Why Vegas Is Already Gone
Author’s note: With the one year anniversary of Stephen Paddock’s rampage in Las Vegas having come and gone—accompanied by just a smattering of the typical one-year anniversary stories—I’ve decided to publish this essay, written less than a week after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Then, as now, I’m engaged in a search for answers as to why Las Vegas seems like such a forgotten event, despite its magnitude and human toll. Why it feels so gone. What follows is as close as I’ve come to an answer.
Las Vegas, February, 2018
Take all that you think is bad and good about America. Distill it down to its fundamentals: excess, charity, inequality, opportunity, racism, diversity, fun, boredom, good art, tackiness, pride, shame, freedom, confinement, open spaces, overcrowding. Take all of that, simmer it in a pot for a few hours until the sauce thickens, put it in a hot skillet where the meat of craven opportunism is already frying, and you have Las Vegas.
I started my second day here — just a few days after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida — by going straight to the buffet at Circus Circus, one of the oldest and cheapest casinos on The Strip. In less than an hour I’d consumed one fried chicken thigh, two slices of bacon, one breakfast sausage, a baked pork chop (small), and reasonably portioned piles of the following: mac n cheese, corned beef hash, spaghetti and meatballs, green beans. I drank two glasses of Diet Pepsi, two cups of water, two cups of coffee and found the salad bar — which took some hunting and upon discovery was scantily stocked. They have menudo here. They have quite a few Mexican dishes, actually. I’m comfortable here partly because it looks a lot like my neighborhood in Dallas: mostly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. I get to speak a little Spanish — solomente poquito; mi espanol es muy mal — and watch little Mexican boys and girls run around in their America. It makes me happy and proud to see this many people who came here for a better life get to enjoy the fruits of it, even if literal fruit is in short supply compared to the heaping mounds of meat and carbs that are making us one of the fattest and happiest nations in the history of the world. America the Bountiful. (After writing this, I’ve decided to have a slice of apple pie.)
But I’m getting distracted by the glory of Vegas. Because it’s daytime, and people are still relatively hopeful about their stays here. I know that this place looks much different at 3:30 in the morning, when chips dwindle and credit cards stop working and — for some godforsaken reason I am still trying to understand — young children start looking very bored and tired as their parents walk them around the casino, deciding on this table or that, another beer or another mixed drink in a giant, plastic glass with a ridiculous straw poking out of the top. I’m distracted because that’s the entire point of Las Vegas. When you distill this country and everything it stands for down to one word, it’s distraction. The majority of us do not want to deal with things. That’s why every time someone shoots up a school or a church or… What will it be next time, a football game? If you think we rally around the flag and Support the Troops and Law Enforcement after a school shooting, just wait until someone frags a few dozen patriotic citizens watching the Dallas Cowboys with the roof open on Thanksgiving Day against the Chicago Bears. Anyway, that’s why, after a horrific shooting, we always hear the same things:
“I can’t believe it happened here.”
“I can’t believe it happened again.”
We can’t believe it happened again because after the last one — whatever the last one was — we got distracted. Like many other people in this country, I’m currently distracting myself from Parkland by watching college basketball conference tournaments and spring training baseball. The kids at Parkland who a few weeks ago became adults there don’t have that luxury.
They include Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old who earned his manhood in the battle zone of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and is smart enough to recognize the strangeness, but normalness and always-ness of saying, “I can’t believe it happened again.”
“The main focus for me is fixing this, because this has happened too many times,” Kasky told NPR the day after the shooting. “And I’m very aware that every time this happens people say this has happened too many times, but unfortunately it took hitting me right at home for me wanting to do something about it.”
That’s a hell of a lot self-awareness for a 17-year-old man. After hearing it while driving my car in Dallas, I booked my trip to Vegas.
This place is the ultimate distraction. You can come here and be completely, blissfully unaware of what Stephen Paddock did, even though he’s the man responsible for the (most recent) worst mass shooting in American history. Before him there was Omar Mateen in Orlando, Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech and Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook. A month after Vegas, Devin Patrick Kelley took fifth place when he killed 25 people and an unborn child in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And after them there was plenty of basketball and baseball to distract ourselves with.
