Is Las Vegas Still a Good Place to Live?
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
— Peter Seeger (“Little Boxes” — 1962)
Several years ago, I gathered with a group of friends all visiting Las Vegas. At the time, each of us lived elsewhere, scattered in different parts of the country.
Someone within our group made what turned out to be an astute observation. He predicted that, give or take a few years, most of us would eventually end up settling down in Las Vegas. This made perfectly rational sense. Everyone among us enjoyed all the typical activities most commonly associated with Las Vegas — including playing poker, sports gambling, dining at good restaurants, plenty of cheap bars, relative affordability, and the around-the-clock lifestyle of the city. Hey, a man’s got to have his priorities straight.
That bold prediction became something of an omen. Since that time, more than half of those who were present relocated here. In all, I’ve known perhaps 30 or so people (mostly couples) who moved to Las Vegas, just as I did in early 2002.
Now, a dozen years later — what’s happened since then? Did those of us who once made Las Vegas the fastest-growing city in the country end up making the right decision? Are we happier now than we would have been, had we never moved here and stayed where we lived before?
Those are difficult questions to answer. However, looking upon the 30 people much like myself (age, income, and common interest wise) who moved to Las Vegas, it might be revealing to examine what became of these friends. Perhaps we might even answer a much broader question, namely — Is Las Vegas Still a Good Place to Live?
First, some personal reflections. My life as a Las Vegas resident isn’t the same now as it was when I first moved here. I used to spend just about every waking hour inside casinos, poker rooms, sportsbooks, and restaurants. Now, unless my activity is job-related, I tend to spend much more time at home. The prospect of commuting down to The Strip doesn’t interest me much anymore. In fact, I rarely look forward to it.
Much of this has to do with the hassles of fighting worsening traffic, competing for parking, walking a mile to find a bathroom, and getting the general impression that you’re kinda’ on a permanent vacation, but aren’t enjoying any of the perks of stress-free relaxation. Call us all jaded who live here, but there’s nothing impressive anymore about this place to the people who call it home, except for the occasional splendor of the mountains off to the west and the golden sunsets over the horizon. That view never gets old.
When we first moved here during our tenth year of marriage, Marieta was (rightfully) concerned that I’d be out late every night playing poker. I certainly went through that phase, then discovered for awhile that online poker existed. That stay-at-home option lasted until Black Friday. By that time, the prospect of spending my free time hanging out inside poker rooms didn’t interest me very much. There’s a lot more to it, of course. But it’s mostly that when I’m around a poker table, I kinda’ always feel I’m at work. As for hanging out inside sportsbooks, I generally refuse to watch ball games in public anymore. I don’t want people looking at me, pointing and laughing when I lose control of my emotions.
I suppose this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with the typical Las Vegas scene. The kinds of things that were once attractive to me, just aren’t anymore. My priorities changed. My tastes shifted. Going broke once or twice has a way of setting you straight.
But my quantum change of attitude wasn’t driven by money, nor associated in any way with gambling. It was something else. I wondered, did others share these same perceptions?
Remember the 30 or so people I told you about, who moved to Las Vegas within the past dozen years? Well, about a third of them are now gone. They moved back to wherever they were from, or went elsewhere. None of the moves were job related. These were all voluntary decisions made by people in their 40s and 50s that Las Vegas did not turn out as they had hoped.
Another third of the group is now teetering on the fence. What this means is — they’re generally satisfied with the decision to move. However, they see themselves likely settling down somewhere else at some future point. They have no intention of retiring here, unless that means keeping a seasonal residence to use a few months out of the year. Marieta and I put ourselves firmly into this category.
Then, there’s the third of our friends that moved here and still insist that was the best decision they ever made. In some ways, I also place myself into this category. I wouldn’t have changed a thing when it comes to deciding where to live at various points in my life. No doubt, Las Vegas provided extraordinary opportunities for me, both professionally and personally. I moved here at the ideal age in the perfect year, not just in my own life, but on poker’s historical timeline. I stepped into poker’s lightning strike.
So, what is the single biggest reason so many people have come, and then since departed? Why are others now considering leaving? That answer might surprise you.
After talking with those who have come and gone and those who contemplate a future elsewhere, the one predominant point of view is this — Las Vegas is a difficult place to meet quality people and make new friends.
Variations of this opinion were cited by everyone I’ve spoken to. Even those who are relatively happy here.
Is that surprising? Here in a city with so much excitement and variety, a place that never sleeps, a destination that’s the mecca of escape for so many — how can it possibly be that it’s tough to meet nice people?
Here, I’m reminded of writer Jesse May’s bluntly observant narrative in “Shut Up and Deal.” He wrote: “It sure gets lonely in casinos. No, that’s not it. Casinos sure are a place for lonely people.”
I think there’s something to May’s cognition, painful as that might be for many to face. Casinos aren’t tabernacles of joy. For many, they’re hideaways of misery.
Of course, one can aptly conclude that any place is what you choose to make of it. And to be fair, there’s no guarantee that those who departed Las Vegas and who now may be pondering existence in a new place will find what they are looking for at their next destination. Perhaps they’re just perpetually in search of a hallucination.
Sometimes, the place you live isn’t the problem. Happiness isn’t necessarily to be discovered in new homes, and flashy buildings, or even in other people. Happiness isn’t a place on a map.
True happiness is to be unveiled within. Where you reside is purely academic.
Writer’s Correction: The song “Little Boxes” was actually written by Malvina Reynolds; but it was made famous by folk singer Pete Seeger.