Every summer, I take a semi-obligatory flight to the city of sin. Before I became a newly minted 21-year-old, these trips solely revolved around the sinless activity of visiting my grandparents in the suburb of Summerlin and my dad in downtown Las Vegas. But finally, it was time for me to misbehave a bit in my hometown.
Immediately after getting to my dad’s apartment, I shed my Bay Area jeans in exchange for an appropriately skimpy Vegas sundress. This being my first visit to take part in the Vegas culture of overindulgence, we took a walk down the raucous Fremont Street.
Fremont is a smaller, more condensed slice of the Strip. Casinos, hotels and kitzy touristy shops clutter both sides of the neon-lit walkway. “Bye Bye Bye” blares from surround-sound speakers, fighting for real estate on tourists’ ear drums with two live concerts, the shouts of vendors and tanned Chippendales offering beads to any female-presenting person who walks by.
Some find Vegas to be unique, in a tastefully trashy way. This aesthetic is singular — where else are old-timey showgirls casually strolling down the sidewalk in stockings and headdresses? However, I am prudishly always a little embarrassed when I tell people my family lives here. Yeah it’s very chill that my family indulges just a tad, yeah it’s very cool that my grandparents play Blackjack on the weekends, but Vegas isn’t the place for wholesome family fun.
Everything on Fremont felt more HD now that I had full access to what Vegas has to offer. For some reason, I was taken aback and anxiously nervous, and only hesitantly ordered a frozen margarita at my very fun father’s insistence.
I’m not good with chaos or noise. The Berkeley apartment I moved from before this trip was partly populated by frat men and business bros throwing ragers that spilled out of their homes and onto the shared courtyard. Noise reminds me of sound that I could be making, lyrics I could be hollering, lines of shouted conversation I could be flinging across a crowded room.
So I cringed my entire way down Fremont, sucking on the margarita that did nothing to relieve the pressure cooker of stimulus. The odd day drunk couple grinding to the Shakira tracks shrieking through the speakers, parents on vacation with bawling children and the loudly leering men wearing “Drunk Number 1” t-shirts make up the downtown Las Vegas chorus, one that I had no idea how to chime in to.
I tugged my dad’s arm and told him that I’d head home. He shrugged and tipped his glass of Casamigos with soda towards me as a farewell before absentmindedly drifting toward a casino.
As I trudged my way home, “Party in the USA” drifted behind me. I wanted nothing more than to ride the pleasant tipsiness of the marg into the Vegas spirit, but I couldn’t. That night, my dad and I ventured out to one of his favorite bars, stocked with Asian liquors. This time, even armed with a local friend with a penchant for soju bombs, I did more nervous picking at my fingers than dancing, sitting and sweating my way through pounding verses by BTS and Twice.
Maybe I was too lame, too in my head, too locked into family time to join in the cacophonous, drunken joy of the glitter gulch. Whatever, I thought as I said goodbye to my friend at the early hour of 11:30. I’d drown my sorrows with beer and “Bachelor in Paradise,” partyless, while everyone, even my father, had a banging time.
As I tried to tune into the trysts of Bachelor Nation, my dad wandered back into the apartment, sitting down with me to enjoy the show’s classic introduction music. “Bachelor in Paradise” is some of the best TV out there. I mean, a bunch of hot people all dating each other on a beach, while entirely liquored up? Fabulous.
And the show’s intro is a separate masterpiece. With ironic ’80s-esque music, each contestant comically does a little bit — hilariously flopping a cartwheel, eating a vat of hot sauce or sexily laying on the beach and getting splashed by a wave — while their name fades into view on screen.
It’s brilliant because “Bachelor in Paradise” knows it’s trashy. The show makes fun of itself from the beginning, telling its viewers to not take it too seriously, to just enjoy the love triangles, grudges and spellbinding romances for what they are.
When I went to sleep that night, the theme music danced around in my head. Eventually, it began melting into the pounding pop music from Fremont Street, bumping from afar. My bedroom at my dad’s directly overlooks the back end of Fremont. The noise carried itself to my room, “Treasure” and then “I Like It” and then “Call Me Maybe” melding with shouts from intoxicated partygoers.
Learning to accept Vegas for what it is — Sin City, lost wages, the gambling and marriage and divorce capital of the world — must happen to enjoy its sinful fun. No one seeks to make “Bachelor in Paradise” less tawdry or more “real.” That’s not what it is. And that’s not what Vegas is. Fremont Street is never going to be blasting Phoebe Bridgers or Mozart or Boyz II Men (unless it’s “I’ll Make Love to You”). Vegas is who she is.