Las Vegas: The Allure of the Ersatz

Las Vegas (Tomasz Zajda/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Las Vegas is the most honest city in America. It is full of fakery and phoniness — a faux-Egyptian pyramid, an ersatz Eiffel Tower, a miniature New York City skyline — but the fakery and phoniness it is full of are honest fakery and phoniness, cheerful and unpretentious and silly. In that sense, it isn’t fakery at all — it’s fake fakery. One night at the Whole Foods there, I saw a woman who looked exactly like Taylor Swift, dressed like Taylor Swift, with a Taylor Swift hairdo, browsing in the prepared-foods section, and I thought for a second maybe the singer was doing a residency in Vegas and had stopped off to grab a sandwich. After a second, it occurred to me: She was a professional Taylor Swift impersonator. That’s a job in Las Vegas. Being Fake Taylor Swift is probably a lot of work. The Duck Dynasty impersonators don’t have to spend as much time on the Peloton.

Las Vegas is the antithesis of Washington, our hideous national capital, with its real fakery: its ridiculous phallic obelisks and its cast-iron Pantheon copy painted to look like stone. Give me the honest neronic wink-wink indulgence of Vegas, baby! over the pretentious stateliness of Washington any time. Not that you’d actually want to go into one of those Las Vegas casinos. You might sometimes walk through one, holding your breath, to get to a good restaurant. They stink of antiseptic solution and despair.

But they make a nice view, especially at night. That view is best appreciated from a reasonable distance, preferably Henderson or Summerlin, which are extremely nice, thriving communities that offer about 90 percent of what you really want from Southern California (no beach, alas) at about 20 percent of the cost — and you get to keep your guns, too. People who visit Las Vegas think it is about gambling and Britney Spears and getting drunk at 11 a.m. — and, maybe, brothels an hour or so away in Pahrump (“where things go Pahrump in the night”). But the people who live there are, among other things, an unusually churchgoing bunch, and they spend a lot more time hiking and shooting (Vegas is a great bazaar of firearms and fine wristwatches) than they do playing Texas hold ’em, except for the ones who are professional dealers and gamblers.

Which is to say: Vegas is a terrible place to visit, but it is a great place to live. Life can be pretty easy there, rolling out of bed on a bright morning in the middle of February, walking out to the pool, and enjoying another perfect, sunny, cloudless day in a city where the average apartment rents for about a thousand bucks a month and $260,000 gets you a four-bedroom house with a pool. And if you happen to travel a lot, you get one of the country’s easiest and most convenient airports into the bargain: Drop your car off at the valet and you’re at the Centurion Lounge in about twelve minutes. Ignore the people playing video slots outside — Las Vegas wasn’t built for them any more than Fort Worth was built for the steers.

This article appears as “Vegas and Environs” in the September 9, 2019, print edition of National Review.

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