Dilettante 5: Las Vegas pt1

In dilettante by summerburkesLeave a Comment

Twenty years ago this week, there was a rockabilly convention happening in Vegas, where one could experience the mecca of boomer-American gambling culture while surrounded by people dressed as a time warp.

As a semi-recent transplant to the West Coast, I’d never been to Vegas. Getting to the bottom of what gives people a rush, which was my new beat at the SFBG, warranted a trip to the Great American Gambling Pot with three beautiful and highly game girlfriends.

This vacation would be an action-packed, tightly-booked mayhem tour of Sin City for us, and a crash course in the press-pass, industry-favor, free-ticket hustle for me. The girlfriends came to love their plus-one status, and shared it like a co-op.

For Dilettante, I could cover whatever show on the planet I wanted to if I could get there. Waiting tables on the side a few nights a week earned enough extra cash to where meals, lodging, and plane fare were covered.

Since my column existed in this new place called “online” and not in the physical tree-paper, I had no editorial guide and no limiting word count either. The paper’s motto was “printing the news and raising hell,” so they didn’t care about this crazy little cyber-corner’s strict adherence to journalistic style.

Which meant I was free to go gonzo — an overused word now, but in the media world, it means writing yourself into the story, not just being an impartial eye-in-the-sky recounter of events.

Having been to Reno a few times and seen its honest skid-row underside coexisting peacefully with capitalistic towers of indoor sit-on-yer-ass entertainment, we girls expected Vegas to be a bigger version of the same. But it was not.

What we discovered was an architectural hodgepodge of human excesses, where most VIPs were physically crazy-looking altered persons whose primary focus and vision in life was to hoard vast sums of wealth.

Mostly on this journey, we girls were just wondering if the regular janes and joes around us from all over the world had come to this throw-money-down-a-hole tourist trap for the same reason we had — to be new to Vegas but to go IRONICALLY. To convince ourselves we’re only enjoying it because it’s stupid.

Of course, our sense of beatific wonder at the scale of Vegas spectacle hadn’t been engaged at all, because we were way too cool for that.

We weren’t rubes in the least, oohing and aahing at fountains and neon, because we were so in control of our emotions we could differently-like stuff, but not too much. Whereas the simpletons around us just got to experience plain joy. We envied their ease in entertainment. We had layers (of irony poisoning).


Click through to read “Vegas, Baby, Vegas – part one of four,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on April 27, 1998.

This is the fifth entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter

Leave a Comment