If you like chain restaurants they're everywhere in Vegas and they're always busy. Doesn't anybody cook?
Contrary to myth, prostitution is not legal in Vegas. Pleasure seekers must venture to neighboring counties for access to licensed brothels. Naturally, there are underground brothels, part of the burgeoning trade in sex slaves.
Hookers do ply the Strip resorts. These are not your garden-variety streetwalker. If you're not used to having beautiful women sidle up to you at the blackjack tables, don't think Vegas has suddenly imbued you with male magnetism. Those lovely ladies are hookers!
Climate: The Two Seasons
Where Global Warming Started
Vegas has two seasons, summer and non-summer. Starting in June, Vegas bakes in blistering heat into September. Normal summer heat can start as early as January and carry on into October. Starting in November, biting cold and blasts of frigid wind go on through February. Here's the breakdown.
- Searing heat: 4 months
- Normal summer heat: 2 months
- Chilly, windy weather: 4 months
- Nice weather: 2 months in a good year, 3-6 weeks in others
Vegas (aka The Rhinestone-Crusted Sweat Lodge) has a sizable population of desert lovers who claim to actually enjoy the heat. Refugees from ice-bound parts of the country (Ohio, for example) are especially likely to love the Vegas climate. Right after Christmas, people get fed up with the cool weather and wish for summer to hurry up and start.
Vegas is in the midst of the most severe drought in recorded history, but residents hate the rain. A mild sprinkle ruins the day.
About 360 days a year are considered "sunny." Locals have a curious aversion to cloudy skies. I'm not talking about rare overcast days, just days with a few scattered clouds. A cloudy day is "icky." Weathercaster Ted Pretty says clouds are "garbage."
Knowing that desert heat is "dry" supposedly makes you feel better. The heat slams you like a crowbar, but at least there's no humidity to deal with. The heat doesn't bother most people because they spend all of their time indoors or in air-conditioned cars. You can get burned touching your steering wheel. Some carry gloves to get into their cars.
Residents love the heat but they get plenty cranky if they can't find an up-close parking spot at the mall, leaving them to trek across the scalding pavement. Fights break out over prime parking spaces. People tend to be grouchy and disagreeable all summer long. But they love the heat!
A dust devil, not a dust bunny. A familiar summer sight around Vegas. They're harmless.
Monthly Average Temperatures
But it's a dry heat!
If you live where summer heat is less severe, the table is misleading. Gee, 107! Is that as bad as it gets? I can handle that!
If you don't enjoy extreme heat, don't underestimate the misery. The official high temperature is recorded at McCarran airport, which is somehow always the coolest place around. The actual high is usually several degrees hotter. If you see a high of 110, rest assured it was at least 115 somewhere in town.
The Vegas Valley is 2000 feet above sea level. The thin atmosphere intensifies the heat. If you're not a sun worshipper, 70 feels like 85. 80 feels like 100. The bowl-like valley gathers heat like a wok. But it's a dry heat, residents repeat like a mantra, to reassure themselves there's an upside to living in heat that could kill you in a day if your air conditioning goes out.
In non-desert areas, the heat comes in waves. There may be days when it's not so bad. You can at least hope for a day or two of relief.
In the desert, summer is one long heat wave. There's no respite. The temperature will probably soar past 100 degrees every day for 4 months straight. Rain doesn't bring relief. It turns to steam as soon as it hits the pavement. You stand warned.
Allergies: Vegas is a special hell for allergy sufferers. Don't have allergies? Move to Sin City and you may find out otherwise. Bad allergies. Itchy throat, sneezing, wheezing, and post nasal drip. Who would have thought? Nothing much grows around Vegas but a few Yucca. For much of the year, the dry desert air is saturated with pollen from Ash, Elm, Cedar, Juniper, Mulberry, and Ragweed to name a few. Where all that pollen comes from is a mystery.
Battery life: Searing heat cooks car batteries. If your battery suddenly conks out, there's no such thing as getting it charged. It's dead. The best bet is AAA's battery service. They pop in a new one on the spot and you're good to go for another 3 years.
