These two vehicles, a new, fifth-generation Cadillac Escalade and a later, first-generation Chevy S-10, are representative of the contrasts I observed and experienced while in Las Vegas this past October. I love the glitz and glitter apparent in many aspects of Las Vegas, but I’m just as drawn to the more everyday and time-worn facets of this entertainment center. This year’s visit capped a decade of Vegas trips and was unique in many ways: no alcohol, relying entirely on public transportation, and trying things and going places that were unfamiliar to me, including the 18b Arts District. Riding the excellent Big Apple Coaster at New York, New York Resort & Casino was also a highlight, and this is coming from someone who has made many trips to what is arguably the Roller Coaster Capitol of the United States, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
One of my favorite things about going to Las Vegas is observing and talking with people who live and work there. Some of my favorite conversations have been with locals including bartenders, hotel staff, and even a few neighborhood dwellers. I’ll never forget the hour or so I had spent years ago with Iris, a beautiful Indigenous American woman who had initially confronted me as to why I had been photographing a boarded up storefront in her neighborhood.
Where and when I had met Iris. Sunday, September 14, 2014.
Much as I had done once in Detroit with an onlooker who thought I was there to take pictures to present that area in a bad light, I explained how I had simply sought to capture things in one moment that were bound to change. I qualified that I had grown up in Flint, Michigan, a town I love deeply that has seen its share of economic challenges even within my lifetime. At the end of our great conversation, I took a cherished selfie of us and it was reinforced in me how no seemingly random crossing of paths is, in fact, random.
Mocktails with friends at Longbar at The D Hotel & Casino.
Beesley, the bartender who took great care of my friends and me at The D Hotel & Casino downtown, made my mocktails with a level of care and craft that I was not fully expecting. The bartenders in Vegas have seen it all and seem to respect it if you’re not buying alcohol. I don’t know if I would have the patience to be a bartender, to be honest, especially the louder and more festive people get.
Of course, people who go on vacation or holiday expect a level of escapism for their travel dollars, which is why vehicles like limos and Escalades are expected as part of the overall landscape. However, what about the Beesleys of this city, and other people like him? They’re not all rolling around in leased Caddys and BMWs. I’m assuming that many of them are driving much more down-to-earth vehicles that get them to work and back, that while they may not be as old as this long-bed S-10, are definitely along those lines of rides driven by Everyman and Everywoman.
This Escalade, parked in front of the Plaza Hotel & Casino, downtown, is of the most recent generation that was introduced for 2021. I couldn’t identify the exact model year of the S-10, but I do know that it was from one of the final three model years, 1991 through ’93, of its original incarnation, from the chrome surrounds of the front side-marker lights and the ribbed bodyside moldings. I wonder where the S-10 driver was headed on this Sunday morning. What if he or she was on their way to tend bar during the Raiders-Bears football game that day (which the Chicago Bears did actually win)?
I wonder how hard it is to stay sober for those who choose to do so while living in a seemingly booze-soaked place like Las Vegas. For those in the hospitality industry, maybe regular exposure to patrons who have overindulged, or even persons sitting or lying down on the sidewalks, is enough of a deterrent to let things go too far, personally. That’s not judgement coming from me, but rather a hunger to understand more about the human condition. My 2021 stands to be the first, full calendar year since the ’90s in which I haven’t had one drop of alcohol.
I find both the Escalade and S-10 to be compelling vehicles, in different ways. Once upon a time, a big, new, shiny Cadillac was what Las Vegas seemed to be all about. This black Escalade is a modern interpretation of this idea. The S-10, however, felt more like an old friend or acquaintance I might have run into on the sidewalks of the Las Vegas Strip. It was like another Midwestern transplant, just like me, going about its everyday business early on a Sunday morning. Still useful, still working hard, still looking healthy, and alive to see another day as a result of good care and someone / Someone looking after them. I may have been in Las Vegas to feel a little bit like the Escalade for an extended weekend, but I was definitely the S-10 at heart.
Las Vegas, Nevada.
October 10 – 12, 2021.
The Escalade does indeed seem an appropriate vehicle for Las Vegas. Garish deserves garish.
Congratulations on your sobriety, Joseph, if it isn’t presumptuous to say so.
I was never in the market for an S-10, but whenever one went by, which was often, I appreciated its neat, tailored appearance. It’s actually a pleasure to look at, unlike most pickups. GM got it very right. There are some people who wear inexpensive clothing very well, without trying to be pretentious. The S-10 is one of the motoring equivalents.