In recent months, when I’ve thought about returning to Vegas, it has felt like I’m fantasizing. Like a gluttonous thing. Like how you feel when you know you’re going to have sex or eat a nice steak or tie one on with a good, old friend who knows just how to argue and shoot the shit and knows enough about you to know you need some time to yourself. Just pure enjoyment. This is almost surely due to Vegas’ inherent existence as a fantasy land. It also probably has something to do with the fact that my one and only trip here — less than 24 hours after Paddock’s rampage — was such a surreal experience. Back then, with blood still on the pavement, I went to the fantasy land in the desert where everyone goes to forget with the job of making everyone remember. Maybe this is also why what Paddock did feels like something that isn’t real. Do you feel that it isn’t really real? I do. Did it ever really happen? Yes. And the people whose loved ones were killed and maimed and wounded feel its realness. And the police and first responders and the bartenders who worked the concert and everyone who was there who wasn’t hurt but now have that guilt or trauma to carry around with them for the rest of their lives feel it too. But do we feel it? The country? The world? The answer is no. Instead, I feel wonder. Not wonder as in considering something glorious, but wonder as in disbelief. I wonder why it is that Vegas feels so… gone. Like a hugely significant event that somehow feels like it never happened, or if it did it wasn’t a big deal, or is something that we shrugged about and chugged along.
But it shouldn’t feel that way. This is not an argument for gun control or a national awakening toward mental health or active shooter preparedness or anything like what has been written — what was written; because not many people will be writing about Vegas until the one year anniversary comes around and men with nice haircuts will appear on your television next to someone who survived, reminding you about that thing that happened one year ago today, prompting you to remark, Wow, one year ago already, huh? No, this is simply a discovery process. How did we get here? What is here? Is it Trump? Has he fucked up our collective consciousness so much that we can’t pay attention to anything that isn’t related to him for more than 15 seconds? Is it the media, whose own attention deficit disorder affects our own? For two years I travelled around this country covering police shooting after police shooting. Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Milwaukee. Then Trump was elected. I haven’t covered one since because the appetite for those stories isn’t there. Is it our online lives, which are reducing actual human interactions and replacing them with something similar but also very different that involves an electronic third party? Is it because it happened in Vegas? Is it me and me and alone and you’re reading this thinking, This guy is fucked up. I think about Vegas every day and so does everyone around me. It’s a pain we all carry in our hearts because, like Manchester, it affected people who were simply doing one of the most pure things you can do as a human being: enjoy music, that universal language that binds us all.
No, I don’t think you’re thinking that. Because two weeks after Parkland, we’re still having a national discussion about gun control, second amendment rights and, to a larger extent, the political future of both parties who for the first time since Black Lives Matter erupted after Ferguson, are dealing with young people taking to the streets and demanding change. (It took two years of the Police Shooting War — which pitted blindly pro-law enforcement types against Black Lives Matter and other activists — to bring about a serious discussion of criminal justice reform. That movement, for the most part, ended with Trump being elected. His attorney general has seen to it that any attempts at criminal justice reform, whether it’s ending the use of private prisons, reducing marijuana penalties or discouraging the use of mandatory minimum sentences, die if they even manage to make it to his desk as a policy recommendations.)
A week after Paddock’s killing spree I was back home in Dallas. And one day, while coming home from the golf course, I heard about the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. All the editors in New York and D.C. who called me after Vegas didn’t ring me up this time — at least, not in an All Hands On Deck, get into reporting mode, way. Sutherland Springs was only a little more than two dozen people, not the 50-plus that required a thousand or so reporters from all over the country to get on planes and fly to Sin City. The Sutherland Springs shooting came and went pretty quickly, too, just like Vegas. No national awakening, for whatever reason. Just back to business for everyone who doesn’t live there.
It wasn’t always this way.
