*From the raw, unedited, and possibly irrelevant point of view of a first time visitor.
Los Angeles feels untidy. From the trash on the freeways, to the smog, to the rambling suburban sprawl. I never felt invited. I’m sure it’s a powerhouse of world commerce and industry, but does it have to be so dirty?
North American toilets are strange. The bowl starts very full, and water is injected near the u-bend to (I presume) start a siphon action. It seems very convoluted, and would appear to prevent any sort of “half flush” option.
Las Vegas is awe inspiring and embarassing at the same time. The scale is difficult to describe. I stayed at the Excalibur casino, where I was king, and walked daily through the Luxor pyramid to the conference venue at the Mandalay Bay. The walk took close to 30 minutes, via 3 casinos (reeking of cigarettes and alcohol at all hours), 3 malls, and two other conference centers. The nearest I got to being outside during that walk was the view of the gigantic wave pool – beside the shark aquarium.
Some nights I took the free monorail back to my hotel. Passing between a Sphinx and a 10-story obelisk, and stopping outside the turrets of my castle. It’s madness on a grand scale, but that’s only three casinos. I took a walk one evening: past the New York skyline and scale statue of liberty; through the foyer of the MGM grand past the lion habitat; past the gigantic Monte Carlo hotel; through the foyer of the brand new 4-block-size Aria; finishing up watching the incredible Bellagio fountain – which is just opposite a near-scale Eiffel Tower.
I think I got almost halfway up the Las Vegas casino strip. All the way harassed by people trying to hand me pornographic business cards promising “Girls direct to you!”, and being bathed by the glow of partially clad women from every second billboard.
Despite the amazing sights of Las Vegas, the one thing I really noticed was the urban design. At every corner, intersection, and hotel entry, pedestrians are coralled like cattle. Directed with fences and sweeping concrete barriers away from the roads and into races and runs. I don’t know if it’s the almighty car or the desire to keep customers gambling, but it’s disconcerting. It’s certainly changed my views. Queen Street’s newly doubled barnyard crossings are utopian by comparison.
We joke about portion sizes, but they are almost literally insane. I asked for a small coke as a courtesy when I used a Burger King bathroom in LA. The coke was about halfway between what I would call regular and large. Same goes for meals. Most Las Vegas buffets trumpeted “all you can eat, all day long”.
We drove out to the Grand Canyon, via the Hoover Dam. The Dam is certainly an amazing piece of engineering, but I was more amazed by the water level. Apparently Lake Mead is it at its lowest level for many years. I didn’t flush my hotel toilet so much after that.
If Las Vegas was a car-mad fakesville, the Grand Canyon was serene grandiosity. My intitial view was from the Skywalk. An amazing feat of engineering that quite literally takes one’s breath away as you step out onto the glass walkway. But it was the unspoiled view at right that made me cry. Mostly because it was that gorgeous, but partly because Dad had always wanted to see the canyon but never got there.
The camera lens makes things much smaller than they are. To add some perspective, the far bend in the river was probably 30 or 40 kms away from my viewpoint. The river is as wide as a football field, but easily fit under my oustretched thumb.
On the way back from the canyon, I experienced more USA hospitality by way of a 2.5 hour traffic jam caused by a security checkpoint at the Hoover Dam. Luckily it wasn’t nearly enough to dampen the Canyon experience, and was further alleviated by a full-volume blast of Sugar’s Hoover Dam as we crossed back into Nevada after nightfall.
So I’m not quite sure how I feel. LA left me jaded. I’d probably come back to Vegas if only to share the jaw-dropping sights and giggling with my wife. But I’d recommend the Grand Canyon to anyone who gets the chance.
America, Fuck Yeah? I think I’d say “America: Fuck”.