Beyond Neon: Finding Peace in the Other Las Vegas

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Maurice, at the edge | Charlotte Hsu

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Las Vegas is a place of natural beauty, a place that speaks of mankind’s limitations. Raucous as it is, this city is an outpost of civilization, set in a lonely valley against elegant mountains of bleached, red rock. Drive fifty miles in any direction and you will find yourself in the desert, surrounded by cacti and shrubs, by sand covered in lizards’ tracks. These busy creatures scurry about, living in their own world, doing just fine in a desert where men struggle to survive.

The sunrises and sunsets are stunning here, drowning the sky and world below in a symphony of color. You can see for miles. On days when you’re expecting rain, you can watch the storm clouds gather in the distance before they commence their long march toward the valley. In a city like Boston, like New York, like San Francisco, you are consumed by civilization, living in the shadows of skyscrapers that blot out the sun. There, you don’t know the storm is coming until the nasty, dark clouds are upon you, until you feel the cold droplets of the world’s tears sliding down your cheeks. The sounds you hear there are those of the city: customers haggling with merchants, friends bantering about a night out, businessmen discussing the latest news, the war, the price of oil. Outside, you hear car horns honking, the hum of a hundred vehicles idling at intersections where mechanical signals command them to stop.

Las Vegas, too, is a metropolis. But here, at least in certain spots, there is a sense of peace. Over an indomitable desert stretches a vast sky, pink and yellow at dawn and dusk, a heavy indigo blanket covering the world at the zenith of night. Close your eyes, and you can still hear nature — the baritone song of winds whirling through canyons and, on some days, an absolute silence. In this dream-like city, a lone narcissus in the desert, men shout and bellow, drunk on the extravagance of the civilization they have built. But in the end, the boundless desert swallows their every utterance, reducing their voices to a whisper.


Story written in September 2007 and June 2008.

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