My first trip to Las Vegas left me feeling deeply unsettled.

The Strip is a tribute to excess, to waste, to the mindless pursuit of pleasure without thought to consequences (uh, yeah, what did you expect? Pretty much that, but it was still upsetting to see). How many gallons of water are being used in fountains, waterfalls, swimming pools, and other decorative water features? In the midst of the desert? How much electricity to fuel the place? All so dudebros can high-five each other and get hammered in the streets.

It’s like an entire city decided to see just how hard they could give the planet the middle finger.

Although I will say that the hotel we stayed in was LEED-certified. So… there’s that.

Vegas is The Capitol from The Hunger Games. Spectacle, pageantry, waste, luxury. But again, what were you expecting?

Pretty much that. Check the box next to “Meets Expectations.” And yet.

We went to Vegas because we have a lovely friend, M, who was visiting Vegas with his family and invited us to come out for a night or two to stay for free in his room, since there was an extra bed. Since I’d never been, we were eager to take him up on that offer. His parents were also kind enough to treat to us to dinner when we first arrived.

The restaurant was quite nice. Nice enough that I was intensely uncomfortable there. I don’t mean it was fancy; it wasn’t that. It just felt… expensive. And I felt poor and small and like I didn’t belong there.

I didn’t exactly grow up poor. We always got enough to eat, and always had a place to live. That’s a lot. But my mom is a public servant, of the kind who gets appreciated in non-financial ways, and my dad started out as an entrepreneur but his business never thrived so he also went into public service, in a very non-glamorous capacity (I’m not sure what the glamorous public service jobs are).

As a young adult, I was pretty unquestionably poor any time I wasn’t living with my parents. Food insecurity, not being able to pay the rent, selling possessions just to stay afloat another month (and failing) – I’ve done all of that. I’ve been on food stamps twice. And I remember a period when I was hungry all the time. If you haven’t been in that situation, it’s hard to explain how demoralizing it is. It’s even hard to remember how it really felt (because thankfully it’s been a few years since I lived with that).

There’s a reason that class issues concern me so much.

But when I woke up in the luxurious hotel that someone else paid for, I ran a bath in the enormous bathtub and I used up the equivalent of a year’s worth of drinking water for someone in central Africa.

And this is the reality that Vegas held in front of my face and made me think about. That I’m as much a participant in all of it as anyone else. That I am perpetuating the same cycles of excess and greed and violence, even as I hold myself apart and congratulate myself on being better than that.

I’m not rich. But I am rich. And I don’t mean I’m rich in friends or love or whatever the fuck (although that too!). I mean I have a place to live and I never go hungry, and I have as much clean drinking water as I want even though I live in a desert. Just having those things means I’m one of the richest damn people on the planet.

I am not poor. But I am poor.

I’m both, and neither.

All of which… I already knew. But something about being immersed in Vegas for 24 hours really crystallized it for me.

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