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Sense of Place: Magic in the East

Space in the East
Photography by Brent Holmes

Even when you see it, you can’t explain how it happened

When I was growing up on the East Side, but not up on the mountain where the houses have pools, the Strip was mostly a faraway monument. I could see some part of it from basically everywhere I went. It was where the planes full of people were going. At night, I could hear the party, could feel the woofers at the base of the boulevard knock and boom through the valley. I was born and raised on the East Side. Me and my homies spent our summers hooping and hustling, scraping together change to get 20-year-old Toyotas that didn’t run when we bought them and only started half the time, despite the numberless hours and Pic-a-Part replacements we’d put into them. We didn’t have the money for Strip casinos, and it was much harder to get away with drinking or smoking or fighting down there. So if there wasn’t a show at Jillian’s, we would go to “The View.”

The View is easily the best place in Las Vegas, without question. If you drive east to the end of Vegas Valley Drive, past East Career and Technical Academy, and stay on the road, eventually you can make a U-turn and park in front of the most brilliant show playing in Vegas. Even sweeter: It plays every night, free. Up there, it’s like you can see everything. After the sun sets and the sky changes from cotton candy pinks and blues into her indigo gown, the valley puts on all of its shimmer. This is the way to experience Vegas: out in the quiet of the desert, at the base of the mountain where the sun first breaks over the valley each morning.

This city is impossible to know. It is impossible to describe concisely, or with clarity. It demands poetry. It feels like at this point I should admit that I’m dissatisfied by most of the descriptions of Las Vegas I hear or read. They have too much Joe Pesci, too much Danny Ocean. Or there’s too much talk of the glow of the city and none of the expansive darkness through which the city’s lights have been strung. Vegas is to me a blooming desert meadow spotted with sprouts of stucco and iron and glass. It is Julia Roberts and my Tia Marda. It’s gold and sand.

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At 16, all of my homies knew more than we were supposed to. We knew that the city was holding some of its cards. Our parents all worked so much we never saw them, most of them in casinos and resorts we would point out while sitting on the back of someone’s car and sipping Corona out of a McDonald’s sweet tea cup. The jackpots always had enough zeroes to make the amounts seem fake, and if you drove on the 95 past Sam’s Town, you might see Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and someone was getting that money. Just no one we knew. We were sure of that. So we took our MR-2s, Supras, and Civics up the dirt road as far as our tires would let us. It was like all we wanted was to get a good look at it, like if we could see it, we could make sense of it. We could figure out how to get to the real Vegas, the one we had been told we were supposed to be living in.

The View is spectacular. I love it more than the light show on Fremont I watched as a boy from my mother’s shoulders, or Bellagio’s water show, or , because The View is the only performance that features the Reata Apartments where I grew up on Cheyenne and Walnut. Even Palace Station gets a solo as its sign flashes and fills, singing the city’s favorite melody in yellow light. Up here you see how none of it will ever make sense, probably never did to anybody. No one ever really knows what hand the city will deal them. The cards change day to day. At 16, me and my homies knew that. So we posted up at The View and spoke to each other without ever taking our eyes off the flickering city. We wanted to study its plays, memorize its enchantments, find a way in.