Thoughts on Las Vegas and ‘View of the World from 9th Avenue’

View of the World from 9th AvenueOn a wall at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters is a blown-up replica of arguably the most famous magazine cover ever. “View of the World from 9th Avenue” by illustrator Saul Steinberg, graced the March 29, 1976, issue of The New Yorker. Its careful distortion of diminishing detail and distance–still studied in art schools–perfectly captured the notion that elite New York City residents are haughty folks full of hubris wrapped up in their own surroundings and barely able to distinguish much of anything west of the Hudson River.

Take a close look at the cover, which I have reproduced elsewhere on this page. Past the thin band across the middle of  my native “Jersey,” you can see Chicago, Texas, Los Angeles, something representing the Rockies, and in the far distance beyond the Pacific Ocean, China, Japan (as one island) and Russia.

Plus Las Vegas.

Sure, even back then Las Vegas was well-known for casinos, entertainment, the mob, weddings and divorces (maybe in that order). And Steinberg found the city’s inclusion more noteworthy than San Francisco, Denver and Seattle, which are nowhere to be seen. But then again, in those days the population of the Las Vegas metropolitan area was only about 400,000. The reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes owned a major chunk of the town (and, oddly, died just a week later). Most of the land was vacant.

Look at the changes. The mob is gone, and the Las Vegas area population today has swelled to nearly 2.4 million. The region is an economic engine all its own. Why, there’s even a pro football team coming to town next year, on top of the hockey team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals in its first season last season. The richest person in Vegas is now Sheldon Adelson (Venetian, Sands Expo and Convention Center,  Las Vegas Review-Journal), who didn’t acquire his first Las Vegas property until 1988. Things that happen in Las Vegas now make national and international news, even if it’s only a bug infestation.

And, of course, there’s now legal recreational marijuana (at least on the state level), which I know from conversations with my many friends in New York, where I once lived, is a topic there of considerable interest and an additional draw here. The fancy hotels on the Strip still prohibit customers from smoking pot in rooms. But I’ve run into hotel maintenance workers who tell me tourists don’t think twice about getting high in their rented quarters and gladly paying the $500 cleaning and fumigation fee.

In a memorable turn of phrase, a judge in a copyright infringement case once called Steinberg’s creation a map of the world from an egocentrically myopic perspective.” I’m guessing Kansas City, a place that hasn’t gotten much attention since Harry S Truman was president, was put on for its prodigious processing of New York strip steak and barbecue. I have no theory at all about the Romanian-born Steinberg’s inclusion of Utah.

But I have to think if Steinberg, who died in 1999, were still around to update his 43-year-old masterpiece, he might position Las Vegas a little more correctly. On his cover, Las Vegas is to the north of Utah, when, of course, it is to the south. For better or worse, everyone today–especially the Upper West Side crowd in New York–knows exactly where Sin City is.

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