Las Vegas, Nevada

9 days before the election
Population (Estimated): 550,000
2004 Election: Kerry 52%, Bush 47%, Other 2%
2008 Election: Obama 59%, McCain 40%, Other 1%
(map)

Of course, it was from Las Vegas in 1971 that Thompson looked West with the right kind of eyes and saw “the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back” on the momentum his San Francisco generation.

And if San Francisco represented the social movements of the 60s, Vegas most definitely symbolizes the bawdy credit-drunk America of the 90s and now. Neon Styrofoam nothing in Nevada. The desert feels like it’s the only thing that was here 20 years ago and may be the only thing that remains in another 20. Vegas, in particular, appears to be a place that specialized in selling potential instead of substance.

Would Thompson take any solace in the fact that the ideals of the store-bought American Dream that he so fiestily railed against have met their Waterloo is this town?

Vegas, which exploded on service and sin economy now finds itself teetering. The economic crisis that so many people identify as the issue on which they will decide this election is not on the way in Nevada. The fallout isn’t in the future, it’s now.

You don’t need the right set of eyes to see the shift from boomtown to something else in Las Vegas. There’s no subtly to the signs of depression, its all naked and exposed. Abandoned condo developments, tenantless strip malls, well-stocked tent cities. As one person remarked today, parts of the town feel like a carcas being picked over.

The question is whether Vegas, Mesquite and the other towns that expanded so rapidly across the West will survive this downturn. They don’t feel like permanent places more like transient towns that will snap back to their sleepy past now that the construction has stopped. Will those who moved to Nevada during the explosion will move on to the next place selling potential?

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