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And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. —Raoul Duke

This seminal quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reflected on the cultural revolution that swept through San Francisco in the middle ’60s. The main character, Raoul Duke (a caricature of the late Hunter S. Thompson), was holed up in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1971 as he typed these thoughts. The revolution was expanding, he mused, all the way out into the middle of the desert, which was still a relatively remote part of the country in the early ’70s. Traces of development and reformation — figuratively and literally — were everywhere.

Despite the ever-changing metropolitan lines across America, and notwithstanding the ever-changing cultural face of America, there’s one glaring reason why Raoul Duke’s message doesn’t translate to 2010 Las Vegas society, and the reason is this:

If you were to go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, right kind of eyes or not, you’d see only more Las Vegas. And depending upon which hill you stand on, you might not see past the brand new CityCenter, a 67- acre, $8.5 billion helepolis on the Las Vegas Strip that should make the neighboring Bellagio and Monte Carlo very nervous.

This complex is beyond big. For you Vegas stalwarts who have been vacationing in the entertainment capital of the world since the Golden Nugget and the Flamingo opened in 1946 — especially you folks who thought you’d seen it all — I’m here to tell you that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It seems like upon each visit to Las Vegas, there’s something new. The town is in a perpetual game of one-upmanship with itself. And each time I visit and a new castle or city replica or golden tower or dancing fountain has been erected, I come back saying, “Well, they’ve really outdone themselves this time. I’ve actually witnessed the pinnacle of architectural and aesthetic greatness.” I must have muttered those lines on 20 different trips over two different decades. And I’m muttering them to you here again now. Only this time, I think my sentiment might prove true.

It’s just so big (click here). So. Big. I stayed at one of the hotels on the compound, the 4,000-plus-room Aria Resort and Casino. My room was something out of a sci-fi movie, and the view was something out of a romantic comedy. From alpha to omega, the quarters were done right. And so were the hotel’s interior and exterior (that’s me next to the joint’s waterfall) and amenities. Heck, I can’t even recommend any one restaurant or bar or pool because there are 17, nine and four, respectively. And that’s just in the Aria. There are two more hotels at CityCenter alone, which says nothing about the 2,400 residences.

I don’t know. Maybe there is still something bigger in store for this boomtown. And maybe you still can see the wave rolling in from the Pacific if you stand on a steep hill in Las Vegas. The town has tricked me before. But one thing I do know is that if you stand on a steep hill in, say, Grand Rapids, Michigan, you can see the lights of CityCenter from 2,000 miles away. It’s that big.

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Adam Pitluk


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