LAS VEGAS — Gene Simmons was bound for Vegas with a dish of frozen yogurt.
“This horrific, horrific event is not going to stop America,” the rock star said while boarding his flight Monday evening in Dallas. And, he assured, it’s not going to stop Las Vegas, “the epitome of America celebrating” — a monument to our national relentlessness.
The Kiss frontman’s silk pocket square was gray and stitched with black skulls and crossbones. Simmons is 68 and had new merch to flack. Las Vegas is 112 and had slot tournaments, data conferences and a 15-minute wedding ceremony scheduled for Kris and Jodie in Mandalay Bay’s chapel.
Plus, it had to figure out what the hell happened Sunday.
It was cool here overnight, like the other side of the pillow. “Be safe,” said the lady driving the rental-car shuttle. At the Wynn, they were wanding people. “Where you think I’m going to hide something?” protested a woman in a miniskirt that was practically epidermal in its snugness. The cops were bunched at intersections around Mandalay Bay, boxes of pizza piled on the hoods of their vehicles. Yellow crime-scene tape spanned the Strip, crossed escalators, snaked through topiary. The Luxor pyramid’s vertical beam of light had the tone and dimensions of a World Trade Center tribute.
Fifty-nine candles were lit at city hall.
“I believe what happens in Vegas can touch this state, can touch this nation and touch the world,” said Pasqual Urrabazo, pastor of the International Church of Las Vegas.
A gong struck 59 times at the Guardian Angel Cathedral.
“We are more than just tourists,” said Chris Giunchigliani, a Clark County commissioner. Vegas is more than everything, of course. More than the Hoover Dam. More than Howard Hughes. More than the Paiute tribe, who were here first. More than the mob, than silver mining, than Sinatra, than Celine. More even than Carrot Top.
And yet, Monday into Tuesday, it felt less. The lights were on but everybody was home, or holed up in their hotel rooms. Even before he arrived, Simmons had canceled his publicity appearances out of respect. “I’ll stay in my room, I guess,” he said. “Watch movies and make phone calls.”
The colorful, sparkling wattage of the Strip was interrupted every few blocks by marquees gone black, save for words such as “donation,” “blood,” “missing,” “loved.” Past midnight on the Strip, there were more TV reporters than cars.
“So FBI, ATF and Homeland Security are involved . . .”
“I look over my shoulder and people are running right at us . . .”
“Elaine, I can hear you, can you hear me? One, two, three, four, five . . .”
One of the security guys at the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, next to the Erotic Heritage Museum a couple blocks off the Strip, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His daughter was at the concert. She called him during the shooting. He heard warfare over the phone. He got to the site in nine minutes.
“You never lose your tactical driving skills,” he said.
Vegas is supposed to be a dream, a tranquilizer, an illusion. Rock -and-roll all night. Party every day. Here we blot out the world by creating cheap knockoffs of it, like the Statue of Liberty, her greenness a bit too pallid, gamely looking south toward the golden arches of McDonald’s. Immigrants at her feet powerwash the granite esplanade at 3 a.m. At the opposite end of the strip, to the north, five glittering letters rise like moons from the black desert night: T R U M P.
“Alter your reality,” says the Copperfield signage on the MGM.
The president said at the White House: “I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos.”
The shooter’s brother said in Orlando: “It just makes no sense.”
The billboards here make sense, if you pass them in a certain sequence. “Shoot a .50-caliber for only $29,” advertises a military-like “entertainment” complex called Battlefield Las Vegas. Just beyond it, on the interstate, is a sign that says “PRAY FOR VEGAS, PRAY FOR OUR COUNTRY,” followed by a sign for a law firm specializing in hotel injuries.
Nevada has as many registered firearms as New York state but only a seventh of its population.
At Deja Vu Showgirls, off the Strip, the manager, Mathew Jacobs, retreated through the champagne room to the office. On Sunday they locked down the topless club. No one in, no one out.
“I see a silver lining,” he said. “I’m hoping that rather than tarnishing us, it shows that Las Vegas does have a strong community.”
Sunday was Kristina Acheson’s birthday. The visitor from Washington state was at the Cheesecake Factory when the alert came over her phone. Though it didn’t feel like much of a celebration anymore, she was still wearing her white “Finally 21” sash 36 hours later.
“It’s been quiet and eerie,” said Acheson of her trip with two hometown friends. “And very quiet.”
They couldn’t find a club that was open, nor could they find their way out of the Tropicana, which is designed, like all these casinos, to be timeless, spaceless, inescapable, relentless.
“There’s nowhere else to go.”
“It’s over here.”
“We were just there.”
Mandalay Bay, the shooter’s perch, was open for business, though its streetfront remains cordoned off. All televisions were tuned to sports. Counseling services were available in a room labeled “Bayside C” at the casino’s convention center.
Bonnie Brenner was in the Mandalay casino at 2 a.m. Tuesday, tapping the buttons on a slot machine called Red Hot Jackpot, like nothing had happened, even though everything had happened. She was up $46. She and her husband had come from New Jersey for their 20th wedding anniversary. Every five years they renew their vows at one of those silly little chapels. And on Sunday, after dinner, she found herself on the concrete floor of the Luxor basement for seven hours of lockdown while bloody teenage girls sobbed and the staff baked them cookies.
It was surreal. But then so is Vegas.
“Look at this place,” she said, her glasses on her forehead, her purse slung around her front. “It’s empty. This place is always packed. I heard they were canceling conferences. If you do that, you let the bastards win.”
You can quiet America, but you can’t stop it.
“So that’s why I’m here gambling.”
Lynh Bui and Pat Evans contributed to this report.