Las Vegas is a strange, disorienting place.
I was twelve the first time I visited Las Vegas, in the early nineties. My cousin and I walked up and down the Strip all day, sans parents. Our fun was limited, and I pretended each casino was a Disneyland attraction. The Mirage’s erupting volcano. Treasure Island’s pirate show. The Wizard of Oz characters in the MGM Grand. It wasn’t until the road trips in college, zooming east on the 15 from Los Angeles, that I first sensed what Vegas could be.
I remember approaching the Strip from the highway: an illusion, an electric oasis in the middle of a pitch-black desert. We were just shy of twenty-one, fueled on ecstasy tablets and swigs of vodka in water bottles at five in the morning, roaming each casino until a security officer asked for identification and kicked us out. We were restricted to lobbies and pathways away from the slot machines: spaces of inaction, of limbo.
I was there, but not there — not fully part of the experience, yet somehow still contributed to the collective making of the city.
I’ve returned to Vegas many times since then: with my family for reunions; with friends for New Year’s Eve; with ex-boyfriends for weekend getaways; and most recently with my parents, my husband, and my mum-in-law. Each visit, the city has felt different, almost new. It lets me shape it each time.
On a visit about a year ago, the bartender at Gustav’s, a video poker bar in the middle of the Paris casino, told me I had a young face and asked for my ID. Fifteen years have passed since those sleepless nights with my college friends, and now I’m delighted to be asked this question. I handed him my driver’s license, and the older man to my right looked at me and said: “Yep, young face. That’s a good thing.”
It feels odd, perhaps unnatural, to age in a place as timeless and anachronistic as Las Vegas: where night is masked as day, where clocks are nowhere to be found, where things happen and are never spoken of again once you’ve left. But as I sat at Gustav’s with my husband, I knew time had passed: we met there, at that very bar, on just our third encounter. He was a traveler on holiday in the United States, and I was the girl he’d met the week before, in San Francisco, who agreed to meet him in Las Vegas for a day. We didn’t know it then, but this meeting would be the beginning — the starting point of our shared trajectory, and the first real moment that began to shape Vegas as physical and tangible: a place that stays intact even once I’ve left, that exists in the timeline of our “real” world.
In “Autofill Mythologies,” Kelli Korducki describes Google autofill as a window into the mythologies of a city: the observations, ideas, and stories of a place revealed in the detritus collected in the Google search bar. She talks mainly of the different versions of Detroit — how the myths and tales of a city aren’t the same for locals and tourists. An SEO mirror of disparity.
I think of the residue of Las Vegas in Google’s search results — our jackpots and double downs, our hopes and dreams, our secrets, our losses and darkest moments. My own experiences could populate Google autofill on their own, so I can only imagine our collective contributions, and I’m reminded of how a place is so much more than a geographic location. How a city as we imagine it — “the soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare” — is as real as its version on a map.