Will Las Vegas ever be the same? That question lingers amidst the shock and grief of Sunday night’s mass shooting, and the mysteries about it that remain unanswered thus far.
Las Vegas is synonymous with fun and escape. It is a necessary relief valve for a society that has become progressively more and more regulated and risk-averse.
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” the tourist slogan goes. Sadly, what happens outside Vegas has now happened there as well, bringing America’s violent nightmares to its city of glittering fantasies.
The Mandalay Bay, where the attack took place, is not just another resort. It is the first landmark on the Strip that is visible as you approach the city on the I-15 from Los Angeles, which is how so many visitors arrive. It appears almost like a gateway to all the possibilities that stretch out beyond it.
Just up the street, outside the New York, New York casino, mourners once laid flowers at the foot of the mock Statue of Liberty on September 11, 2001, the fake statue becoming the focus for real grief.
There is no proxy for Las Vegas — unless you count the LEGO version at San Diego’s Legoland, which is tucked away inside the park. Las Vegas is a city that collects symbols and sentiments from elsewhere. It is not used to being the thing that is symbolized, the center of reality.
Perhaps the most compelling monuments to Las Vegas are in the hearts of all those who love it. Memories flooded back, for all those who had visited the Mandalay Bay — in my case, a romantic Halloween trip, pre-kids, in 2011; the finish line of the Las Vegas marathon later that year; a trip with my infant daughter to the Shark Reef aquarium; posing for pictures by the delightfully decapitated statue of Vladimir Lenin at the Red Square bar and restaurant.
On Monday, the day after the shooting, the Wynn resort began using metal detectors to check visitors for weapons, an unfortunate precaution that Bloomberg News called a “glimpse of Las Vegas’s future.” The article speculated: “The new security protocol, put in place after Sunday’s mass shooting nearby, is likely to become the norm on the Strip and possibly beyond.”
But so much of Las Vegas happens outside: the dancing fountains of the Bellagio, the ylkways of the Venetian, the neon canopy of the Fremont district. Will those spaces have metal detectors, too?
Israelis have lived with metal detectors and security guards outside ordinary restaurants for the better part of two decades, after the Palestinians launched the deadly second intifada and began detonating human bombs in pizza parlors and on public promenades. But the other thing Israelis did was resolve to keep living their lives. The Café Hillel in Jerusalem’s German Colony was bombed in 2003 — and was rebuilt and re-opened the very next day.
I am reminded of a horrific event that happened just before I arrived at Harvard to start college in 1995. On a bright Sunday morning after final exams that spring, a a female student in Dunster House stabbed her roommate to death and hung herself in the bathroom. The murder-suicide shocked the nation. As it happened, I was randomly assigned to live in that dorm less than a year later. The room where the crime had happened was sealed; no one lived there.
And then, one day, the administration decided that enough time had passed, and the room, having been renovated, could be re-opened. Many students were still leery of the room — even of the very entryway that led to it — but some of my friends eagerly volunteered to live in it. When I asked them why, they noted that the room had some of the best views of the courtyard and the Charles River. And besides, they said, they had to bring life back into it.
That is our task now: to bring life back to Las Vegas. President Donald Trump rightly pointed out, in his remarks to the nation on the morning after the shooting, that it is difficult to find any kind of meaning in what happened. And while Democrats and the mainstream media rushed to exploit the disaster for the sake of gun control, it is not clear what new laws or regulations would prevent mass shootings in the future.
But there is one thing that everyone — at least those over 21 — can do, which is to visit Las Vegas, to bring life and love and dreams back to the city.
And if we can take back with us, when we leave, the sense of unity that emerged from the carnage, and the idea of strangers helping strangers, what happens in Vegas might not stay there — just this once — and set our nation back on course.