Hell is expensive. This is my first thought as my plane lands in Las Vegas. The Luxor hotel's glass pyramid seems
dangerously close to the runway's edge, as do its chocolate-and-gold sphinx and rows of shaved palms. I wonder if these
rooms tremble when jets land. Behind the Luxor are mountains kissed by dust the hue of bone; to its left lies the Strip, where
color is so bright it looks like it has died, rotted, and come back as a poisonous flower.
I have been forewarned. First, I am told flying in at noon is 'not the way to enter Vegas.' Correct entry is at night. This way I
would have the full treatment of neon and glowing sky. As a child, I was taught not to buy into anything at night. The spoiled,
chipped, or dangerous could be easily disguised. Yet here, in one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, nighttime is
the appropriate time 'to enter.'
Exiting is another matter. According to a recent cover story in Time, Las Vegas has the highest per-capita suicide rate in the
country. This coincides with its enormous expansion, yet the most talked-about suicides -- those of tourists leaping from hotel
balconies after losing everything they had -- are dangerous myths for a city poised to become America's newest economic
icon. In fact, tourists taking their own lives surrounded by the glamour of the Strip comprise only a small percentage of the
fatalities. The bulk are those who moved here for jobs, who live just beyond the lights. Eight times as many residents kill
themselves here as do visitors.
Second, I am told that in Las Vegas I will feel more alive. Anything can be had here; this is the last place before the millennium