Thursday, December 22, 2011

Here's to you, Vegas, Forever in the 90s

Here's a little confession: whenever I'm homesick (or, for that matter, can't sleep... so let's just say, this is a common occurrence) I watch CSI. A part of me feels a little silly for doing it, knowing that, except for the occasional obligatory shot of Nick Stokes on the Strip, it isn't filmed here. 

But they get almost all of the details right. From the street names & intersections, to which neighborhoods are bad and which are posh... they even use local newscasters when they show news clips. (Most often Paula Francis.) This is mostly due to creator (and my teenage speech & debate patron) Anthony Zuiker

And it's that texture, even more so than my belief that Nick Stokes is the perfect man (I love when he flips that shovel in the opening sequence. Bam!), or the increasingly preposterous (and/or recycled! They rely on 10-12 years of distance for you not to remember certain actors coming back [such as the actor who plays Henry, who originally played the baddie in a zoo animal smuggling case that got a man killed. He couldn't be Henry! He got sent prison.]) plot ideas (like the whole Strangers on a Train idea. They've done that one three times now). Even more than my loose personal connection, which somehow feels less than loose. 

Everything about Vegas, even CSI, loops back around to the 90s. The show didn't start until 2000, the year I graduated and left Las Vegas, but everything about it feels fixed in the 90s, just like Vegas. It's willingness to strip, repurpose and reassemble pieces-- actors, plot lines, you name it. 

I can't stress the truth of this to you enough. And can you blame Vegas? (The dream of the 90 is alive in more places than just Portland!) The 90s were a golden decade. The 90s were good to Vegas. Good to America, in fact. It started with the Mirage in '89, and then the Excalibur and the Rio in '90, the Las Vegas Bowl in '92. In '93 we sold and imploded the Dunes to make way for the Bellagio and built the one billion dollar MGM Grand. (In the spot of the old Marina Hotel. That wing still smells like fish to me.)

'94 - Luxor opens with a light beam you "can see from space."
'95 - Fremont Street Experience built, Hard Rock Hotel opens, Landmark imploded. 
'96 - Stratosphere opens. The iconic Sands is closed and imploded on November 26
'98 - Aladdin imploded, rebuilt. Bellagio opens featuring Las Vegas's first fine art museum

We've never been as good as we were then. But we keep trying. And I'm certainly not the only fan of nostalgia around here. The radio stations still have the same DJs. Mark & Mercedes are still playing almost exclusively 90s music. Paula Francis is still rocking the news on Channel 8.  It's comforting.

It took me a long time-- nearly 20 years-- to come to appreciate, or even understand, this weird and sort of wonderful place where I spent my formative years. While the 90s weren't an especially "good" decade for me, those years are echoing and reverberating back through everything I've done since. A part of me has always tried to deny to myself that this is where I came from-- it's not intellectual or cerebral, Vegas doesn't appreciate art or culture, etc etc etc, I have waxed on to myself, as I toured the world, and tried on different versions of myself for size. And oddly, moving abroad has actually enabled me to be here more often and more fully than I have ever before. 

Vegas is always destroying and regenerating-- we have no sentiment. We rip it down. Anything that isn't working anymore-- it comes down in artful implosions. But a part of it is fixed resolutely somewhere in the 90s. And I'm glad of it. It makes sure I can't let myself off the hook. Any temptation I might have to forget the fluke of my identity is evaporated driving down the many many freeways to the tune of one of those 90s jams. They can start calling Barbary Coast "Bill's" but Drais is still there and so is Battista's Hole in the Wall with world's oldest living accordion player. And Green Valley Parkway is a bit bleaker than it was in my day-- we're no longer dying the grass green-- but drive down Windmill & turn on Glacier, and my old house is still there, along with the Willow tree my dad and I planted in the front yard in 1994. It's taken over the whole yard. You'd hardly know you were in the desert. 

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