I Told You!
The six months of Summer; 31 days each for Spring and Fall
How many times can a TV weather personality work "monsoon" into one report? For a weathercaster, working in Vegas is a dream job. You get to say "monsoon" all you want in July and August (September too if you're lucky!). They'll work "monsoon" into a single report as many as a dozen times, even if no monsoon is imminent ("Where are the monsoons?"). While news anchors live for hostage standoffs, shootouts, and spectacular car crashes, weathercasters live for Monsoon Season, which might produce an inch or two of rain, or a hoped-for flash flood to hype.
In a "bad" year (for haters of rain), Vegas can get a whopping four inches. Weather entertainers must tread a fine line along the love/hate divide over rain in Vegas. They'll announce approaching "monsoonal moisture" with breathless excitement. If it actually comes, they have to apologize for the dreadful rain that ruins everyone's day.
Vegas weather is deadly dull, so you have to indulge the weather people. They only get two months to pack a whole year's worth of "monsoon" into their reports.
To honor his immortal contribution to weather reporting, Phoenix weather guy Garland McFarland was abducted into the Weather Entertainer Hall of Fame. He was the first reporter to use "monsoon" as a term for summer rain.
Quality of Life
It all depends on your priorities
People tend to like Vegas. The place brims with civic pride. It's exciting to be part of the boomtown environment. It's thrilling to see vast housing tracts spring up where there was nothing but lifeless desert.
Typical gated community entrance
You may find Vegas a refreshing change from the typical sprawling urban center. Crowding and congestion aren't nearly as bad. In spite of efforts to expand, Vegas still occupies a relatively small footprint. You can travel between outskirts in an hour or so when traffic is light. Rush hour has a definite beginning and end, unlike the perpetual rush hour of many metropolises. Without driving too long, you can find yourself in desolate wilderness with the open road almost to yourself. Seeing stars at night, even in town, may be a new experience for refuges from other cities. The virtual absence of high rise towers (away from the strip) gives the area a spacious feeling. You can easily glimpse the surrounding desert panorama. You can expect a cloudless blue sky almost always.
Thousands of families are living a wholesome--if hastily assembled--version of the American dream. Outlying areas offer scores of safe, secure, finely-appointed neighborhoods (with optimistic names like Cherry Creek, Evergreen, Willow Tree). Gated communities are common.
The unrelenting sameness of the neighborhoods can be trying. Running an errand, you can become suddenly disoriented. Am I on the wrong street? Is this Lake Mead or Cheyenne? Green Valley could just as easily be Spring Valley.
In the decade I lived there, I don't recall meeting anyone who wasn't happy being in Vegas. I met several people who said coming to Vegas was the best thing they ever did. I met people from Portland, Seattle, San Diego, even Hawaii, who felt Vegas was a far better place.
I met a guy who moved to Boise, Idaho for career reasons. Idaho offered his children a chance to grow up in an environment most of us would consider healthier. He was "bored out of his skull" in Boise and returned after only a few months. Another family were happy to return to Vegas after three years in the Lake Tahoe area, with all of its natural splendor.
Cost of Living: You may have heard that the cost of living is comparatively reasonable in Vegas. I wouldn't let that be a factor in my decision to move there. Vegas may be slightly less expensive than high-cost places like New York, Frisco, or LA, but not so much that you would notice a huge difference. Besides, you have a new expense to budget for: gambling.
No state income tax (woo-hoo!): Everyone wishes they lived in a state that doesn't have income tax. You get what you pay for, however. The miserable residents of California are taxed to death. At least they have something to show for it: beautiful parks, world-class libraries, museums and schools.
Utilities are hiking rates every chance they get. Your air conditioning bill will easily be $100 a month for a small apartment. If you need to maintain a constant 70 degrees, make it $200. Summer energy bills of $300-$500 a month are fairly common for homeowners. Own a pool? Add $100 a month.
Winter may cut you a break, but heating bills can also be hefty. In a given year, total days that you don't use air conditioning or heat could number as few as 50.
