Thursday, August 09, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas

This isn’t just the title of an incredibly depressing Nick Cage movie. Much is made of the 8,000 people a month who move here, but you don’t hear about the thousands of people leaving every month. According to the Census Bureau, only 35% of Las Vegas residents were still living in the same house at the end of a five year period (1995-2000). If you live in Las Vegas, you’ll become very familiar with saying goodbye.

Sometimes this is a good thing, as it is for my friend Julie. She’s never liked Las Vegas much, and when you’re not all that thrilled with your hometown, the inevitable ups and downs of daily life feel even worse (not to mention attributable to the lousy place you live.) After over a decade spent trying to figure out a way to leave Vegas and return to the bucolic serenity of her native Nebraska, Julie is finally leaving town tomorrow. I’ll miss her, but I’m thrilled for her. Life is far too short, and our country far to large, for anyone to suffer in a city they don’t like.

What puzzles me is how many people I meet who’ve moved here and have not one single positive thing to say about Las Vegas, yet seem to have no plans to move. It’s too dry, it’s too hot, people are unfriendly and undependable, good jobs too difficult to find, there’s nothing to do, crime is too high, traffic is unbearable and so on and so on ad nauseum. Here’s what I say to you complainers: MOVE ALREADY! The roads lead out as well as in. Planes fly away from McCarren on a steady basis, making that right turn that has so many people up in arms with one more thing to complain about.

Now, I know change is scary. It’s that old cliché about the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t. But let me reassure you that every person I’ve known who has wound up unhappily living in Las Vegas was deliriously happy when they moved. Las Vegas simply isn’t for everyone. My buddy Julie is smiling non-stop. My friend Kelly, who moved over ten years ago, can’t even stand to visit and is extremely pleased with her home (and bountiful garden) in New York. My high-school pal Marilyn tried to move back once and lasted about six months before fleeing home to West Virginia, where she is happy to deal with snow and a challenging economy. I don’t like seeing my friends move away, but seeing them miserable is worse.

Those of us who remain have to learn to say good-bye supportively. For my own friends who move, like Julie, that’s not hard. What gets me is the long list of friends my son has lost. Just as soon as he meets someone he likes, a “For Sale” sign sprouts in his friend’s yard. After losing several friends this way, he has lost interest in meeting new kids in the neighborhood. Adults can adjust to the transitory nature of our city, but it’s hard on kids. I graduated from high school with some of the same people I started kindergarten with; even in college, I ran into people I’d known since elementary school. Today, sadly, my son is unlikely to have that same experience.

Are you a happy transplant to Vegas, or are you counting the days until the U-Haul is packed?

Photo courtesy of Garann Rose Means at

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