Only recently we traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, to celebrate my husband’s round birthday. I have been there three times before within the past 12 years, always on business: as a trade show reporter, as the leader of my magazine’s reader’s trip group of 40 persons, and as a business consultant for a trade show association. Now was the first time on an entirely private basis – and I expected a different experience. It was to become one, indeed.
Maybe it was because of the time of year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I remember the Strip and adjacent areas as way quieter and more walkable during November or in early February in past years. Above all the Las Vegas Boulevard between the Mandelay Bay Hotel and Circus, Circus used to be dominated by grown-ups. It was what most Germans know from TV and from the movie theaters – a city of business, beautiful architecture, and artful design, with entertainment targeted towards adults.
I was never prepared for what we walked into during the last days of December 2018, though. Las Vegas seems to have become more up-front with adult entertainment than ever. Huge photo billboards advertising “Girls to your room” (not leaving open to what purpose) were circling on truck beds up and down the Strip. Every ten yards on the sidewalk men were pressed cards into their hands, presenting naked girls and phone numbers. Hotel lobbies were featuring large advertising for burlesque shows. The air was reeking of marihuana smoke and cigarette smoke, inside malls and casinos as well as outdoors. People were openly drinking alcohol in the street, carrying colorful yard-long glasses along the sidewalk. Burlesque dancers, shivering in their revealing outfits, were accosting anybody passing by about photo opportunities. Through each and every single open door music was blaring to drown out the neighbor business’ sound machines.
And in the middle of this circus: dozens of families walking with strollers, dragging tots, reining in wide-eyed teenagers. I saw at least a dozen little toddlers throw tantrums on casino floors after ten at night. I watched two teenage girls shrink into themselves at a slightly bawdy magic show; their attention-seeking mother had wanted the lime light for herself – instead the kids took the brunt. I noticed children blocking out the noise by pressing their little palms against their ears. Sure, I also heard the excited cries of a little boy when his family was approaching the “Excalibur” with its magnificent castle architecture. I just wonder what he must have thought when instead of finding a beautiful princess inside there was just another large casino with pubs and other rather grown-up amusement.
Don’t get me wrong. None of the gorgeously designed hotels with their malls of shopping-enticing eternal late-afternoon illumination, glamorous show cases, and intriguing eateries have lost their magic themselves. But they are definitely no playground for kids – they were not meant to be that in the first place. And when mothers sit down on a casino floor with their kids and start drawing pictures with them on a piece of paper spread across the carpet – I’m not sure whether they wouldn’t have been happier in a different place altogether.
Not my children, not my business? Near the end of the Strip we found a billboard recruiting “Little Darlings”. It made me wonder about the mindset of parents taking their kids to a place that still is mainly a playground for adults and not gainsaying so. It made me reflect the after-show collection for helping addicted high school students in Las Vegas. And whether Disneyland wouldn’t have been a better choice for some families out there. After all, Snow-white and Cinderella will still hold more magic for little ones than the bare bosoms of female strangers and the endless ka-ching of slot-machines.