Shauna and I took a trip down to Vegas this past weekend to celebrate both her birthday and my mom's birthday. (For those that don't know, my mom and dad both live in Vegas.) I hadn't been there since probably June when I handed in the keys for my job there after finding my replacement and bid the city good riddance.
I used to think Las Vegas was the best place ever. Houses were cheap and big, the economy was always good, the dining was (and still is) world-class fantastic, and you could do just about anything 24 hours a day. The traffic for a city of its size was not bad at all, I had a great job, plenty of friends… it seemed like a great place to spend most of the rest of my days.
Of course, this is what Las Vegas is built on: carefully constructed facades to cover up the things you don't want to know. Within the last few years of my time in the city, the houses got expensive, the crime went up, and the traffic snarls lasted almost all day. The billboards were showing more T&A than network TV can usually get away with. The political scandals implicated some of the most well-connected people in the city. I also came to realize that while my job gave me a lot of comfort (going in at 10AM, pick my own hours, work from home), there was no way to move up in the IT industry.
It's not the kind of thing that just hits you. It creeps into you. As the g-strings and G-Stings closed in on me, I saw the masses of people trying to drink away the sickness the city had infested them with. They were lured in with cheap houses, easy money, and a 24/7 never-ending party. Of course, the party sucks the life right out of people. You hit the ground running, going to bars a few times a week, maybe smoking a little, dropping a few quarters in the machines. Then you find yourself drinking at home. Alone. You're up to a couple of packs a day and dropping a whole paycheck into the one-armed bandits. Las Vegas lures you in with the glam and glitz only to drop you into its many addictions, grinding you up like so much sausage.
Like the sirens of Odysseus, the city lures you in only to wring you for everything you've got. Over a quarter of the people on the road at any given time are intoxicated, be it booze or drugs, trying desperately to forget the soul they lost when they moved there. More than a third smoke, hopelessly addicted to an expensive habit they know is killing them. You can't even go to a grocery store without the jackpots trying to steal those few quarters you have left in your pocket. The city has a terminal disease for which there is no cure.
I tried to read the paper while I was down there, and the entire front page of the Nevada section was consumed by a random double-murder, gangbangers shooting up a school bus, and a politician about to be indicted for perjury. These are the kinds of headlines that also adorned the paper when, on May 17, 2005, I packed the last few boxes into the U-Haul and took off for Utah with my new bride.
Long before that point, I had already been determined to scrape together some savings in the city and then high-tail it out to somewhere else more palatable, probably in the quiet rural towns of White Pine County. By February of that same year, I had already figured out that I would try living in Salt Lake City part-time while my then-girlfriend went to college there, giving our long-distance relationship a break from bi-weekly payments to Southwest. Of course, you don't have plans like these without letting your friends in on it.
The person who I thought was my best friend reacted very coldly. He didn't really say anything about it when I told him in person. The real reaction came weeks later, online and safely away from me. It was at that point that I realized that the closest friends that I had were like the city herself: jealous, vengeful, and not willing to let me slip out of their grasp. The conversation wasn't along the lines of "you've got so much going for you here" or "we'll really miss you if you leave". No, it was a "I can't believe you're leaving me and not doing what I want you to do."
That was a shock I really wasn't ready for, but it completely shattered the last thing keeping me grounded in Las Vegas. I started seeing the city for what it really was, and while I had some friends and associates I would really miss, it wasn't enough to keep me from pulling up stakes. In the two short months between that conversation and semi-eloping, I could feel the city reacting angrily towards me. "How dare you think about leaving me!" it would howl, just as the fair-weather friend had reacted.
After moving, I only went back twice. The first time was to get Shauna's car and the last few bits of my things left behind at my old apartment, the second to finish the tasks with the apartment and turn in my work keys. That final trip was in June of last year, and I hadn't been back until this past weekend.
As we came over Apex Summit, the city stretched as far as the eye can see. The twinkling lights weren't hidden by trees or humidity, the lack of moisture leaving a huge paved lot in front of us. The city didn't want me back, and that was fine. I had already left long ago.