On a recent trip, I observed run-of-the-mill women, probably teachers, mothers or attorneys back home, donning animal print bustiers and hot pants. Middle-class men strutted around like high rollers, dishing out more for a drink than they'd normally spend on dinner.
With possibility and chance all around, it seems everybody has the potential to strike it rich, to do what they would ordinarily avoid, to be who they never are.
I arrived in the city with secret hopes of winning enough money to pay off my college education.
That didn't happen.
In a matter of minutes I'd handed over the better part of this month's car payment and, in return, had nothing to show for it but a weak drink and a bitter disposition.
This was supposed to be fun?
I licked my wounds and sought out my husband at the pai gow poker table, hoping he'd offer consolation, sympathy and maybe some extra cash.
I found none of that.
He was up about $25 and, fearing the cloud of bad luck around me, shooed me away. I spent the next 45 minutes sitting at the sports book area pretending to study the racing picks so no one would accuse me of loitering.
The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas is shallow, my friends. Resting underneath the surface, below the level of throwing away all your money, is an ugly, decidedly un-fun side most of us would prefer didn't exist.
I was struck by the city's sharp contrasts while following the herd of pleasure-seekers south on the Strip. As Los Angeles weekenders and drunken frat boys laughed their way to the next billion-dollar casino, a legless, armless withered torso was propped in a wheelchair begging people with blind eyes for spare change. There is something very wrong about this and I did nothing to make it better.
Nothing ruins a good night out like willingly losing your money and being reminded of the life's grim realities and ultimately your own selfishness.
Driving into the desert and away from Las Vegas, I was happy to be coming back to the Imperial Valley. Though our lights may be dull by comparison, the lack of pretension and artifice is always reassuring.