It’s a nice size, too.
Thank you so much! And I also think the original S-10 was such a clean design (along with the accompanying Blazer) that still looks good today.
That’s a contrast for sure. We flew to Vegas for our jumping off point on the family tour of the southwest. The guy who gave us our rental car found out where we were going and said “yeah I’d like to see that too”, he was from somewhere out east and likely not making a fortune at his job.
Seemed a bit of a tragedy that you live there but can’t afford to see the area.
Wow. That gets one thinking. I live in Chicago, which sees a lot of tourism. I wonder how many other Chicago residents are able to see all of the things this city has to offer. Thankfully, there are a lot of free or relatively inexpensive things to do here, but I don’t imagine that to be the case in Las Vegas and money-driven places like it.
You really haven’t had the whole Las Vegas experience until you’ve been screamed at by some homeless dude on the street, accusing you of stealing his cheeseburger.
I can have that experience in any major city in the US, and in most smaller ones as well, might as well save the airfare… But the homeless dude generally isn’t to blame for his condition, let alone the theft of his cheeseburger.
I realize this isn’t always possible, but one thing I try to do when walking on a sidewalk or in an area were someone is *there*, as in, that’s their space, is to try to walk respectfully around them and not all up in or next to their business. I wonder sometimes how I might feel if I was trying to carve out some space and someone didn’t even consider they were walking one or two feet away from my living room.
And to Jim’s point, homelessness isn’t always a direct result of bad choices and mental illness can be a factor.
I know you didn’t steal his cheeseburger! 🙂 I hope this moment just passed without too much trauma to you or that other dude.
See, that’s the thing. I *did* steal his cheeseburger. Well, c’mon, I was hungry! Who wouldn’t steal a juicy cheeseburger that was just sitting there, right on the sidewalk? That homeless guy was just asking for it.
And, besides, everyone knows that Las Vegas is the cheeseburger theft capital of the United States…
Two words: “Robble robble!”
Sooner or later, I knew my secret identity would be revealed.
The casino areas of Las Vegas are of a thinner veneer than the wood trim in an entry level luxury car…kudos for highlighting some of the other areas/people that aren’t in the brochures. Lots of people trying to “make it” there, second only perhaps to Hollywood, another location nowhere near as glamorous in the daytime as it’s endlessly portrayed and “nowhere near” is a very kind description.
The Escalade would seem to rank up there as well, while some of its features aren’t available in its root vehicles, most are, the rest being a thin veneer, it’s helped tremendously by those roots being generally quite good. Trouble is that the Cadillac name doesn’t seem to have the same image it used to. But like visitors to Vegas, there still seem to be buyers. The test of time is to look at it in a few years and see if it still holds up. Judging by how many of the first and second and now early third generation ones look, the prognosis isn’t great – of course that’s an affliction shared with most luxury marques.
In contrast though there’s the survivor S10 – it’s remarkable how we would consider a 30year old car/truck with flat paint and much of it peeling in the bed area to be a great condition vehicle, whereas if we look at today’s Escalade in the year 2051 and perhaps see it with the same flat paint and some of it peeling off of the roof and tailgate we might offer it far more disdain than praise. Likely it’ll be hauling drywall or paint for a contractor crew then.
And yes, congratulations on the sobriety. The hardest season is just starting for that but you’ve been gearing up for it all year, you’re ready to manage it.
The biggest difference between Vegas and Hollywood is that Vegas was founded by gangsters. Although there’s certainly a twinge of nostalgia for the old Rat Pack/Elvis days, Bugsy Siegel would be proud to see how far Vegas has evolved and the obscene amount of money that now rolls through that city.
And for all its flaws, there’s nothing like coming upon the bright lights of Vegas after a long drive across the desert.
Jim, just today, I walked past a first-generation Cadillac SRX and wondered to myself what it would have taken for it to maintain Cadillac cachet after a few years on the road. This particular one looked like a disposable luxury good like so many things, and it made me a little sad.
And thank you RE: my sober-ness. I just got back from a (sober) weekend in Detroit and had an absolute blast.
I would bet that black Escalade is a working rig for a car service, waiting to shuttle some group back to the airport.
The S-10 on the other hand seems to have had a relatively gentle time over the last 30 years. The spec – 2wd longbed with some trim options – says “old man truck” to me and the condition of the bed, almost pristine apart from the usual circa-1990 GM delaminating paint, points to a life without too much hard work.
