About twenty miles from the outer limits of Las Vegas on I-15, I peer through the windshield at a narrow, pale, and impossibly tall beam of light in the distance. “Do you see that?” I ask P., pointing. He laughs. “That’s the Luxor.” As we park in a sleepy eastside neighborhood lined with matching mid-century four-plexes, the Luxor’s luminous beacon competes with the moon, the two sources of light appearing side by side in the neon-washed night.
It’s my fourth trip to Las Vegas and the first one in the summer. Midnight in July is hotter than it almost ever gets in my corner of California’s Central Coast. The daytime is otherworldly. By 10 AM the sun has bled out obscenely across the sky, forming a searing thermal blanket over the city. I’m in the middle of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, and I keep thinking that Las Vegas at this time of year feels just like one of Bradbury’s Martian settlements: dry and dusty and a past idea of how the future could look. Each time I go there, I marvel at the streets that run straight in either direction for miles in a perpetual state of extension. They all appear to end in piles of dirt, bulldozers standing by to shove it out of the way for the next stretch of gated communities. Broad avenues meet at four-way stops that remain solitary because they aren’t places yet; they’re engineered delineations of where places are supposed to form. Las Vegas beyond the Strip looks so lonely, but at its heart, I think, it’s a town for and of punks: Its excessive and tangible congealments of capital and its strip-mall functionalism nurture disaffection and provide the ideal materials for making, doing, and building.