What does Las Vegas have to do with personal development? To most people not much. But in order to answer the frequent questions I receive like “What could possibly make you want to live in a place like Las Vegas?” or “What’s it really like to live in Sin City?” I’ve decided to commit this article to explaining what it’s like to live in one of the most unusual cities on earth. Maybe you’ll find some personal growth lessons here, and maybe you won’t, but hopefully you’ll find this insider’s look worth a read.
When Erin and I decided to move to Las Vegas in January 2004, we felt we were taking a risk. We didn’t know anyone here, so we’d be cut off from our local support network of family and friends. Losing the free babysitting was an especially big deal. But in hindsight this move turned out to be one of our best decisions ever. I thought I’d be OK with living here, but I was surprised by how much I really like it.
The main reason we decided to move was that we needed a bigger house after our son was born in 2003 (he just turned 4 this month). We were trying to cram four people and two home offices into a 3-bedroom house we were renting in Canoga Park. This required sacrificing a lot of our personal space to use for the business.
We started looking for bigger houses in our area, but the size and quality we wanted was out of our budget. We kept expanding our search radius, and when we started seeing nice houses in our price range an hour away, I said to Erin, “If we’re going to move this far, we might as well move to Vegas.” I was only half serious when I said it, but the idea soon took root. It wasn’t long before I went on a weekend scouting trip to Vegas just to see what we could get within our price range, while Erin remained behind with the kids. By the second day, I found a great 5-bedroom rental house for about the same price as the 3-bedroom we had in L.A., and we were sold on the idea of moving.
The new house was much more modern (built in 1998) than our Brady Bunch bungalow in L.A. The move was a brave commitment for Erin because she’d be moving to a house she’d never seen, and she’d lived in L.A. her entire life. But she trusted me not to lead her astray, and the digital camera photos gave her some idea of what to expect. The first time she saw her new Las Vegas home was when we arrived with a packed U-Haul truck in January 2004. Fortunately, she liked it immediately.
We opted to rent for a year, so we could easily move back to L.A. afterwards if we didn’t like living in Las Vegas. And if we did like it, that first non-committal year would give us time to become acquainted with the city, so we could scope out other neighborhoods for eventually buying a house and setting down roots.
We quickly grew to love living in Las Vegas and decided to stay. We bought a house here when our one-year rental lease expired, and seven weeks ago we upgraded to an even better house. Although Vegas housing prices have risen a lot since we moved here, they’re still a lot cheaper than in other major cities. An L.A. realtor friend of ours estimated the same house in a comparable neighborhood in L.A. would cost at least double what we paid for it.
Although people commonly refer to Las Vegas as Sin City, there are some very positive aspects to the city that don’t get publicized much. I’ll get to those in a moment. But first, here’s some factual info about the city…
About Las Vegas
Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the USA with about 70,000 new residents moving here each year, about 40% coming from California.
The state of Nevada has a population of about 2.5 million people, with 1.8 million living in the Greater Las Vegas area. Las Vegas is currently estimated to be the 28th largest U.S. city. The city sits in a large, relatively flat valley basin, about 2,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains on all sides. The city is already pushing up against the mountains to the east and west, and it’s gradually filling in to the north and south as well. It’s only a matter of time before the Vegas valley runs out of land for new development.
Politically Nevada’s registered voters are split about 40-40-20 between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. One of the more charged political issues for Las Vegas residents is the Yucca Mountain Project, the proposed repository for vast quantities of U.S. nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain is about 100 miles NW of Las Vegas. Billions of dollars have already been spent on the project. I know a couple people who are involved with it.
During the summer months it gets very hot here. Temps can soar above 110 degrees. Today’s high is 102 where I live. Since I live up in the hills on the NW side of town, it’s usually 5-10 degrees cooler here than in the SE part of town near the airport.
Winter temps can fall to the 30s. Of the four winters I’ve spent here so far, it snowed on only two days. Erin made a snowman the first time it happened.
