Bridgett wrote about this yesterday, (I think Aunt B told her to beat me to the punch) and “scooped me”. Tiny Cat Pants linked to this and there was much discussion about who is to blame. Sure, there are many forces at work; financially illiterate buyers, unscrupulous mortgage companies and brokers, builders and speculators, mortgage bond issuers and credit reporting agencies.
And the numbers are scary. The trends are terrifying. I think those numbers will rise even more when people realize they can no longer heat and cool those 5000 sq ft monsters. Which brings me to Las Vegas. (8% increase from JUNE, 1 filing for every 199 households). I mean, when one thinks of speculative markets, Florida and California spring to mind (though why anyone would live in Florida escapes me). But Vegas? When I lived there, I rented. This was just prior to the boom in new casinos that fueled the boom in the housing market.
Las Vegas, for those of you that have never been there, is smack dab in the middle of possibly the least hospitable desert on the planet. It gets a little hot there sometimes. You must travel through Death Valley to get there, if that helps. Triple digit heat is the norm pretty much from March thru December. Man wasn’t really supposed to live there in any kind of numbers. Yet, there it is, a picture-postcard of sprawl if there ever was one.
I miss the old Las Vegas. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. It used to be different. Nice Italian families from places like New York and Kansas City owned the casinos. The local Mormons ran them. The food was dirt cheap, and delicious. Local women would come to the casinos and keep homesick visitors company in their rooms. In short, all anyone could ask for.
It seems most of those old Italian families “retired” and sold their interests in these fine gambling halls to Corporations that now referred to them as “gaming venues.” They brought in their Waspy bean counters and determined that the previous owners were not extracting maximum profit from every square foot of space. Back in the day, slot machines were considered a necessary evil, designed to keep the wives placated while their husbands, you know, gambled, and they were relegated to the rear of most joints. The bulk of the casino floor was taken up by tables, staffed with personnel trained to deal cards or spin wheels and calculate payoffs and house rakes. Pouty blondes in push up bras roamed the area, bringing much needed refreshments to the customers.
Now? Vegas is slot machine hell. Stacked high and wide, these so called “one arm bandits” rule the roost. (it should be noted, they don’t even have one arm anymore, just fun-less buttons to push in this new digital age. Fuck you, Bill Gates) I do blame the accountants, but sometimes I wonder if the casinos were just prescient about our declining ability to do basic math. See, with slots, there is no strategy involved. One simply deposits a portion of your paycheck into them, pushes a button, and watches as the tiny digital fruit or cars or whatever spin around and line up, or, more likely, don’t line up so that it is time to deposit more money into them. Once in a while, some tourist from Dubuque gets lucky and wins. But even winning isn’t the event it once was. Before, you could tell when someone hit a jackpot, it’s arrival was announced by bells, whistles, and falling coins. The sound of coins hitting the metal tray underneath was a noisy reminder that you too can win! Now? No more noisy than your average ATM transaction.
You used to have to get your change from an attendant. It was Vegas’ version of the entry level job. If you won, you took your coins or chips to the “cage” in a plastic bucket, where another worker would count it and pay you off. Now, you simply swipe your card in the machine, or deposit cash, and when you are ready to quit, a paper receipt is dispensed and you take that to another machine which converts it back into cash. In fact, I believe it’s possible to spend hours in a casino, gamble away your life savings, and never once deal with an employee of the place. That strikes me as seriously wrong. But thats another post, now, isn’t it?
See, I guess I always knew people lived there, but never saw any evidence of it. As a tourist, you stay on the Strip. When I lived there, I rented a place within walking distance of my job. I was so close to the strip, I lived on the corner where gunshots ended Tupac’s thug life. Everyone rented, I thought. Apparently, people began to flock to Vegas for all kinds of reasons. Retirees came for the weather and the cheap food. Others were drawn by the State’s lack of an income tax. I’m not sure what prompted families to move there, but they did, and they bought houses. Lots and lots of houses. Soon, as Vegas morphed from Sin City to a desert DisneyLand, it became impossible to escape the traffic. It finally got so bad, the City Officials closed the Strip to traffic altogether.
To (mercifully) get back to my point, all of this happens in a place that wasn’t intended to support human life, at least not comfortably. Electricity is expensive. It will get a lot more expensive in the future. There are already newspaper articles about residents not being able to afford to pay for their utilities. I am concerned about those families that may not be hurt by a mortgage crunch, but will definitely feel the heat (literally and figuratively) of fast rising utility bills. Sam Kinison used to have a bit he did about people starving in Ethiopia and in his rant he would scream “we have deserts here too, we just don’t live in them!” (it’s a little ironic to me that Sam died on a road between Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada.) At some point, I fear that people should have heeded his warnings. Maybe they can sleep in the casinos…
Edited: Ha! Stream of consciousness, anyone?