I recently completed a couple of weeks of business travel. My last stop was five days in Las Vegas, Nevada, for an international conference. As I always do when I hit the road, I took a huge number of photos of the trip, trying to capture the architecture of Vegas, both inside and out, and the various casinos that pattern the skyline in such a dramatic fashion.
One of my favorite spots was The Bellagio, a beautiful property, known for its famous Fountains of Bellagio experience, offered daily every 30 minutes in the afternoons and evenings.
While the fountain show was incredible, the inside of the hotel/casino was even more spectacular. On my first day, I walked over to the lobby and enjoying the beautiful fall colors before I even made it through the revolving doors. Like a pied piper, the decorations lead me to a fairy land of delight. I captured photo after photo of tiny characters living under toadstools and in trees, while animal characters slept on rocks by flowing rivers. The words of Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, came to mind while I was exploring the fantasy world The Bellagio had created, “If you want to view Paradise, simply look around and view it.” It truly was spectacular.
The city in the evening is stunning with the beautiful neon lighting up the night from Paris Las Vegas to the Hard Rock Cafe to Planet Hollywood. Day or night, you can view art at Caesar’s Palace or take a gondola ride at the Venetian. There truly seems to be something for everyone…well, it would seem.
Because I’d been trying to get 10,000 steps in per day, I walked a LOT along the streets of Sin City. In the pictures I’ve shared here and others I shared on social media posts, you might not notice the way I cropped some of them. I was purposeful with my cropping. I thought I’d done a good job of hiding something I didn’t want to share. However, in looking at my cropped photos, I found one I thought made a particular statement. If you look closely at the photo below I snapped in the middle of the day, you might notice something a little different from the rest. At the bottom of the iconic golden arches of McDonalds, a person is sleeping on the artificial grass. As someone who has a tough time falling asleep in the best of conditions, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could sleep in the desert heat with the daily noise surrounding them. Did this person come to Vegas looking for their golden ticket?
In the photo below of The Mirage and its lovely water feature, I was literally two feet away from a man sleeping on the concrete using a partially-full 12 pack of beer as a pillow. Steps away from him slept another man in the shade of a walking bridge and across from him was a man sleeping on the floor of an opulent glass elevator used to take people up one floor to the afore mentioned bridge. The irony of the advertisement for The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil wasn’t lost on me, nor was the beauty of the water and sky, knowing I was beside a man choosing a concrete sidewalk as his bed for the evening.
Right under the perfume bottle of Chanel and other celebrity fashion designers and restauranteurs scattered throughout the city was a dirty little secret. In the early morning hours, while most were sleeping after a long night of celebrating, gambling, and going to shows, the street sweepers and leaf-blowers were removing, not leaves, but the pamphlets, flyers, and baseball-style, escort cards from the night before, given out by the porn slappers and show pushers. I watched as the garbage was blown toward these individuals, either choosing to be homeless or forced into it by decisions made in their pasts. I was immediately saddened by the entire situation. Saddened, but, ashamedly, not enough to offer any assistance to those who most definitely appeared to be in need.
I know I have prejudices or biases toward people who “portray” themselves as homeless and I’m not too ashamed to admit it. Some of that comes from working in Austin a few years ago. On my commute to work, I saw a very pregnant looking woman holding a sign stating she was nine months pregnant. The first time I saw her, the light was green and I kept going. The next few weeks, I continued to see her. She was nine months pregnant for more than six months on the same corner. Her sign alone left a bad taste in my mouth, as I knew it wasn’t true.
Another man had a picture of his two-year-old son who was terminally ill with cancer. Throughout the four years I worked in the city, I saw this man with the same sign. The child’s age never changed, nor did his picture. Did the man even have a child? I have no idea but because he never made corrections to the sign, I found it hard to believe him. I hope, if he did have a son, that the young boy is okay.
I share this with you as a reflection on myself and us as a nation. I recently watched as the border in my home state of Texas has been dealing with immigration challenges. Thousands of Haitians were under a bridge in the town of Del Rio. I have friends who protested a similar situation about the way people were being treated under the Trump administration and other friends who remained silent. The same friends who protested the treatment under President Trump have said nothing under President Biden and those who were quiet under President Trump are now being vocal under President Biden. Instead of focusing on how to fix the situation, we’re focusing on whether there is a D or an R in front of the leadership’s name. Much like my photos, we’re cropping out the situation to focus on something totally different.
I’m unsure about the way things need to be addressed with the homeless and those who are trying to get into the U.S., but I recognize something needs to be done. I am guilty of casting my eyes in the other direction. In Las Vegas, a stranger passed me as we both looked at a man sleeping on the sidewalk. He asked me, “Is he okay?” I responded, “Not sure.” We then both passed the man, not stopping to find out for sure. When I went by that same spot a few hours later, the man was gone. My hope is he found food, water, and shelter, but I have no way of knowing for sure.
On my final night in Las Vegas, I saw the Statue of Liberty at New York, New York and it gave me pause. I was surrounded by buildings that cost millions and millions of dollars to construct. The city was lit up like a Christmas tree. Visitors were everywhere and we were walking past those living on the streets, as if they didn’t exist. A song came to my head by the singer Christine Lavin. It’s called Somebody’s Baby. Part of the lyrics are “That’s when I saw her all dirty and ragged, drinking a bottle of wine. I turned my head, walked right on by, but one thing stayed in my mind. She once was Somebodys Baby. Someone bounced her on his knee. Do you think he has any idea, what his little girl has turned out to be?”
The Bellagio decorations of tiny fairies living under toadstools and animals sleeping on rocks offered a vast contrast to those living on sidewalks and sleeping under bridges.
I will admit to enjoying my time in Las Vegas, much like people enjoy their time in my city when they are visiting. However, the memory of those I saw on the streets the five days I was there are heavy on my heart. We have some of those same people here, as do most cities and towns across this great nation. Many are known to suffer from mental illness, but we sweep that thought away and choose not to address it as a nation as much as I believe we should. It is uncomfortable and we are a people who like and are accustomed to our comforts.
Perhaps it’s time for us to come together to address these needs as a united voice and not a D or an R or even those who are unaffiliated. As I shared earlier, I’m unsure how but the blame game has got to stop. It is rampant and we are not seeking to understand. We don’t seem to want to understand. How nice would it be for us to find a solution. We should seek to, as Roald Dahl wrote, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” How can we provide the good deed? I’m open to suggestions and to ALL of us listening to each other to find the answers.