LAS VEGAS — Forty-seven hours after the massacre, Crystal Rose was back in her flouncy red showgirl plumage on the Vegas Strip, bare-chested except for tiny, shiny pasties keeping her just this side of legal.
"Come on over — get a photo with the showgirls," she called out to the flow of revelers cruising the sidewalk Tuesday evening outside the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, many of whom stopped to pose with Crystal and her fellow feathered attraction, Sabrina Borden, near the busy craps and beer pong tables.
"I took the day off yesterday, out of respect," said Crystal, 25, who uses just her first and middle name when posing for tips on the Strip. "It's a dark time, but people come to Vegas to have fun, not to be afraid. So we are here to lift everyone's spirits."
This pulsing City of Sin has returned almost immediately to its high-glitz version of normal after Sunday's massacre of 58 people, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The shows go on. The roulette wheels spin, the dice fly, and people carrying Coronas wander the Strip alongside bubbly showgirls and a guy dressed as Chewbacca.
Thousands have come to candlelight vigils to kneel, pray, cry and hug strangers. So many people donated blood that police asked them to slow down. Local hotels are providing rooms and food to help families of the dead and the nearly 500 hundred injured, most of whom were from out of town. Fifty-eight white crosses have been erected near the Mandalay Bay hotel, where the shooting happened.
Those are the familiar markers of mass shootings, which are now as much as part of American life as hurricanes — certain danger we have come to expect and feel helpless to stop. All sides of the gun-control debate rise up with each slaughter, but little seems to change, and no one believes the killings will stop.
In the past five years, I have covered four mass shootings — in Newtown, Orlando, Dallas and now Las Vegas — in which 138 people were killed and at least 558 more were injured.
These horrors are joined by a common tragic senselessness, but each place has processed the trauma differently. And none bounced back to business as usual as fast as Las Vegas.
On Thursday evening, a beaming Jillian Aucoin from Nova Scotia walked down the Strip in a white wedding gown, carrying a bouquet of white roses.
Married three hours earlier at a Las Vegas wedding chapel, Aucoin, 39, walked with her new husband, Byron Aucoin, at her side, and a gang of merry bridesmaids following along in the shadow of the 460-foot replica Eiffel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.
"He didn't scare us," Jillian Aucoin said of the Vegas shooter. "At first I didn't want to come and celebrate in a place that was mourning. But we decided to come and share our happy time with the people of Las Vegas."
The couple arrived on Tuesday, just two days after the attack.
"We're bringing a little bit of the positivity that Vegas is known for," said Byron Aucoin, 35, who could see the bright lights of the Mandalay Bay just down the Strip. "You've got to keep living life and keep going forward."
I've seen that same resilient spirit in other communities devastated by mass shootings, but never with the quite the same rubber-band recovery.
In Newtown, the 26 dead were mainly elementary school children gunned down in their classrooms by a mentally ill young man motivated by demons that are still not understood. The grief was almost too intimate to look at. I watched shaking, red-eyed residents come into the only Starbucks in their tiny country crossroads. The pain in their eyes was so profound and personal that I felt almost ashamed seeing it.
Yet people invited me into their homes, where one high school sophomore told me: "There was a lot to cry about. It's a lot to recover from, but we have to get stronger, and we will. That's the truth." They have, but no one believes Newtown will ever be the same.
Orlando felt like a wake for days and days after the shooting of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub by a brooding young loser who wrapped himself in jihadist language. I drove along empty streets and ate alone in restaurants. A big, sunny city was dark and quiet. Even the bouquet-filled memorial downtown was often as still as a cemetery; people came in huge waves for nightly vigils, but mostly it felt as though they were hunkered down in private, trying to process something impossible.
Dallas prayed. Churches were filled for days and weeks with mourners for the five slain police officers, killed by a fringe lunatic who used an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter march to commit some demented act of revenge against law enforcement. I watched people — black and white — leave flowers and stuffed animals on two police cars parked as a memorial; one handwritten note said, "Back the Blue because someone I call Dad is on the force."
A proud city still trying to shake its forever image as the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination was forced to grieve its losses while starting frank and painful conversations over long-simmering racial tensions — conversations that continue to this day.
Now, Las Vegas.
A man who lived in a retirement community and liked to gamble at local casinos slaughtered dozens of strangers at random, leaving, as far as anyone knows yet, not the slightest clue about why he rained hot metal mercilessly on people enjoying a country music festival.
This city has begun healing faster than any of the other mass shootings I have seen. Maybe that reflects a growing resignation that these horrible events have become part of our lives, and we are learning to cope. Or maybe it's just Vegas, where fun is virtually a religion. All but six of the 58 who died in the massacre were tourists in town for the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival.
Monday was subdued here, but by Tuesday the party was rolling again on the Strip. Jimmy Buffett's version of "Brown Eyed Girl" filled the happy sidewalks. "Vegas Strong," read billboards overhead, and "We've been here for you during the good times. Thank you for being there for us now." On the street, trucks drove by carrying huge signs advertising "Girls Direct to You! 24 hours!"
Michael Politz, publisher of the Las Vegas-based Food & Beverage Magazine, said his city's quick rebound has been an act of defiance, as well as economic common sense. He said that all the partying gets the most attention, but many of those partyers have come to Las Vegas for huge trade shows that grow businesses and create jobs all over the country.
"It's still on everybody's mind. The fear is certainly there," Politz, who grew up in Potomac, Md., said Friday. "But Vegas needs to get back on its feet fast because of the commerce that's created here. If that stops, if this city bows down, that's what this guy wanted. You have to pull up your pants and be a big boy, and, as much as it hurts, move forward."
Tirrsa Isom, 35, a Las Vegas resident who has been helping counsel victims and their families, said the city usually is focused on hospitality for visitors, but suddenly finds itself in the unusual position of tending to its own residents who were affected.
"It was Sin City before, and now it's grace and love," she said. "We've seen that flip, and that's been really awesome to witness."
Tom and Brooke Kostielney stood on the Strip on Thursday evening a few hours after arriving in the city, holding plastic cups of beer and watching the huge Fountains of Bellagio show — a display of light, water and sound outside the Bellagio Hotel & Casino.
The couple was at home in South Bend, Ind., when they heard about the shooting, and they spent Monday deciding whether to go ahead with their long-planned trip, which they won in a silent auction for a children's cancer charity.
They called Tom Kostielney's cousin, who happened to be staying at the Luxor Hotel, right next to the Mandalay Bay, when the shooting happened. She told them that despite the horrific tragedy, "everything seemed back to normal" in the city.
"We asked her what she thought, and she said the city kind of needs people to come back — it's almost like a way of recovery," said Tom Kostielney, 27, a theology teacher at a Catholic high school.
As his wife was explaining that the city felt normal to her and "not tense at all," a huge "boom" rang out — part of the sound and light show at the Bellagio. She flinched.
"I wonder if things like that are freaking people out," she said.
Tom Kostielney said they were trying to balance respect for the city's loss and grieving with a show of support in the face of terrorism, and a desire to help Las Vegas heal and get back to normal.
"You don't want let the pieces of crap control you or win," he said.
Before the killing started, last Sunday was a warm, happy October evening in a city where people come to escape reality in an obliging fantasyland in the desert. That Eiffel Tower, that Arc de Triomphe, that Egyptian pyramid and those Venetian canals? All illusion, like the sad, corrosive lie that a life-changing jackpot is just one more hand, one more spin of the wheel, one more roll of the dice away.
And maybe like the illusion that this city will ever be exactly the same.
Katie Zezima and Joel Achenbach contributed to this report from Washington.