Vegas Stronger

Years ago I re-discovered Las Vegas. It was in the early 2000’s after the newer section had been built. I took a trip there, only remembering what it looked like over a decade prior to that.  As I made that first drive down The “New” Strip, I felt like I had finally stepped into Petula Clark’s Song “Downtown”! I first heard that song as a small child which made me long to find that downtown full of bright lights where I could forget all my cares (whatever that meant to a toddler). There was a place I always used to visualize when I would hear that song. Las Vegas was the first city that lived up to the place I had drawn in my imagination so many years before.

While there, I woke up early every morning and just walked along The Strip, looking at all the wonderful buildings and other works of art. I was completely unaware of all there was to find in and around the hotels since I had done no research. Really, I barely saw any sights on that trip but I learned something. I finally discovered “that one thing” about Vegas; Vegas is the great escape for many different people in many different ways. Whether you like to party or don’t, whether you like to gamble or not, whether you like to walk or try different foods or eat sweets or drink alcohol or you don’t, whether you like shows or magic or you have no interest in it at all, you can still find some way to escape and forget your day-to-day reality in Vegas. A long weekend in Vegas Is like watching a 72 hour movie and just completely losing yourself in it. This city of bright lights can provide a much-needed release and help you reset very quickly because it is like going to another world.

This year the choice was made to go during Halloween to experience a new kind of festive atmosphere on the strip. I had gone during Thanksgiving the year before. That time of year draws a large shopping crowd. This time I wanted to see something different. It is truly part of the fun to plan an activity and get to look forward to it for a while. I had been  planning the trip and looking forward to it for about a month when that horrible Monday came. I received a call as I sat down to start my work day that morning. The caller asked me if I had seen the morning news yet and told me “it’s bad”. I immediately turned on my iPad and saw the news about the Las Vegas massacre that had taken place the night before.

The fact that I had been planning for my trip and looking SO forward to it, took me half way through the empathy process. These people planned this big night out in Vegas and looked forward to it with excitement. Then this disgusting tragedy took place in the midst of it all. Joy to horror.

It was hard to imagine going there to have fun in light of what had happened. I questioned if I really wanted to go at all. After several days, it came to me that if all I could do was to go and feel the sadness for the victims then that it was what I should do. Instead of change my plans and avoid having to feel the impact, I should just go. It is so easy to do that when tragedy strikes far away, avoid it, brush it aside never having to feel how real it truly is, allowing your brain to make it “not real”, never having to empathize with the victims.

In the month preceding my trip I pretty much obsessed on all the news surrounding this horrific event. Within the first week I heard so many stories about how Vegas was bouncing back immediately. The citizens of Las Vegas were not going to allow evil to strip away everything their city stands for and neither were those who love to visit Vegas. It was still a little hard to imagine going there and just having a good time. I was ready though, to experience whatever differences there was going to be there now. No matter how much most of us were possibly going to lose by this event there were others that had lost so much more, everything.

Upon arrival, the #VegasStrong statement was visible everywhere, on buildings, billboards, souvenirs. People were going about their business more energetic and cheerful than one would think possible. They were doing it, standing their ground against this attack on their people and culture. It was pretty clear immediately that this city was not going to Cower to the evil that had tried to break them.  I got the chance to see how strong the people of Vegas really are.

There was one place where the atmosphere changed somewhat; where the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign sits in the median on Las Vegas Boulevard South. It used to be where some of the happiest people on earth were standing, getting their photos taken. Maybe they’d just started their vacation and had high expectations of an awesome time ahead. Maybe they had just finished their vacation having experienced the greatest time ever. Perhaps they just got married.

There were still happy people posing in front of the sign but those who wandered immediately beyond the sign turned suddenly quiet, somber, respectful, where 58 crosses stretch along the median for what seems to be miles, when you consider that each represents a precious life. Many people think that when they are standing on that median they are in Las Vegas, Nevada when in fact they are actually and ironically in Paradise, Nevada.

I walked the length of the memorial on both sides. There were thousands of mementos meticulously placed around the wooden crosses. Flowers. Bears. Flags. Painted stones. Rosary beads. Photos. Candles. Notes. Jewelry. Bottle of water. A beer. Invisible tears.

This memorial has been courageously and respectfully placed there on the median in Paradise near the welcome sign. Las Vegas has embraced the sad reality of this tragedy and enforces the memory of it and it’s victims. In the front it reads “you will never be forgotten”, on the opposite end, “#VegasStrong” on what looks like a large grave marker.

I was thinking about it and I am not sure “VegasStrong” is quite right. VegasStrong definitely describes Las Vegas before this incident happened and they are certainly still strong. But we all know that this has changed Vegas in some ways forever. This city went in one side of hell and came out the other side.  If it was up to me, I would appropriately add just a couple more letters so it would read #VegasStronger.