When it rains here during the summer, sometimes the ground is hot enough that the rain drops evaporate on contact. It’s weird to see the ground remain dry while it’s raining.
The hot summers were the #1 reason I didn’t want to live in Las Vegas. I grew up close to the ocean where the temperature is close to 70 degrees year round, and there’s always a moist ocean breeze. My parents’ house in L.A. doesn’t have air conditioning and never needed it. By contrast my Vegas house has 3 separate A/C units.
At first I didn’t like the hot weather, but eventually I got used to it. Now I actually enjoy the hot summer days instead of merely tolerating them. I was really surprised that I was able adapt as well as I did.
From May through September, I never need to think about bringing a jacket or sweatshirt with me when I leave the house. Shorts and a T-shirt are fine at all times of day, since the temps won’t dip below 80 degrees no matter what. The summer nights here are really nice.
Since the desert air is so dry, it doesn’t feel as hot as it would in a more humid location like Atlanta. If you avoid direct sunlight, the heat doesn’t feel so bad, but when you’re standing in the sun in an asphalt parking lot and it’s 108 degrees, it can feel like you’re in an oven. One time when Erin and I were taking a trip here, our car broke down about 60 miles outside of Vegas, and we were stuck in 120-degree heat for 3 hours. If you care to read the whole story, you’ll find it here.
Las Vegas resident vs. Las Vegas tourist
If you’ve only seen the tourist-trap parts of Vegas such as the famous Las Vegas Strip and downtown, where most of the major hotels and casinos are, it would be a huge mistake to extend those impressions to the rest of the city. Living in Las Vegas is an entirely different experience than visiting Las Vegas, unless you happen to live right on the Strip.
When Erin and I first moved here, we learned that many residents barely visit the tourist areas at all. Some people told us it had been a few years since they’d been to the Strip, even though they lived only 15-20 minutes away. Although we used to take 3-4 vacations here each year when we lived in L.A., the tourist appeal eventually wore off after we moved here.
Nevertheless, we still go to the Strip once or twice a month on average, mostly for family breakfast buffets at the Luxor, the Flamingo, or Mandalay Bay hotels, all of which have decent vegan options. Our kids like going on the rides at the Circus Circus Adventuredome too.
Away from the tourist areas, traffic in Las Vegas is usually light, with some clogging on the main arteries during rush hour. The heaviest Vegas traffic seems to occur when you head to the Strip or downtown on a Friday night, but we’ve learned to avoid doing that whenever possible. The first week after Erin and I moved here, we watched the local news for the traffic report. The reporter cautioned viewers about the heavy rush hour traffic, but we could see on the video that the cars were moving about 35 mph. We both laughed at him. “Heavy traffic” in L.A. means you’re sitting in a parking lot and might as well get out and walk — if the cars are going 35 mph on the freeway during rush hour, it means you’ve left the city.
Some of the world’s best entertainment is found in Vegas, and Erin and I have seen some truly amazing shows. Lance Burton’s magic show, which we saw earlier this year, had us scratching our heads the entire time. We eventually concluded he must be one of three triplets in order to pull off the tricks he did. The Blue Man Group was a truly hilarious show — I’ve never seen anyone TP the entire audience before. One of the perks of being Las Vegas residents is that we often get two-for-one show discounts in the mail during the off season. Many other attractions offer locals discounts as well.
Vegas has a very hot job market. The casinos are always hiring, but the rapid growth of the city means there’s a strong demand for more service professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, etc. I only have a few friends who actually work for the casinos, but I’ve met a lot of people who work in growth fields like real estate, construction, or government services. Some companies use billboards to advertise jobs.
Brand spanking new
One of the first things Erin and I noticed about Las Vegas is how new and modern many of the residential and commercial areas are. This is mainly because those neighborhoods were nothing but open desert 10 years ago, so the entire community is practically new. I rarely see any chipped paint or cracked sidewalks. Admittedly this isn’t true of the older parts of the city, but there’s so much new development that the older parts are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the whole. Even the budget housing looks pretty good compared to what you’ll find in other major cities, mainly since it’s just not that old yet.