Columbine was the first mass shooting in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. I remember the Today Show going live from outside the high school for what seemed like weeks, and people at my high school talking about evacuation plans in case something like that happened there. Less than two months after the shooting, gun control legislation died in Congress. Maybe that’s why we consider Columbine to be the first in the modern era of mass shootings — it happened, it was awful, and it changed nothing.
Sunday, February 18, 2:30 p.m.: There are 27.7 seconds left in Champaign, where Illinois is up three against Nebraska, 17 minutes to post at Gulfstream Park, where Two Seventy One is the favorite. Bubba Watson leads the Genesis Open at the 14th hole, someone named Blaney leads the Daytona 500 with 55 laps to go, and Wichita State is up against Cincinnati in the only ranked college basketball game this afternoon. There are 16 screens here at Caesars Palace to watch and bet on sports and innumerable cushy leather chairs in which to get comfortable. There are many bored couples looking at the screens when they’re not looking at their phones — plenty of distractions — one man is dead asleep in one of the chairs, the smartest among all of us.
Since Stephen Paddock checked into his 32nd floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay, just down The Strip from here, there have been 43 people — including an unborn child — killed by an AR-15 in mass shootings. ARs or their variants with .223 caliber rounds were used in the Sandy Hook, Aurora movie theater, Pulse Nightclub and San Bernardino shootings, which combined claimed 102 lives. So if we’re considering the worst mass shootings where an AR or similar .223 rifle was used from Sandy Hook to Parkland, that’s 145 people gone. There have been zero laws made about the use or possession of such weapons.
Numbers matter. In journalism we say “If it bleeds it leads,” and the more blood there is, the more ink that story gets. This presents an ethical dilemma for freelance reporters like myself who work on spec: when deciding what story to cover, you have to decide what story is going to be the biggest — the bloodiest. Similarly, if you wish for progress on gun control, you must wish for more blood. Progress occurs when a series of bad things happen in a short period of time and gets people very upset. A couple weeks after 9–11 we had half a fucking army in Afghanistan. That’s because 3,000 people died in one morning. More than 10,000 people will die in gun homicides this year, but we won’t address gun control because those deaths were spread out. Vegas was nuts — 58 dead, more than 500 wounded. A goddamned terrorist attack! When it happened it was huge, so huge that we all went there, all of us people who parachute into a place when the unthinkable happens. A week later we were all gone.
Numbers matter not just for prompting progress, but for allocating journalistic resources, which can make the numbers seem even bigger because there are more people on the ground every day repeating them. The morning after Vegas, I awoke to my girlfriend reading the push alert on her phone that had the numbers. Jesus Christ, that’s a lot. Off the top of my head, where I keep these various numbers because I have been on the road for the last four years covering American death and violence, I knew it was probably the worst body count in one event in a long time. Other people who know these numbers and have newsy minds like my own were thinking the same, and soon they shared it with the rest of their countrymen: Vegas was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Time to get on a plane. But first, I chased Paddock’s connections in and around Dallas, where he briefly lived. A woman and her daughter who were very excited to have been on the TV news told me Paddock’s brother and mother had lived next door. “It’s crazy,” they kept repeating. Not really. It’s random, yes. But it only seemed crazy to them because it had finally happened around them. With a high degree of accuracy I can predict exactly what a person will say in that situation, because so many times I have been the bearer of news — either about someone being killed or someone doing the killing.
“I can’t believe that!”
Believe it. With about 15,000 homicides a year, chances are pretty good that in a 72-year life you’re going to be somehow personally involved in one.
After a few fruitless hours chasing the ghost of Stephen Paddock in Texas I got on a plane and flew to Vegas for the first time in my life. The indelible image from my first night isn’t the cops blocking off The Strip, preventing people from driving or walking toward Mandalay Bay and its massive crime scene, or the helicopters patrolling above, or the guys handing out free prayers to console the grieving, or their counterparts handing out coupons to shoot machine guns. No, the image that sticks in my head is a woman posing — hand on hip with a beaming smile — in front of the TV news vans parked near the blocked-off intersection.
It was odd and I judged her for it, but what does it matter? She was just doing what they were doing: documenting a historic moment. The only difference between her and them and me is that we in the media — freelancers especially — are professional ghouls, paid to go places and takes pictures and make words out of horror. She was just a citizen spectator.