Public transportation: The Vegas bus system is geared toward easing congestion on the Strip. For locals traveling to work, doctor appointments, or casinos, Vegas's CAT service is practically useless. Since the taxi companies hate to leave the Strip, they may not respond to your call. It "boils" down to this: If you don't have a car with air conditioning, your quality of life will be seriously compromised. There's no better preview of hell than waiting for a bus in 120-degree heat. Even if the job has nothing to do with driving, employers may require that you have a drivers license and own a car.
Traffic: A ten-year freeway-building effort recently finished. Congestion is worse now than when it started. It can only get worse. Newcomers may have trouble adjusting to Vegas's 5-minute ultra lights that seem to take forever to change. They don't stop deranged drivers from frantic racing between traffic lights. What's the hurry? That light's not about to change anytime soon.
$1000 Speeding Ticket: Anyone wanting to make a case for Vegas being a bit backward and quirky need look no further than their nonsensical school zone procedure. A strictly-enforced 15 m.p.h. limit coincides with school hours, when the kiddies are safely in their classrooms. All day long, motorists crawl by schools without a child in sight. Some schools have flashing yellow lights to remind you. Most post an easily-overlooked roadside sign. Glancing in the wrong direction when you drive by a school could cost you as much as $1000.
If you think real hard, you may come up with a question: Wouldn't the most hazardous time for school kids be when they fill the streets before and after school? The special 15 m.p.h. limit does not apply at those times. The little hellions are on their own then.
Parking: Good news! Vegas is essentially free of parking meters. Other than downtown, parking meters are not part of everyday life, nor do you have to decode several signs that restrict parking (15-minute parking except on the third Thursday after the second Tuesday of even numbered months).
Trash collection: Score another one for Vegas. The trash guys will pick up just about anything--major appliances, lumber, furniture, felled trees, you name it. Just shove it to the curb. I don't know how they find room for it on their trucks.
Graffiti: The tagging movement has yet to gain a foothold in Vegas. Not that the vandals aren't trying, but they have a lot of work ahead of them to make tagging the eyesore it is in other areas.
Crime: Like any major city, Vegas has been the scene of vicious home invasions, carjackings, school shootings, serial rapes, you name it. Innocent bystanders are slaughtered in gang shootouts. Beautiful young women are snatched from the street and never seen again. Don't watch the news.
Here are the 2009 rankings: 21st in murder, 2nd in robbery, and 13th in rape. (Salt Lake City was 11th! It's widely perceived that pornography and gentlemen's clubs cause rape. It's puzzling that Vegas isn't the rape capital with its proliferation of adult superstores, nudie bars, and topless pools.)
Update April 2011: The Institute for Economics and Peace has created the US Peace Index, a measure of violent crime. Wouldn't you know it, Nevada strong-armed its way to third from the bottom. Only Louisiana and Tennessee are less peaceful.
Life beyond the bingo parlor.
Golf, tennis, skiing, boating, personal water crafting, kayaking, skin diving, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, bicycling, parasailing, land sailing, gliding, ice hockey, off-roading--Vegas has it all. The Red Rock National Conservation area is perhaps Vegas's best feature. Just minutes west of town, Red Rock has myriad hiking trails and rock climbing sites. Few urban areas offer such easy access to the peace and solitude of nature. Development is gradually consuming the open space buffer between Red Rock and the city.
Mt. Charleston offers skiing and challenging hiking. Lake Mead is the water sport center, as long as the water lasts. The lake's level hasn't been as low since Hoover Dam began capturing water back in the '30s. Further down the Colorado River, find more water sports in Laughlin, a small casino center about 2 hours south of Vegas. Valley of Fire, an hour or so north, rounds out the top natural attractions. The Grand Canyon and California's Death Valley are within reasonable travel time.
You might think that a city the size of Vegas would have a substantial city park, but you'd be wrong. The town has been too busy coping with hyper-growth to make urban amenities a priority. Parkworthy parcels were reflexively converted to residential and commercial sprawl.