We live in the NW part of town in a community called Summerlin. Most of the houses in this area are probably less than 10 years old. Our current home was built in 2003 (along with the entire surrounding neighborhood), and our last two houses were built in 1998 and 1995. These modern homes are designed for energy conservation, and most have water-efficient landscaping. Everything is very well insulated, so you wouldn’t even know it’s 100+ degrees outside until you walk out the door.
The surrounding residential and commercial areas are very intelligently planned. Since the city planners had large expanses of open desert to work with, they were able to do a pretty good job of zoning commercial, residential, and industrial areas for optimal efficiency and aesthetics. Certain areas look like they were planned by an experienced Sim City player, with parks and schools at semi-regular intervals.
Las Vegas has abundant free parking almost everywhere. The only place I’ve ever seen a parking meter was downtown at one of the government buildings. I can find a close parking space virtually anywhere, and I don’t need to worry about scheduling my errands at off times to avoid crowds.
Most of the local stores are very modern, since they were just built a few years ago. They look like they were designed for this decade. Checkout lines are usually short, even at the popular locations on a weekend. For example, the Costco near my house has wider, cleaner aisles than its L.A. counterparts, it has more abundant parking, and it’s less than half as crowded.
Las Vegas has some of the nicest public parks I’ve ever seen, but you won’t find these in the tourist areas. The parks sport modern playground equipment for the kids to play on, and many have tennis and basketball courts as well as skateboarding ramps. There are also some with disc golf courses. The more popular parks can get crowded on weekends with picnics, but there’s still plenty of room for everyone.
Many of the schools are brand new as well. My daughter’s public school looks much nicer than the private schools I went to. She enjoys modern classrooms with new desks, a library stocked with brand new books, computer labs filled with Dell PCs and the latest educational software, new playground equipment, etc. I have to imagine this is a better educational environment than a rundown 1960s building with chipped paint, corroded water fountains, and textbooks with yellow pages. I get the sense that the teachers like it too, which certainly can’t hurt.
Fueled by its rapid growth rate, the city of Las Vegas is under constant construction, both in private and public areas. This is a mixed blessing.
On the negative side, driving through multiple construction areas is part of my daily reality, often with traffic being rerouted around construction equipment. The 95 freeway widening project has been underway since we moved here, and every few months the lanes are shifted as a new part of the freeway gets expanded. In our old neighborhood, the main street closest to our house (Cheyenne) was constricted for many months during extensive roadwork. It’s a virtual certainty that if we run a few local errands, we’re going to encounter orange construction cones somewhere along the way. Since we live on the western-most edge of town (a half-mile west of us is open desert), we can anticipate much more construction to come, so this is just something we have to accept.
On the upside, however, it’s exciting to see new places opening every month, as this ever-expanding city sprouts from the desert landscape. This summer the 180-acre Springs Preserve recreation area opened, which I’ll be visiting with the kids for the first time this weekend.
The degree of new development is staggering. Often Erin and I will be driving past an area we haven’t visited in a few months, and I’ll point out the window and ask, “Hey, was that building there last time we were here?” For example, a huge empty lot became the Red Rock Hotel & Casino a couple years later, including a modern movie theatre complex that rivals any we’ve seen in L.A. To the south of it is another expansive piece of land that’s slated to become a major new shopping center with 1.4 million square feet of retail space — it’s scheduled to open in 2009.
While some cities strive to preserve their history, Vegas equates old with obsolete. Functional but dated buildings experience pressure to be torn down and replaced with something more modern. For example, the Frontier Hotel, which opened in 1942, closed two weeks ago — it will soon be demolished and replaced with a new resort. The Frontier is where Erin and I stayed on our very first vacation together in 1994. Last year the Stardust Hotel closed its doors too. It’s hard to allow yourself to become nostalgic in a place that shifts around like a Hogwarts’ staircase.
This rapid rate of change can be a little unnerving when you live here, but on the other hand, it does keep things fresh.
