It’s hard to land in Las Vegas without at least a few preconceived notions about the people here—degenerate gamblers, greedy casino owners, exhausted showgirls and the like—images conjured up from so many Hollywood flicks, tell-all books, and mafioso lore. I’m sure Sin City lives down to its seedy reputation on a regular basis, but there is another side to the place that doesn’t get much attention, probably because it’s not as dramatic.
There are actually a lot of hard-working people here. They stand on their feet for hours dealing out three-card poker or blackjack, they walk around and give talks to tourists, many of whom are rude or behave idiotically—one man on a tour stopped at a blackjack table and began playing, holding up the entire group. They’re waitstaff, bus drivers, housekeeping staff in the hotels, construction workers, and what this begins to amount to, interestingly enough, is the realization that Las Vegas is a blue-collar town with a glitzy coating of luxury sprayed over it, in much the way that spray-painting one’s Big Wheel would not somehow make it a Ducati motorcycle.
There is a lot in the city that feels like an overgrown amusement park; there are many winding queues one may stand in, for access to a buffet, concert, or nightclub. For some of these people go all out. Our tour guide, Jenny, who finally landed a singing gig at the Rio, told us that to get into Tao after hours, one needed to look the part of A-list celebrity, and that some would-be patrons rent Ferraris just so they can drive them to the valet and increase their chances of access at the door to the joint. I can’t really wrap my brain around paying that much for such activity, but people are all their own. Back at the MGM Studios themepark in Orlando, Florida, customers can pay to have actors pretend that they’re movie stars. It seems like the same kind of experience, and it’s what Las Vegas is so very good at providing.
Those gondola drivers? All auditioned, and all are opera singers, and most are probably waiting for their big break. The pit bosses in the casinos? They have worked their way up from dealing, or an entry-level job, and they have seen everything out there—every way to cheat, every trick for keeping one’s affairs from one’s spouse, every gambler on his or her last dime. The front desk staff? They know who is fronting the rich and famous lifestyle, and who really has the dollars behind the facade.
At some level, it probably doesn’t matter, especially as our economy continues to stagger around like a drunk in front of the Bellagio light show. But for all of the neon, velvet, mosaic, and amped out music, it’s the working folk of the city who make this the entertainment juggernaut that it is.