The black Escalades were all over as hotel limos, which I’m pretty sure was the case here.
Las Vegas is the opposite of what we were told should be. Most of our European settlers didn’t come to America to build a city as shallow, fake, immoral, drunk, and dirty as Las Vegas, so we had to turn our backs on them and build it ourselves. The City shouldn’t exist. Yet it exists, so that we can revel in our immaturities.
Vegas is a fake as we make it. Over a million people call it home. Vegas is as fake as a feathered showgirl, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and every single slot machine promising instant riches. We know it is fake. That is why we love it. Fake flowers are still beautiful. Fake wood still looks warm. We know the fountains use recycled sewage, even though it is scented.
It is fun to laugh at the fakeness of Vegas, yet it is the fact that it is fake that makes Vegas special.
Ha, my wife was down there when you were there for her birthday with friends. I got dragged down there for Thanksgiving at a house of her friends who requested my appearance. When I ask why she told me that after you have had a few drinks you are really fun instead of serious mostly. Well their fun ended at 9:30 that night when I was sound asleep on the couch after getting up at 5 am, driving all the way, had three drinks, and out asleep.
I would like to have seen more of old Las Vegas that was there when I first went through in 1966 rather than the newer suburbs. However, went to Hoover Dam (big mistake) and then Zion National Park (almost another big mistake). Mistake = massive crowds. Yet in last morning before leaving I stumbled across older homes surrounding the glitz. Flat roof homes with the 60s vibes which I just loved compared to the newer drab, all sand colored homes going up now in stucco farther out.
I lament that I wasn’t able to see more of old Las Vegas, much of which had started to come down roughly 5 to 10 years before I started going in 2012. I am glad for what’s left, and I was able to bop into the Riviera before it also went bye-bye.
I have been curious about going to see the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. If I’m there for an extended period of time and can find someone in my group to join me, I’d love to check them out – sans crowds, as you’ve pointed out.
The Hoover Dam tour is good if they still offer it, if nothing else just to see immaculately preserved and working giant machinery in a very clean environment that’s many decades old. Drive yourself there, drive across, drive back and park, walk back across, then tour it. It’s quite the feature and one of those huge things that you can’t really imagine via pictures. Altogether a short day-trip, you’ll be back well before dark.
We used to go to Vegas back when I started dating my (now) wife, so 1992 or 1993-ish. The whole family would go, we’d usually stay at The Frontier at the end of the strip which was a pretty old-school place but sort of “their” favorite. Then it got demolished so we moved to I don’t really remember but it got demolished too a few years later, then we/I stayed at various of the newer ones as they opened either with them or various bachelor parties when that timeframe of my life occurred. We never stayed downtown though which has quite a different vibe somehow. And then there are all the places sort of off-strip that opened and closed over the years too.
I realize in other comments I’m perhaps a bit down on the place, but I had some fun times there, I can admit. Nowadays I guess I see (or look) through the veneer a bit more and it gets more depressing. Although as Evan said, sure, there are many thousands of people there that just have regular lives/jobs/families as well and many of them never partake or aren’t involved with the tourist parts of the city, for them they might as well live in Pittsburgh or Dallas or Oakland or wherever else the sun goes up in the mornings and down in the evenings…
My one Vegas claim to fame is that I was in the background of Giada DeLaurentiis’ TV show when she reviewed “The Burger Bar” in one of the nicer casino resort places and I happened to be there on a work trip. You’d have to freezeframe but I’m back in a booth behind her with my colleagues…
No tours since Covid. Best to avoid on any multi day weekend or holiday weekend. The place looked like a piece of candy covered with ants when I saw it over Thanksgiving compared to March. I ventured no further than the bottom of the stairs after walking down from parking. It was that bad. This picture from March with almost no one on the dam.
Zion is also a day trip at 2 1/2 hours out and back. Once again avoid on weekends for sure especially holidays. I was ready to turn around when I saw the crowds in town. Did I say I hate crowds? My wife got irritated that I wouldn’t park in the various spots she saw which were all illegal. Her early to arrive friends created a shuttle to bring me back and forth from a location farther away. Once in the park and on a trail with my cameras I relaxed as the beauty was wonderful. Need to go back at a time of my choosing. If you like yellow and red this was a good place.
I recently purchased my third S-10. 4.3 V6 engine, 5 speed manual, deluxe interior, c-c-cold A/C, manual roll down windows, no power door locks or sat nav system.
I have NO desire for a new truck. None whatsoever.
