The grim news about our economic crisis just keeps coming. Makes you want to get away and forget your troubles. Where better than SoCal’s favorite suburb: Vegas, baby! That’s the thing though, in this age of belt tightening and financial comeupance how will a city built around spending, escapism, reckless gambling and over the top glitz, survive? Sure what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but when it’s your earnings that stay there, where’s the fun—let alone justification—in that? Then, in February, President Obama made a specific reference to how inappropriate it would be for a company seeking bailout money to hold a meeting in Las Vegas. And just like one of those old hotels imploding, convention bookings plunged pretty much overnight.
So we grabbed John Ridley, a true Vegas-phile who was even married there, and along with producer Joe Angier and myself made the ultimate journalistic sacrifice to spend two nights in Sin City to find out if and how sin still sells in a recession.
Here’s a little behind the scenes footage of what we found.
For starters, we had the flight from Burbank almost completely to ourselves:
We went through the nearly empty Tropicana casino to go backstage to witness preparations for the farewell performance of the showgirl revue Folies Bergere. And we got to roam amongst the props and dresses. Some of the dresses are so large, elaborate and heavy that they are simply stored in the ceiling to be lowered twice a night, stepped into, danced in, and then hoisted back up. They will likely end up as part of a special collection at UNLV.
In the course of researching this story we came across a regular feature in the Las Vegas Sun that Robin Leach has been writing for the last 10 years, called “Luxe Life.” We thought we’d get the man behind “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to tell us how things are looking in his adopted hometown.
Who knew that Mr. “champagne dreams and caviar wishes” would be such a fan of public television?
As we delved into the economic history of Las Vegas the recurring theme could be summed up as “reinvention.” There’s been a near constant flow of “out with the old” as Vegas has reinvented itself time and again as a resort, a family destination, a hotbed of sin, and everything in between. The neon “boneyard” is a direct result of those shifting personas. It’s where you can find gorgeous, intricate, gaudy examples of signage archived from the days since the El Rancho Vegas triggered a small building boom in the late 1940s creating the first hotel-casinos fronting a two-lane highway leading into Las Vegas from Los Angeles. That stretch of road evolved into today’s Las Vegas Strip.
Las Vegas has always been intricately connected to Los Angeles. When we interviewed Marc Cooper, Vegas historian and author of “ The Last Honest Place in America,” he said point blank that Las Vegas has only survived its rough times because of the road traffic from southern California to Las Vegas. In fact, he told us, the Strip has also been known as the “Los Angeles Highway”—yet another reminder of that vital and enduring link between Sin City and SoCal.