It’s a question I hear all the time when traveling, conducting business on the phone or interacting on social media. I tell someone my home is in Las Vegas. The response often is an astonished pause, followed by a breathless, “What’s it like living in Las Vegas?” Or something to that effect. It happened to me during a family trip to Georgia in February, when I was in Los Angeles last month judging a journalism competition, while chatting up someone on the phone in New York last week, and in a Facebook exchange with a long-time friend this week.
It’s almost as though I said I lived in Baghdad, or Pyongyang, or maybe the Moon.
The astonishment, I suspect, has a number of sources, all grounded in the notion that Las Vegas has a reputation as a despicable place not fit for habitation by normal folks (which, of course, helps make it a great place to visit). This reputation perhaps includes perceptions of excessive summer heat, poor air quality, bad local morals, accident-prone drivers, crime, the October 1 massacre, inadequate medical care and under-performing schools.
The “Sin City” nickname probably doesn’t help. Nor does the famous marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” Nor the 1995 movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” featuring Nicolas Cage’s Oscar-winning performance as a down-and-out Hollywood scriptwriter who moves to Vegas to successfully drink himself to death. (When remembered, the upbeat 1964 song fest film, “Viva Las Vegas,” starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, cuts a bit the other way, and Ann-Margret does live now in Las Vegas.)
Some of these factors are undoubtedly valid. But there are 2 million people living in the Las Vegas metro area (a statistic that often surprises people from elsewhere when I cite it), compared with all of 18 at the start of the 20th century just 119 years ago. (Don’t take my word; click here to see the single handwritten U.S. Census enumeration page listing everyone in 1900 in Las Vegas.) The Clark County School District, which includes all of metro Las Vegas, is now the nation’s fifth largest by number of students (another eye-popping number for some). There must be a reason why so many people are here and indeed growing rapidly in number. Continue reading