Nice! I mean, seriously – who needs nav when we have our phones? Navigation isn’t essential. Neither are power accessories. Your truck looks great.
Yes, I’ve never understood the auto industry’s need to put infotainment systems in every car, especially when most are obsolete before they even leave the factory. All they really need is a place to charge your phone.
A similar experience awaited me in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. I got off the train from Chicago and wandered into a neighborhood to do some exploring and photography. “Hey, YOUSE,” was the greeting. “Al” asked why I was taking “pitchas” on his street instead of “by da Riva” or somewhere else. I told him that I was visiting his city and wanted a taste of where the real people lived and what they were like. Before I was done chatting with him, “Al” told me of about a dozen places nearby that I just HAD to see within a mile or so. If I had eaten and had a “pop” everyplace he told me about, I’d have been full for the next two days!
Later I attended a Pittsburgh Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants baseball game. I had to root for MY boyhood home team and that got some attention from the locals but by the end of the game, everybody was buddy-buddy pals.
I don’t know what Pittsburgh is like now…I hope it hasn’t changed in the same (bad) way as has San Francisco.
I love Pittsburgh. I’ve been there only one time, and that was eight years ago, but I loved its whole Rust Belt-repurposed vibe with all of its history and beauty. I was thoroughly impressed. I easily could have spent an extra hour at the Warhol Museum.
I like it when people take pride in where they live enough to defend it. I’m like that about Flint, Michigan – all the time.
Joeseph & G. Poon: Pittsburgh is still a very livable city, in comparison to others in the Mid Atlantic/Northeast…and really does try to preserve its history downtown (or ‘dahntahn’ as the locals say). The Heinz History Center is worth the price of admission, as is Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Garden (where my wife & I were married). We have a house in the North Hills, but are only 15 minutes away from the core of the city itself – can’t get that in NYC or Boston without $$$…
Pirates games are fun, if only because they are relatively cheap, parking is easy, and I can afford to see the Mets (unlike at Citi Field – I am a transplant here from Central NJ).
If you’d like, let me know if you guys ever get back out and you can be chauffeured around ‘Da Burgh’ in Cadillac comfort!
That’s a nice nice take on day time vs show time Vegas. It’s like after last call at a club, when ‘kerchunk!’, the bright overhead lights come on, revealing the exceedingly ordinary or worse physical attributes of the venue, the props and costumes. It’s like being backstage at a Broadway show.
I would roam around a lot during the day, and found the locals to be a friendly bunch, everyone being from somewhere else.
A friend and I experienced a personified version of your vehicular matchup once, at 4am, at about the time such rides and their occupants might cross paths in real life. My friend was doing his best to blow the last $100 before an early flight out, but it kept coming back to him.
Deciding on breakfast, we were winding our way past the elevators when he bumped into one of the most lovely, flawless, professional and put-together ladies one might bump into at the Flamingo at 4am. He apologized, and offered to buy her breakfast.
“Escalade” took us up on it, but only if her friend “S-10”, a cocktail waitress also getting off work could join us.
Love the story, love the visuals. I remember my first time at the Plaza Hotel & Casino. I hit the bar near the gaming tables and met one friendly bartender from Milwaukee. She and I talked for a while. I recognized her accent as being from somewhere in the Midwest, but when she said Milwaukee, I could totally hear it.
Even the small handful of some of my own friends from over the years who live there aren’t originally from there.
I owned a similar ’91 S-10 long bed. Two tone dark charcoal grey/light grey combo. 2.8L v6 and a 5 speed with nice cloth interior. The 2.8L wasn’t a powerhouse by any means but gave great mileage and was a great looking truck. I’ll take it again over any Escalade.
Next time you’re in town, Joseph, look me up and I’ll take you for a ride in my ’02 Silverado work truck. I’ll buy you lunch and give you the perspective of a 15-year Vegas dweller.
Evan, I would love that. For real.
I have yet to go to Vegas. I used to think of it as glamourous, but once the casinos started opening in my state I decided otherwise. There is no Sinatra and Martin, only old people smoking cigarettes and punching buttons on slot machines.
Maybe I will go someday just to say I’ve been. I like the idea of checking out the places not everyone goes. And yes, the Escalade and the S-10 are perfect examples of the big shot casino VIP who blows a wad of money and the guy who keeps the old slot machines working.
Great point about the slot machines. They’re now all electronic with buttons, are activated via a card, and the payout is a paper receipt.
I miss the old mechanical ones that had a pull lever and used coins.