Las Vegas offers people a lot of liberty. If you want to eat, drink, gamble, do drugs, have sex, get married, get divorced, etc. those things are readily available, free of the judgment and condemnation you might find elsewhere.
If you have trouble with the types of addictions Las Vegas can encourage, this place may be a problem for you. For Erin and me, that’s never been an issue, but we know at least two people who got into trouble with drugs and alcohol here (fortunately both got sober after going into rehab and committing to AA meetings). However, the seedy side of Vegas has little appeal to most of the residents we know — to them the Sin City stuff is just marketing for the tourists.
Erin and I used to enjoy gambling here on vacation during our 20s, and we’d even get comped for most of our meals. But after moving here, the thought of gambling seemed very boring. It’s kind of creepy seeing the glassy-eyed seniors practically hypnotized by slot machines, and joining in the drunken revelry at the table games just isn’t our kind of fun anymore. The only gambling I did this whole year was to play a single hand of blackjack, and that was because I had a promotional coupon offering a two-for-one payout on any even-money bet. Since we were going to that hotel for breakfast one day, I paused at a blackjack table for 20 seconds, put down the coupon’s maximum $25 bet, won $50, and cashed out. I’m a sucker for a positive expected value.
It’s kind of fun walking around the casinos and seeing well-dressed brides and grooms walking around with their wedding parties. Lots of people get married at the wedding chapels every day. Erin and I got married in L.A., but we did spend our honeymoon in Vegas.
Although prostitution is technically illegal in Clark County (which includes Las Vegas), that law doesn’t appear to be particularly well enforced. If you simply walk down the Strip during the day or night, you’ll likely encounter young Hispanic men handing out cards and brochures with pictures of naked women offering to come to your hotel room for “adult entertainment” purposes. If you don’t see the people handing them out, just look down — the sidewalk is usually littered with them. You’ll even see newspaper vending machines filled with ads for prostitutes. If the ads say “full service,” they’re advertising that they’ll have intercourse with you. Sometimes they’ll include codes like GFE (girlfriend experience) to indicate the types of service they provide. I think this sort of thing is largely tolerated by law enforcement because it keeps prostitutes from advertising their services by hanging around on the street. People don’t seem to mind as much what happens privately in the hotel rooms. Just in case you’re wondering, Erin and I have never utilized such services.
One time when I was walking through the Bellagio, a local prostitute tried to hit on me, which I found rather amusing. I quickly turned her down, but afterwards I wondered if I could have convinced her to do an interview for my blog. “Interview With a Prostitute” would have a good shot at getting Digg’d, wouldn’t you agree?
Last weekend Erin and I stumbled upon a couple having sex in their car in a hotel parking lot in broad daylight. We couldn’t help but notice because we were parked right next to them! They seemed a bit embarrassed to be caught, but they didn’t let it stop them. I hope they had the A/C on, since it was 100 degrees outside.
Even though Erin and I aren’t drawn in by Sin City’s seedy side, I’m totally non-judgmental towards the people who do succumb to it. I think it’s a good thing that people are free to have those experiences, even if some of them are self-destructive because in the long run that degree of freedom can help people learn to make more conscious choices. While you may lose your money, your sobriety, or your virginity, most of those can be restored with some effort. (Even though virginity technically can’t be restored, such restoration can be approximated through a further deficiency of sobriety.)
Having gone through an addicted, self-destructive period during my late teens, I can relate to the gamblers and boozers because it’s similar to the kind of experience I needed to have at one point in my life as well. I don’t regard such experiences as negative or destructive because for me, that phase was the catalyst for a tremendous amount of growth. I’ve seen similar results in others who went through a period of self-loathing addiction, only to emerge years later with much greater wisdom and compassion. It doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, we all benefit from it.
