My wife’s parents moved to Las Vegas nearly a quarter-century ago. To them, it was the perfect spot for retirement, the glitzy new place that was everything that decaying old Baltimore was not. Visiting the place this week, now that I’m a few years older than they were when they moved here, puts me in mind of what the ideal retirement place would be.
My short answer: this place is not it, not for me anyway.
Vegas is beautiful, to be sure. It’s sunny most of the time, the mountains that ring the city are stunning. The desert vegetation is eerily beautiful. And snow is unheard of. The hustle and bustle here is invigorating, not to mention the appeal of the over-the-top entertainment culture – it’s Disneyland for adults, as a former colleague at BW once described it.
My in-laws live in a lovely 55+ development fashioned around a golf course, with modest houses suited to retirees unburdened by children at home. The southwest architecture boasts pretty tan exteriors and brilliant red roof tiles. The place is landscaped to perfection and carefully maintained. A rec center offers exercise and social options, plus there are a million senior-citizen activities, such as the bowling leagues that have shaped my in-laws’ lives for the last couple decades.
But, these idyllic touches notwithstanding, it’s not for me. Why not?
For starters, you have to drive everywhere. Many cities have been designed around the car, but Vegas takes that notion to lofty heights. The city is crisscrossed by superwide expressways where any speed less than 80 mph puts an angry driver on your tail. Staying out of the way of pricey sports cars is all but impossible.
Off the highways, the roads are marked by housing development after housing development, each one a clone of the next. Strip malls filled with supermarkets, nail salons, tanning places, Big Box stores, chain restaurants and gas stations with tacky names (Terrible’s is one) mark nearly every major intersection. Again, each looks like the one down the road.
And then there are the casinos, of course. They are the reason the city exists. But they are best avoided. They are the sorts of places that our next president once owned. Need I say anything about them?
How different is this from the small-town model I knew back in northern New Jersey and from the charming little towns of New England I visited. How different is it from Evanston, Illinois, where I lived for a decade. How different is it from the little town near my place in the Rockies, Frisco, Colorado. In these places, you can walk from store to store. The shops are modest-sized, sometimes quirky, almost always very individual.
It’s a far cry, too, from Lincoln, Nebraska, where I live now — a place that is a regular on annual “best-places-to-live” lists. Built around a state capitol building and a university campus, it, too, is walkable. You don’t have to compete with speeding BMWs and Boxsters to get from one spot to the next. Some of my colleagues even bicycle to work from their suburban developments. For me, it’s just an eight-mile car trip, one that takes 25 minutes on a busy day.
Perhaps we all have ideal spots in our heads. These are places that may echo happy times in our childhoods. They may spring from the pages of books we have read, movies we have seen, romantic notions we have had. Who knows where notions of perfection come from? We each have our own fantasylands, I suppose.
But one thing I am sure of is that Las Vegas is a long way from such perfection — at least for me. Sure, it has its seductions. It’s fine for an occasional visit, ideal for a party, good for a bachelor or bachelorette debauch. The shows and buffets are fun. The newness of the place is exciting. And it’s almost too lively.
But give me my mythical little town any day. It’s there where I can best build a life, I think. And someday – many years hence – that ideal retirement.