Same here, when I was a kid Las Vegas was high on my list of places to see, but similarly with local casinos taking away the intrigue of possibly getting lucky striking it rich, that pretty much just leaves the nightlife and adult theme park aspect, and I am simply not a partier. I’d stay in Vegas to see the Hoover Dam, that’s about my level of interest today.
And yeah, local casinos really revealed to me what those are really like, dead on description. It’s not exactly James Bond, beautiful women and powerful criminal masterminds in a battle of wits at the baccarat table.
For me, the whole casino experience loses something for me outside the context of Las Vegas. I have been to a few, and while the sounds of the electronic bells and occasional shouts made me feel a bit nostalgic for Vegas, it only served to remind me that I wasn’t there.
I’m not a gamer or serious gambler or anything like that. I’ll part with maybe $50 at most. I just enjoy experiencing this slice of Americana, talking with people, and taking pictures in the places where I’m allowed to.
My impression is that a lot of Las Vegas is an ordinary place with nothing to do with casinos or reality TV. Personally one of the only reasons I would visit is for the reputedly good mountain biking. Then again I have also looked at cheap flights to Reno as a way to visit Lake Tahoe’s trial systems.
I find the S-10 far more interesting than the Escalade both as an older vehicle and as a humble work truck rather than a gussied up “luxury” vehicle. I like the long bed but prefer the Ford Ranger. I’ve owned and driven several Rangers and one early S-10 and found that the Ranger’s interior was more comfortable and more durable and it genrally drove better despite the theoretical disadvantages of Twin I-Beam.
My first impression of the S-10 from the bus was that it looked so interesting as a nicely kept, but not pristine everyday vehicle. The Escalade was probably livery (and a very nice ride), but the S-10 seemed more “real” and relatable in that Sunday morning traffic, and I liked it for that reason.
My ’93 S-10 Tahoe is my everyday vehicle, and although it is not pristine, I try my best to keep it looking good. One of the things I’ve found about owning an old vehicle is that, if you DON’T keep it up, people will assume that you don’t really care for it, because it’s OLD!
I think I’m the only regular commenter on this site that lives in Las Vegas.
In some ways, Las Vegas (outside of the Strip and downtown) is a lot like any other city its size. People go to work in all sorts of jobs, send their kids to school, and live their lives.
OTOH, this is a city built entirely on a foundation of greed. Casino owners just want to take your money. Tourists mostly come here with the dream of hitting it big. People who move here – myself included – come to make money. There’s very little sense of community; everyone is too busy chasing the dollars. In 5 years I can retire, and I’ll be happy to get as far away as I can.
One time I was walking from downtown to The Strip and chose to wind through the neighborhoods that lined Las Vegas Boulevard. I think I wrote a post about that or referenced it once. I remember passing a school for young children, a church, a park, and a bunch of other things that jolted me back into the reality that Las Vegas is where people actually live. To your point. After that walk, it seemed like a much more humble and likeable place, even if my friends and I were there to party a little bit.
The thing about Las Vegas is actually pretty simple: it’s a town in the middle of the damn desert! Who the hell wants to live in the middle of the desert? Doesn’t exactly sound like the greatest living location, to me.
Outside of two blocks either side of the Strip, Las Vegas is just like any other Southwest city. Getting around by bicycle is a breeze with wide, uncrowded streets and great weather nine months out of the year. And there’s plenty of outdoor activities relatively close by, and not just Zion.
Vegas isn’t just the Strip just as NYC isn’t just Manhattan, Chicago isn’t just the near North Side, or Los Angeles isn’t just Disneyland. It’s a great place for retirees from the snow belt who don’t have $2 million to drop on a house or condo but still want the amenities a big metro area provides.
On a personal note, I worked NAB every April in Las Vegas for ten years. Never spent even a nickel gambling and typically had a couple glasses of wine on the last night’s dinner at the fantastic Bellagio buffet. It’s a working town and more than that it’s a family attraction with visitors bringing their kids by the thousands.
I did really notice and appreciate, when I was there in October, that Las Vegas seemed to offer lots of things for families and other people not necessarily looking for action at the gambling tables. Maybe this is because I hadn’t been looking for it before, but there really seems to be something for everyone.
And that’s a point well-taken about cities not necessarily being about the things people most closely identify with them. When family and friends come to visit me here in Chicago, I try to give them some real-world, neighborhood-y Chicago experiences in addition to some of the touristy things people should also experience here.