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An ode to Las Vegas

| Monday, February 17, 2020

When most people at Notre Dame hear that I’m from Las Vegas, their first reaction is usually an emphatic and ambiguous “Ooo!”

This is usually followed by a sometimes curious, sometimes oddly judgmental, “So do you live on the Strip? Or close to the Strip? Do your parents work on the Strip? What’s it like to live there?”

The answer to the first three questions are always disappointing, because no, I do not live on the Strip. I live 20 minutes away from the Strip, but I also live 20 minutes away from most places I ever need to be in Las Vegas, so “close to the Strip” is subjective. As for whether or not my parents work on the Strip, I have yet another disappointing answer: No. Both of my parents work for the Catholic Church, which shocks most people almost as much as hearing that I’m from Las Vegas. 

“What’s it like to live there?”

I never know what to say to this. How do I describe my hometown? How do I describe what it’s like to live in a city that most people only ever see for two days of drunken adventures? I’m not sure if I can ever do it justice, but here’s my best shot at describing Vegas. 

Vegas is a big city with a small community. When you live there, you’re almost always guaranteed to be three degrees of separation away from any new person you meet. Everyone knows everyone, and community ties run deep. 

And yes, we have our specific-to-Vegas quirks. We have slot machines in our airports, gas stations and grocery stores, and casinos in our strip malls. Almost all of our movie theaters and concert venues are attached to casinos. Some of our freeways have been under construction for what feels like a decade at this point, and we do have areas of town that are almost entirely populated by strip clubs and dispensaries.

But Las Vegas is so much more than just gambling and clubs. We have beautiful mountains and canyons to hike. We have a huge Chinatown full of incredible restaurants and shops. You can find some of the best tacos you’ll ever eat in hole-in-the-wall restaurants that have been around for generations, and up-and-coming sushi restaurants run by young couples. You can find Ethiopian food on the same street as an authentic noodle house and an Indian restaurant run by the same family for decades. Our churches are just minutes away from the synagogues and gurdwaras, and faith leaders of all traditions interact at cultural events to support each others’ communities. Las Vegas is a rich city made up of everyone, from fifth-generation Las Vegas residents to first-generation Americans making their way in a new country. There’s a place and a community for everyone. 

Vegas is a different city to everyone that lives there. To me, Vegas is my high school and the coffee lounge down the road where my sister and I stopped after school. It’s the California Pizza Kitchen where my friends and I would celebrate both birthdays and Saturday shopping trips, and the ramen bar where I fell in love senior year. It’s the neighborhood church where my mother works, and the smell of warm curry when I come home after a long day. It’s the neon signs on a concert venue where I sprained my wrist in a mosh pit, and the dusty parking lots of the arts district downtown where the Route 91 memorial still stands. Vegas is a city that means something different to everyone, and I don’t think any two people would ever describe the city in the same way.

So, when the next person asks me what it’s like to be from Las Vegas, I will direct them to this column. I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully describe what my hometown is like, but I know that my love and understanding of Las Vegas will forever be changing and growing, just as my city grows. I’m sure that in a year or so, I’ll look back on this column and wish I had described Vegas completely differently, but one thing I know for sure is that in a year or so, whenever I look back on this column, I’ll still love my hometown just as much as I do now. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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