Lowest taxes in the USA
Nevada has the lowest taxes of any U.S. state. Nevada has no personal income tax, no corporate income tax, no inheritance tax, no gift tax, no estate tax, no franchise tax, and no inventory tax. The local sales tax in Las Vegas is currently 7.75%, as compared to L.A.’s 8.25%. Business-related fees are significantly lower too. For example, it costs me $125/year to register my Nevada LLC. In California the same entity would cost me $800/year. These expenses can really add up if you run a business for many years. Furthermore, Nevada lacks much of the red tape that makes running a business more cumbersome in other states. The state is extremely pro-entrepreneur.
Nevada’s low taxes are made possible by the nearly 40 million tourists who visit each year — that’s roughly the entire population of California. All those tourists basically pay our taxes for us. When I see people pumping their money into slot machines, I silently thank them for subsidizing our roads, schools, parks, and local services.
The downside of low taxes, however, is that the city’s social services aren’t quite as good as what you’ll find in California, but that’s been improving over time as more Californians move here, bringing their values with them.
A popular destination
People often find a reason to visit Las Vegas for one reason or another, whether it’s for a convention or vacation, so it’s a great place for a blogger to live. I get a chance to meet long-distance contacts when they inevitably come to Vegas at some point.
Friends and family from L.A. visit us a few times each year, and it’s easy for them to justify the 4-hour drive, since they can turn the trip into a fun vacation. Our new house has a guest room, so they can stay with us for free too.
The conventions here are a pretty big draw. Las Vegas hosts nearly 4,000 conventions each year, covering virtually every theme you can imagine. Erin once stumbled upon some kind of sex or bondage convention where people were walking around with their “slaves” on leashes. She said she saw a vendor offering to shave a particular female body part… with a long line of customers.
One thing that distinguishes Las Vegas from many other U.S. cities is that most of the adults who live here actually chose to live here as opposed to just finding themselves here because it’s where they grew up. I believe that has a positive effect on the overall consciousness of the city.
When Erin and I first moved to Las Vegas, I noticed an unusually positive energetic quality in the people living here. At first I dismissed it because I figured I was just projecting my own excitement from moving to a new city. But after numerous trips to other cities and then back to Vegas again, the pattern remains very pronounced, and I can’t attribute it to mere projection. As compared to other cities, I notice that people generally seem happier in Las Vegas. For example, when we go grocery shopping locally, the clerks will almost always be smiling, friendly, and talkative. By contrast we usually get little more than a grimace and a forced “hi, how are you?” when shopping in L.A.
I’m not sure why this is so, but I think a city tends to grow a collective consciousness that subtly influences the people who live there, and Las Vegas has a rather unusual collective consciousness. The best words I’d use to describe it would be optimistic, energetic, and hopeful. Maybe it rubs off from all the optimistic gamblers hitting the casinos 24/7. Maybe it comes from all the people who’ve made a conscious choice to live here. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. I don’t think I’m just imagining it though, since other people I know have commented on it as well.
What I enjoy most about Las Vegas is the overall energetic feel of the city, since it meshes so well with my own. The drive to grow for growth’s sake, the willingness to relinquish old attachments, the quest for greater creative expression, and the unconditional acceptance of human freedom of choice — these are all qualities that resonate with me. I know a few “psychically sensitive” people who find Las Vegas energetically overwhelming and chaotic, finding a mellow place like Sedona more to their liking. I can see where they’re coming from, but I don’t usually experience such feelings myself.
Now for those of you who’ve read this far, patiently looking for the hidden growth lesson, I’ll offer you this closing thought. An often overlooked but enormously significant growth experience is the simple act of moving to a new city, state, or country. I like to think that every location has a certain energy signature, as do we as individuals. It’s entirely possible that the place you grew up is not the best energetic match for you. (If the word “energy” is too new agey for you, then simply consider the social and cultural climate of your environment as compared to your own personality traits.) You may find, as Erin and I did, that other cities seem more attractive to you than your current location. Notice where you like to travel for vacation. Do you find yourself drawn to the same types of places repeatedly? Have you ever considered living there?
Remember that moving to a new city doesn’t have to be permanent. If you don’t like it, you can always move back, or move somewhere else entirely. But if you do like it, it may turn out to be one of the best decisions of your life.