The Vegas specialty is miniscule neighborhood parklets that developers are obliged to provide. They feature plastic swing sets and jungle gyms. They serve a secondary purpose as the neighborhood repository for dog droppings. In recent years Vegas seems to have awakened to the need for parks. Leftover bits of acreage that somehow escaped development are now being devoted to parks.
Nirvana for Golfers
Vegas may be sadly lacking in public green belts but much of the reclaimed desert has been given over to another type of playground: the golf course. In towns like Seattle or Portland it's hard to find someone who doesn't ski. In Vegas, the city pastime is golf. On even the hottest days you will see hackers hitting the links.
Men's Fitness magazine rates Vegas the fourth fattest city in the country. People have a built-in excuse for not getting with a program. Most of the year it's too danged hot to go out for a walk or jog. Every summer there are reports of numbskulls who hurt themselves exercising outdoors. In non-summer, the dusty wind discourages outdoor activity.
Not to worry. Vegas is home to several mammoth 24-hour workout clubs that manage to stay about as busy as the casinos. And no, the clubs don't have slot machines.
Homes encroach on the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The pause in the building boom temporarily spares the park from being engulfed by subdivisions.
Red Rock as we Know it is Doomed
7,200 homes are coming within shouting distance of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Even now the peace and solitude of the canyon are shattered by the roar of dirt bikes, dune buggies, and Harleys. Nature lovers and wildlife will be treated to the din of garbage trucks, sirens, boomcars, soccer games, fireworks, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, and blaring pool parties not to mention the racket of new home construction for ten years. The site of the proposed project is currently served by a relatively quiet country road. An expressway will be built to accommodate the roughly 14,000 cars. The wind will carry loose rubbish into the canyon. Native burros, bunnies, coyotes and jackalopes will have their habitats further impinged. The acreage is now a blighted parcel that has been strip mined for gypsum, a component of the millions of Sheetrock panels that went into the housing bubble. Proponents of the development say it will bring much-needed jobs, just like the thousands of construction jobs that recently vanished without a trace. As an added benefit, a new community will transform the scarred acreage!
Looking at the proposed development on a map, you might wonder why there’s a fuss. The project isn’t actually IN the Canyon. When you visit Red Rock and look east toward the parcel, it dawns on you that it definitely IS in the canyon. Visiting Red Rock at the 6 a.m. opening, you get to enjoy a magnificent silence. When the project is finished and you have 20,000 people and dogs starting their day, goodbye silence.
In the Las Vegas Valley, land is truly waste land. It's lifeless desert with no redeeming significance. The highest and best use is always development. Red Rock was only preserved because it is government land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls vast tracts of western waste land. Something possessed the agency to set aside Red Rock as a recreation area in 1967. It has never been considered a pristine natural treasure like Yellowstone or Yosemite. Conservation extremists believe the sanctity of Red Rock should be preserved at all costs. But this is Vegas. It ain't gonna happen. They should just be thankful that the march to envelop Red Rock in subdivisions is proceeding about as quickly as Mojave Max the desert tortise makes the rounds of his enclosure at the Red Rock visitors' center. (Update August 2011)
Red Rock burros: Their ancestors roamed the dusty streets of early Vegas. (Courtesy This Boundless World)
To Live and Die in LV
Can a place that is so much fun make you want to kill yourself?
Here is the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else, for all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways. Here is where they are trying to find a new life style...
--Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem
From the Las Vegas Sun, Nov. 13, 2008:
In Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion wrote about California but her words are perfect for Vegas. It's the end of the road for people chasing the American Dream. If things don't pan out, Vegas isn't the most uplifting place to cope with disappointment and disillusion.
Maybe it's the unrelenting dreariness of the cityscape. While the Las Vegas Strip may have visual appeal, the city itself is desolate. Most of the TV series CSI is not actually filmed in Vegas. It's simply not that photogenic. The Vegas Valley is a prime example of humdrum geology. The jagged peaks that ring the valley look like piles of dirt from some ancient cataclysm. It's like God forgot to clean up his mess after he dug the Grand Canyon. Apart from a few spots in Summerlin, there simply isn't an inspiring vista to be had.