Monday, February 19, 1 p.m.: Carol’s hair is dyed a bright magenta, almost the same color as the heavy blush on her cheeks. She’s in her 60s, and barely peeks over the steering wheel of a giant van with fake machine guns mounted on top, my transportation to the shooting range.
After a 10-minute drive we’re at Machine Guns Las Vegas, the building painted the same blood red and gun metal gray as Carol’s van. Everyone here is ridiculously nice. Everyone is having a lot of fun. Inside, each table has a centerpiece: a beer mug with what look like .223 casings in it. I wander around and look at the merchandise. You can get a grill lighter that looks like an AR-15, t-shirts — “iPac” with a photo of a pistol, get it? — hats, pint glasses, shot glasses, sweatshirts and magnets. On one wall is the Flag of Honor. I read some of the names of those who died 9–11 and remembered that terrible day, just as we’re supposed to do when presented with the Flag of Honor.
Eventually, my instructor shows up. Six feet, neatly trimmed beard, ruler straight posture, this is Jared, whose entire appearance screams Army Veteran. He is incredibly nice and having a lot of fun. He asks me if I’ve shot before and I say it’s been a long time, 10 years gone since I last fired an AR-15 out of the window of a friend’s kitchen back in my hometown even though the guy with the gun was wasted drunk and he scared the shit out of me. I didn’t tell that part to Jared. I told him I’ve shot an AR, some .22 rifles, a 9mm and a shotgun.
I remembered being a pretty good shot. We would see about that today.
The range inside Machine Guns Las Vegas is bleak. It smells like gunpowder and hot metal, has gray cinder block walls and feels generally like death and violence, but only at first.
I went 10 for 10 on target with the 9mm — nine of them headshots. I put a hole the size of a basketball through the middle of a paper man’s chest with the 12-gauge shotgun — child’s play. I fired some bursts with the MP5, a 9mm machine gun, then emptied the remainder of the clip on full auto and sawed through another paper man with ease and quickness — a dozen rounds gone in a few seconds. Then came the AK-47, Mikhail Kalishnokov’s beautiful and crazy Soviet invention that changed the lives of millions in revolutions worldwide and killed a few million more in the process. It is a fickle lover, bouncing you around with each shot and, on full auto, turning you into a deadly pendulum. I again fired some bursts, then went for it. With Jared standing behind me in case I couldn’t properly brace for the recoil, I emptied out the bottom of the banana clip. Something like 14 rounds in a few seconds, the big ones, too, .223s. They’re the same bullets that were in Paddock’s AR in Vegas, James Holmes’ Smith and Wesson M&P15 in Aurora, and Nikolas Cruz’s AR in Parkland — the ones that put holes right through you and make your insides look ground beef. The paper man on the target told the story of my inexperience with the weapon. The rounds started off in his belly, then kept going up and to the right through his heart, shoulder, and eventually right past him and into whatever poor thing might’ve been standing behind him.
That’s OK, Jared said. It’s to be expected.
“Told you it’s got kick. That’s why you see those guys from Al-Qaeda in those videos and the gun’s going all over the fucking place.”
The AR is much easier to shoot than the AK, as easy as the MP5 and much more deadly. The AR has those ground beef bullets in it, too, and unlike the AK has way less kick, so my up-and-to-the-right strafing on full auto doesn’t occur like it did with the AK. A full auto AK can do serious damage. But a full auto AR can do even more because of the lack of crazy recoil. Looking back on Paddock’s rampage — in which his bump stock came damn close to giving him a full auto AR — it’s a wonder he didn’t kill more.
At first, Machine Guns Las Vegas was distressing. The noise coming from the range while I waited; the machine guns on the wall in the waiting area, staring me down with their deadliness; the chattiness of the women who worked the counter and seemed to be awfully happy about working in a place that seemed the embodiment of our national, gun-induced terror. But once I started shooting it was… fun. We were just playing with toys and seeing how good we could get with them.
