Last night, I went out to Greg Raymer's house for a barbecue with a bunch of my friends from PokerStars. It was a little surreal -- Greg is playing in the $50,000 HORSE event today, where the buy-in is more than two years of mortgage payments for me, and he invited all of us out to his place for dinner the night before.
Greg's place is way off the strip, and it's the farthest I've ever driven away from Las Vegas Boulevard in all the times I've come here. Once I got about ten blocks away from the cluster of hotels and casinos, the harsh reality of Las Vegas' location was apparent all around me: for miles at a time, I was surrounded by empty lots and open desert, and the few lots that had any sign of civilization in them were pawn shops, porn shops, or abandoned bars. When you get away from the shining neon and watered-down drinks, that's the side of Vegas that the department of tourism won't tell you about.
I stopped at a light way out on some highway, and saw the history of Vegas in two glances. To my left, there was a housing tract that looked like it had been built in the 1970s. The houses were small and were once brightly-colored stucco. Today, they are falling apart, and most had patches of dirt where a front lawn once was. About a third of them appeared empty. Just behind them, a new housing development was under construction. The houses were mostly frames, but many of them had piles of roofing tiles wrapped in plastic on their tops. They were built right on top of each other, were two stories tall, and looked to average about 8000 square feet each. I thought to myself, "Who in the world is going to live in one of those houses? Do any potential buyers look at the existing tract and think of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?"
I looked to my right, and saw a middle-aged man with a dirty face and an equally dirty once-white T-shirt, standing on the side of the road. He held a black canvas bag at one side, and drank deeply from a bottle of clear alcohol.
The light changed, and I pulled away from another Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.