The sky is not a cheerful blue. It's colorless, washed out. The greenery that survives isn't green, it's olive drab. The dry dusty desert wind that howls night and day is haunting. It's not a place to escape your demons. It's a place where demons multiply. Without strong inner resources, survival is by no means a given. It could be why the Mormons do so well here.
People might be driven to despair by the realization that beyond the glitz and the glamor life is as much a struggle in Sin City as it is in Cincinnati.
When you catch a bus downtown at daybreak and see the maids heading for work in the casinos it hits you that the real Vegas is a shabby city bus, not a party bus. Casino commercials blare over TVs suspended from the ceiling of the bus. The tumblin' dice and revelry depicted in the commercials don't seem so much fun in the clear light of dawn. It's not like you can just step off the bus and join the party.
When the neon lights blink off, Vegas looks like a tired old drag queen without makeup. At 2 a.m., with a few drinks in you and casino chips clicking in your pocket, she was looking pretty good.
Your Guide to Utopia in the Desert
Yes, there is an extensive list here, and it's growing daily. Just like Vegas!
Take the Vegas Quiz - Maybe this squib raises more questions than it answers. This quiz can help reassure you that moving to Vegas was the right decision.
Sperling's Best Places - This site provides unbiased data about Vegas.
Moving to Las Vegas - The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Moving to Las Vegas Forum--where all the action is for newcomer discussions.
Anthony Curtis' Las Vegas Advisor - Las Vegas information on gambling, casinos, shows, hotels, and dining.
Yelp! Las Vegas - User Reviews and Recommendations (including Rufus Quail's) of Top Restaurants, Shopping, Nightlife, Entertainment, Services and More.
Vegas Home Prices Plummet to Bargain Levels - Sin City Featured as One of Fortune's Six Top Real Estate Bargain Centers.
The Suicide Capital Of America - Every year desperate men and women make a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to kill themselves. More than once a month, a visitor commits suicide there, according to Clark County Coroner records dating to October 1998.
A UNLV Survey reveals 40 percent of Las Vegans would leave Nevada if they could.
Sociologist Identifies Las Vegas Suicide Patterns - A new study by Temple University Sociology Professor Matt Wray, published online in Social Science and Medicine, explores time and place as factors in suicide by closely analyzing the patterns of suicide in a single geographic area--Las Vegas--over a 30 year period.
Vegas Today and Tomorrow - Vegas Today and Tomorrow tracks the current building boom and future urban projects in Las Vegas, with renderings, news and photos. Of special interest: The Vegas photo quiz.
The Movable Buffet | Los Angeles Times - Dispatches from Las Vegas by Richard Abowitz.
The Sin City Siren - You must be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
David Mckee's Stiffs & Georges - Vegas news & insider commentary by investigative reporter David McKee.
Las Vegas Gleaner - Progressive news and opinion from the Heartland.
Vegas Tea Room - A place for the Las Vegas Gay, Intersexed, Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgendered (GIBLT-E-I-E-I-O) folks, and some select others, to commiserate.
Pop! Goes the Icon - Comic books. Pop culture. Geekery. - News, notes and commentary about comic books, pop culture and other stuff geeks love, live from Las Vegas.
Las Vegas CityLife - Online home of Vegas's lively alternative weekly.
Las Vegas Jobs - CityCenter Las Vegas Employment - Apply for one of 12,000 jobs for CityCenter opening in December '09
Bikers Behaving Badly - Biker gangs, notably the Mongols and Hells Angels, infest Vegas. This item details a garden variety rumble involving the Flaming Knights, the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang and the Down and Dirty Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, at Mr. D's, your friendly neighborhood biker bar. Keep up with the Vegas chapter of Hell's Angels at their groovy Website.
America's Most and Least Favorite Cities - A survey ranks Vegas as the 4th favorite city! Sin City is surpassed only by New York, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Las Vegas Casino Death Watch - Nick Christenson's Las Vegas Casino Death Watch. These are the hotel/casinos we feel are most likely to close their doors in the near future.