It’s sort of like this: years ago, when I worked at warehouses, I drove all kinds of forklifts that, at any moment, I could turn toward an assembly line or a group of people and crush them, maim them, kill them. I operated a deadly machine that, eventually, I became proficient enough at to do things that others couldn’t. I could place a quarter on the ground, lower my forks to the edge of it, and flip that quarter on to the top of the fork, drive away and drop it somewhere else. That was one of the fun things we used to do to entertain ourselves and stave off the boredom of $6-an-hour warehouse life. While that isn’t exactly a hobby, it’s indicative of a certain type of person who likes to manipulate machinery — cars, boats, snowmobiles, riding lawn mowers — into doing fantastic things that require practice and raw talent. Gun owners are no different, really. They’re acquiring a machine and seeing how good they can get at manipulating it.
It’s partly a guy thing, I think — think of drifters in Japan, café racers in the 60s in England — but I also think there’s something specifically American about this love for manipulating machines. Gun owners have such a difficult time considering restrictions on gun ownership for a very simple reason: they would never do the horrible things that Paddock did, so why should they be punished? A guy who loves hot rods would never lose control at 120 mph and plow through an outdoor concert just off the highway, so why should he have to put a governor on his car that prevents how fast he can go? The difference, argued brilliantly by Army veteran Anastasia Bernoulli, is that we restrict automobiles — the other most deadly things for Americans besides guns and our own eating habits — in myriad ways. Our restrictions of things and actions don’t just stop there, Bernoulli writes.
“We have a whole system of permitting for just about any activity a person wants to conduct since those activities could affect others, and we realize, as a society, that we need to try to minimize the risk to other people that comes from the chosen activities of those around them in which they have no say. Gun ownership is the one thing our country collectively refuses to manage, and the result is a lot of dead people.”
The flip side of that argument: Why should a guy like Jared — safe, responsible, just having a good time — have to give up his hobby just because some psychos can’t be trusted? The answer may be obvious if you live in a liberal, coastal city, but if you grew up around guns it’s much more complicated.
As I waited for Carol to give me a ride back to Circus Circus, I learned of another “experience” Machine Guns Las Vegas makes available.
“We take you out into the desert and put you in a helicopter,” another instructor was telling a group. “Then we fly you out near the Hoover Dam and you get to shoot the SAW.”
The SAW, short for Squad Assault Weapon, is the M249, a gas-powered, belt-fed death machine that fires 5.56 NATO rounds, which are very similar in size to the .223. The SAW is probably also called the SAW because it cuts people and things in half.
For about $3,000 you can have your own war experience with the SAW, hanging out the side of a Huey, rolling swiftly over the desert below, finding your targets, and obliterating them with the power of dozens of massive, sharp, killer golden bullets, tracing through the air below en route to dead men walking.
Then you might remember what you’re doing, and what the weapon you’re firing was built to do. And you might remember that scene from Full Metal Jacket, where the door gunner fires the SAW’s predecessor, the M60, on innocent Vietnamese running across paddy fields. And when he’s asked by the journalist how he could kill women and children, the unnamed southerner replies, “Easy. Just don’t lead ’em so much!”
The most disturbing thing I did in Vegas was to go to Mandalay Bay, not because Life Goes on There, or because people were happily gambling and drinking, I don’t think, but just because of seeing the damn place. In October, Mandalay Bay was a forbidden building on the other side of a police line that I only entered days after Paddock’s rampage from the underground parking garage — and was too fried after chasing his ghost around town to make much sense of. I think it should remain that way. I think they should have torn it down and built something else. It is disturbing as fuck that you can go and stay in Paddock’s room, as some people apparently asked to do on Halloween night.
Now, you can drive right up to it, right under the giant gold windows rising to the sky that broke on Paddock’s command and gave him a door gunner’s view of the enemy below. He didn’t even need a Huey. On my trip there, I got out of the cab, walked inside, felt like I was going to vomit, and walked out. All I can tell you about the inside is this: it was normal, people gambled and drank, a guy doing his best Sinatra voice sang for a small crowd in a bar. I walked the perimeter outside, searching for a memorial, couldn’t find one, and left.
