Not a lot of quiet reflection in Las Vegas. This really isn’t the place for that. The environment is unsuited for contemplation or reassessment.
In Las Vegas, that takes effort. So, even thinking twice is a rarity here.
After 10 years in Las Vegas, 10 Christmases, 10 New Years Eves, I did more than indulge in nostalgia. I practiced some.
Aren’t the days of and bracketed by Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve perfect for such mental inventory?
While a Mojave Desert resident, neither holiday has been particularly memorable or eventful for me. Tourists are aghast when they ask and get that response. Especially New Years.
Living here, living in such proximity to deviant human behavior, they believe I should be out there among the unbridled. They also believe that if they resided in Las Vegas, they’d also be frequent presences on the Strip. Yes, Strip festivities and attractions look terrific on television. Which is why a good many tourists flock to the Big Mayberry to commune with whatever’s occurring at the time.
Living in Las Vegas, though, what local doesn’t cede the Strip to out-of-towners?
Without fail somewhere around 300,000 revelers annually jam the Strip for New Years. They gaze at the fireworks brightening and booming the length of the boulevard. Who knows how many see the show as favorable premonition of their own upcoming year?
A resident now, I prefer the city’s July Fourth fireworks. Alongside the official tightly regulated spectacular on Las Vegas Boulevard, the city that extends outside the Strip lets off its own sparkling blasts of effusion.
On Independence Day, neighborhoods routinely ignore municipal edicts against unsanctioned fireworks displays. What part of the city doesn’t become a launching pad for loud dazzlement? Nowhere near as extensive as the professional shows, what the locals produce probably provides deeper pleasure.
Done for us. It’s for us.
In my decade here, I’ve never joined New Years throngs on Las Vegas Boulevard. Watching the midnight show get its start at the Strat live from my balcony then going inside to follow the pyrotechnic progression south on TV suffices for me. Besides, as a teen in the mid-1970s I saw the ball drop at Times Square.
Yes, imagine if you will, herded among a multitude of happy well-behaved New Yorkers before security mania and corporate sponsorship squeezed joy from the event. Then, revelers sauntered into and started filling Times Square less than an hour before midnight. Now, not only must they arrive somewhat earlier, but are penned in like cattle. And once inside, there’s no reentry if the partier leaves.
Today, there’s also probably a prohibition against brown bagging inside these enclosures. Be assured in that New York of impossibly long ago, Gotham when it was still Fun City, authorities likely announced the same measure. And like Prohibition, New Yorkers of the later era copied our Jazz Age forebearers. We ignored it.
Helping immensely was an NYPD whose on-duty officers doubtlessly did the same during their formative years. And likely would’ve been doing it again that night if they weren’t assigned a New Years Eve tour in Times Square. Furthermore, most cops then were born and raised city dwellers. New Years Eve would’ve had them leaning on the spirit of the law, not its letter.
Years later, again before security became inescapable and branding unavoidable, and my friends and I had gotten older – older, though as always not as mature, but just as raucous – we’d start greeting New Year’s Eve in Manhattan. In someone’s apartment. At other times, in hotel rooms near midtown.
In both, music was loud. Hosts and guests were louder. Loud enough to drown out any neighbors’ futile complaints. Liquor poured freely though easier still was swilling it.
If held in an apartment, brownstone windows opened onto fire escapes. On these platforms bottle rockets could be lighted. We watched their whistling ascent until rising high enough to add further bang into night.
Immersing myself in Las Vegas New Years Eve festivities strikes me as a sidestep. Memories of having enjoyed better would always assert themselves. Instead, I uncork a bottle or two of Champagne while celebrating next years’ arrivals throughout Europe, Rio, then New York, until the new finally bursts three hours later over the Mojave.
For this Christmas I revived several traditions. At least traditions in Ouarropas, my former home in New York. Not just sending Christmas cards. That’s remained a constant. Started sending them in New York and have continued in Nevada. While it’s heartening to receive the same, I do so because of the pleasure it gives me.
Last year, my Yuletide greeting bore the image of the Grinch. He was preparing to return presents to Whoville he’d stolen. As we all remember, the villagers’ caroling despite the loss of material goods lightened his heart; convincing him the spirit of the season the greatest gift of them all.
I acquired the above habit from mother. Sending cards, not returning presents to Whoville residents. Over decades she kept card manufacturers and the post office busy. The better cards in her estimation she saved. Through them one could sort of gauge changing tastes and attitudes across decades. Those from the 1950s and 60s had Mad Men glamor. After these, greetings were less polished, but more commercial. Akin to the holiday itself.
In her last years, mother mailed fewer and fewer cards. In fact, several years before her demise she announced a halt to sending them. She did so abruptly. If I thought about it at the time, maybe I considered this a way of her economizing. Only after she had departed and I sorted through her possessions did I fully understand.
I uncovered what had served as her address book. Mother had started adding names, addresses, and phone numbers to this wirebound register during the early 50s.
By the time I found it in 2013, the book had bulged into a bale. People had moved during the decades, had changed their phone numbers. Numerous crossouts eventually left no room for updates. Therefore, before sticky notes she’d paperclip revisions on pages holding addressee contacts.
Thing is if the person had moved twice or more, she never tossed what had become obsolete. Whatever her motive behind keeping these superfluous bits, I read as guides to her friends’ mobility. By them one could discern whose accommodations had improved or declined.
Flipping through the pages, it dawned on me almost every addressee on these leaves had died. She had been one of the few Mohicans left. That realization must’ve brought her own impending mortality even nearer. What extent of melancholy might have weighed her decreasing days? Moreover, few of her cohort remained with whom to discuss times when they had been at their liveliest.
I’ve heard lifelong friends will do this.
One thing has become clear since relocating to Las Vegas. It’s not a family spot. I’m still stunned at parents who drag their children here. “Oh! Let’s watch daddy split 10s! Say adios to your college fund kids! Because when mommy was up big, she couldn’t defy gravity and leave the table with the bundle she’d won. Not only did she give it back. She then threw a couple hundred more after it hoping to rewin what she’d lost.”
Perfect examples of suckers’ bets.
Even dumber are tourists who wrongly surmise with the approaches of Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, visitors will crowd the city. Only if those coming here are visiting relatives. Otherwise, who in his or her right mind would come to Las Vegas for family-centric holidays?
Trust me. Those are the dreariest days to be in Las Vegas. If I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t be here then.
I brightened up Christmas 2023 with a couple reminders of having lived in suburban splendor. Why had I neglected these for so long? Was it because I wanted to avoid recollections of much which has gone? Or again, just because Las Vegas comes up way short on inspiring wistfulness.
This December thanks to the miracle of streaming, I could listen to the full Nat King Cole and Andy Williams Christmas albums. In 10 years here, I’d pulled up selections off the records but hadn’t played either in full out West. Or had I? Anyway, the major factor missing by streaming them? Aural richness.
Both platters’ music filled many houses back in holiday Quarropas. Along with many other Christmas recordings by other artists. But Nat King Cole and Andy Williams predominated. That pair imprinted deepest in memory.
Theirs were the ambient sounds accompanying a lot of merriment and cheer. Not so much gratitude and thankfulness. I grew up around plenty of hardworking adults. Need marked their rough upbringings. The idea they should be grateful and thankful for finally earning comfort would never have occurred to them.
Theirs was reward, not awarded.
Each knew well what it was not to have. Christmas was the sole time all could cut loose, relax. Christmas wasn’t so much in exchanging gifts among themselves, though lavish what they could on children, but much more about the high spirits raised among relatives and old acquaintances who shared similar backgrounds.
Happy New Year.