HEAVEN ON EARTH: New Las Vegas residents say positives far outweigh negatives - The newbies we tracked down for this story all described Las Vegas as a veritable nirvana of life and career potential, all cloaked in great weather, gorgeous scenery and every kind of recreation you can imagine.
Las Vegas Golf Courses - Complete guide for Las Vegas golf courses, golf resorts, golf travel packages. Be sure to check the bonus section on gentlemen's clubs.
Dread Zeppelin Official Home
Dread Zeppelin is an American band best known for covering the songs of Led Zeppelin in a reggae style sung by an Elvis Presley impersonator named Tortelvis (Greg Tortell). Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant has said that Dread Zeppelin is his favorite Led Zeppelin cover band. (courtesy Wikipedia)
WikiAnswers - How do you pronounce Nevada? - Angry diatribe from pronunciation zealot who's fed up with the provincial East Coast media insulting Nevada. Take that, Stephanopuolos!
VegasRex - A website run by a guy who lives in Las Vegas.
Cheap Vegas Hotels - Vegas insiders know that ordinary people can get free hotel room upgrades - simply by tipping the front desk clerk at check in.
A Sinners Guide to Las Vegas - VegasTripping is an award-winning, real deal guide to Las Vegas for the experienced and novice.
America's Emptiest Cities - Forbes.com - Las Vegas edged Detroit for the title of America's most abandoned city.
Best Topless Sunbathing in Vegas - "European-style" sunbathing or topless pools are getting very popular in Las Vegas. Nude sunbathing is slowly becoming an amenity at many of the luxury Las Vegas Hotels.
Mid-Century Modern Architecture (in Vegas!) - Vegas has a smattering of architectural heritage. This page points out some residential examples. What it doesn't tell you is that the homes are probably located in bleak run-down areas. One of the best Vegas sites on the Web.
25 Years of Growth in Las Vegas - Satellite images show Vegas consuming the desert like a flesh-eating virus.
Vintage Vegas Collections on Flickr - Hours of browsing rare and unusual Vegas shots from yesteryear. A stunning collection.
The Mean Tunnels of Vegas - Not far below penthouse suites for the whales, a colony of minnows thrives underground in the maze of drainage tunnels under the Strip.
Nevada's Obsession with "Nevada"
Pronunciation sticklers go ballistic
Michelle Sidesteps a Political Landmine
Town Hall audience gets testy when the future First Lady slips
Thanks to her graceful recovery, Obama's Nevada campaign wasn't derailed.
Michelle got off easy. About 2-1/2 minutes in, pronunciation nazis showed their savoir-faire by disrupting George Stephanopuolos's interview with Senator Chris Dodd.
New slogan for Nevada tourism: "Say our name any way you want. Just come and spend money." Let him who is without mispronunciation cast the first aspersion.
Steve Wynn Says "Nuh -VAH -duh"
He's probably the smartest public figure in the state. Who's gonna tell him he's wrong?
Should Mr. Wynn have his Nevada citizenship revoked?
Viva Las Vegas
Dread Zeppelin in the Anaheim Marriot lobby 1/18/09 for the NAMM Show.
Highly recommended. If you want a fun concert, you can't go wrong with Dread Zep. Go on their website and sign up for the newsletter.
Do Your Homework!
It's fun to pull up stakes and move somewhere on a whim. Who hasn't done it? Be sensible this time and do some research before you begin your fateful journey.
Moving to Las Vegas
This books cuts through the hype emanating from the gambling industry to reveal the real Las Vegas, a place full of opportunities. Here is what it's like to live, work and raise children in the gambling capital of America. A revealing look into the real community which leads the nation in job creation and business start-ups. It discusses how the growing retirement communities are changing the political structure; how the construction economy has effected (sic) the economy and how the casino industry is gearing up for another economic boom. Whether relocating, job-seeking, retiring or visiting, there is something for everyone in this book. New in this edition: 8 pages of maps and dozens of updated listings. Tells where the jobs are. How to get the most out of a gambling economy without getting eaten alive. The best private schools and facts behind the Clark County School District-the nation's sixth-largest public school district. (Product description courtesy the publisher).
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