Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let Me Introduce You to Primm

If you've flown to Las Vegas, you've never known Primm. If you've driven to Las Vegas and you weren't coming from Los Angeles, you've never seen Primm. It is the pre-show to Las Vegas, home to three casinos: Whiskey Pete's, Buffalo Bill's, and the Primm Valley Resort and Casino. They've got a roller coaster called The Desperado, but I find most fascinating the relatively high-end convenience store near the state line. I don't know the name, but when you walk in, there's that long hallway leading to the men's and women's restrooms that has a huge framed map of the United States stretching all the way. That's to your left. To your right, just before the convenience store, is a tight bank of slot machines with stools. Then, there's enough space to find what you might want to eat or drink for the drive back. Mainly snacks and sandwiches, and of course there's coffee and all kinds of sodas. I miss Vegas Chips, which I had on one drive back. Those were made in Las Vegas, but no more. On our last trip, we couldn't find them. They'd just disappeared. It reminds me of one trip to Vegas (We always drive), after we passed Primm, and we found a riverboat-shaped casino that had been closed and pretty much abandoned. The next trip, we drove past Primm and that riverboat casino wasn't there anymore. It had been torn down, dismantled, but think about it: Only in the desert can a riverboat disappear like that. And that's when I knew that Las Vegas was for me.

Yesterday, I received a book in the mail I had ordered upon learning that becoming a resident of Southern Nevada may be more possible now than in years before. It's called In the Desert of Desire: Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle by William L. Fox. Fox writes about art galleries in casinos, the shark reef at Mandalay Bay, as well as how Las Vegas barely funds museums and zoos. It's of course also about the spectacle of Las Vegas, but, to quote the copy on the back flap: "This compelling, disturbing discussion of entertainment and the arts in Las Vegas shows how our insatiable modern appetite for extravagance and spectacle has diminished the power of unembellished nature and the arts to teach and inspire us, and demonstrates the way our libertarian society privileges private benefit over public good."

I'll read about all that later. I found this book while wandering through the listings on Amazon for books about Las Vegas and I immediately wanted it after I read the first page of chapter 1. This is Primm exactly as Fox writes about it. I've never known the border making itself apparent like that as Fox writes about it, but I do know that once you cross the border into Nevada, the road becomes much smoother. They're maintained a lot better in Nevada:

"The border between California and Nevada makes itself apparent ten miles before you cross it. When you drive around the last curve on Interstate 15 before descending from the eponymously named Mountain Pass and into the Ivanpah Valley, several enormous structures appear at the far end of the playa, a lakebed that since the Pleistocene ended almost ten thousand years ago has been more dry than wet. Three hotel-casinos, a discount mall, and a nearby 500-megawatt, gas-fired, water-cooled power plant flank the freeway, forming a surreal gateway into the state, one that declares, "Abandon reality, all ye who enter here." The allusion to Dante's Inferno is strengthened not only by the feverish temperatures of the Mojave Desert but also by the sight of the Desperado roller-coaster on the left at Buffalo Bill's. It's actually a "hyper-coaster" that is one of the tallest and fastest in the world. Its cars drop 215 feet and hit 95 miles per hour at the bottom, which in my book is considerably more like torture than entertainment. Las Vegas is still thirty-five miles to the north, but the address out here is 31900 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Only a range of hills, another arid valley, and 319 blocks to go.

The high-rise hotels of Primm rise out of the Mojave with nothing to buffer them from the floor of the scorched alkali flat. No trees, houses, strip malls. It looks like a set for a cheap cowboy movie, the Wild West architectural touches on Whiskey Pete's and Buffalo Bill's not even trying to echo a real western town so much as a cartoon one. The layers of resemblance are not coincidental."

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