I didn’t bother trying to find the room. I’ve heard they’re changing the floor numbers to throw people off. There was a security guard near the elevators that made me nervous, so I didn’t try to go up to the 32nd floor. I felt like they knew I was an imposter, there to be a ghoul and take down things they wouldn’t want me to write about — like how normal everything is, and how distressing it is that everything is so normal.
Did they keep selling books in the book depository after Oswald shot Kennedy?
I’m back in Dallas now. And if I want to be reminded of a national tragedy I can just drive down Fort Worth Avenue, across the Trinity River and onto Commerce Street, right up to the building where Lee Harvey Oswald opened a window and changed American history. There, every day of every week of every year, tourists walk the path of John Kennedy’s last peaceful moments before Oswald shot the president with two 6.5mm rifle rounds, bullets a little bit larger than the .223s mass shooters are using.
Unlike Vegas, there is plenty to mark this one death instead of the nonexistent markers of the 58 who were killed in October. There’s a museum where you can see Oswald’s position at the window. On Commerce Street below, two white Xs painted on the asphalt mark the spots where Oswald’s bullets hit Kennedy’s head. Every so often, someone has to go out there and put some fresh paint down so we don’t forget where the bullets struck. People stand on the sidewalks and take pictures of the Xs. Sometimes they walk onto the street and stand on them for another shot.
After Kennedy was shot the Secret Service took him to Parkland Hospital, where he died. Then we passed a law that banned mail order sales of rifles — how Oswald got his gun.
We have moved on from Kennedy’s killing in varied and strange ways. We still obsess over conspiracy theories about his death; the declassification and release of documents related to it always prompt a round of news stories and fresh blood for the conspiracy theories. In Dallas, there’s a great dive bar called Lee Harvey’s that no one even blinks an eye at. (Find me another country where there’s a bar named after the assassin of a beloved leader that isn’t the focus of outrage.) Maybe one day there will be a Paddock’s in Vegas that brings a whole new meaning to taking shots. If someone opened such a bar now, people would be outraged, but what’s the statute of limitations for sanctimony? Lee Harvey’s became Lee Harvey’s about 40 years after the Kennedy assassination. Going by that metric, that puts the grand opening of Paddock’s on The Strip in Vegas somewhere around 2057.
Maybe by then mass shootings will be gone. Or they’ll be even more ubiquitous than they are now and there’ll be a mass shooting-themed casino in Vegas. There, you could listen to Jason Aldean and other modern country singers croon, just like the 58 men and women did before Paddock opened up on them. To experience the nostalgia of Columbine, the black jack dealers will wear flannel while Pearl Jam plays at a comfortable volume through the speakers above.
On a Thursday morning in October, not even a full week after Paddock’s killing spree, I woke to a fire orange sun burning across the carpet in my hotel room at Bally’s. It’s beautiful in a high hotel room in Las Vegas, not because of the lights of The Strip or all the people below, living what a lot of popular culture has told us is the American dream, but because of the mountains. They contain every color of the West. Earthy browns, raw purples, oranges, silvers, golds, clay reds. They are there in the distance as an unmoving reminder that we do not belong in Las Vegas, and no matter how hard we try or how much we succeed, the mountains will outlive us. I called my editor in New York that day and we both decided the story was over. Less than a week after the worst mass killing in American history, I was headed home and the country had largely moved on.
A little more than two weeks out from Parkland, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
I don’t know why the uprising sparked by Parkland didn’t come about after Vegas. Maybe it was the videos coming out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School showing an environment of war that some of the nation’s children and young adults found themselves in that day. Maybe it’s those young adults’ proficiency at using social media — the online home of everyone who works at newsrooms large and small across the country — that has given the Parkland story longer legs than Vegas.
But maybe, it’s because of the nature of Vegas, a regenerative place where bad memories seem to disappear while people we love never die. There’s the Michael Jackson experience at Mandalay Bay, where you can go see his visage perform every weekend, and of course the Sinatra impersonator there as well. The faces of the Beatles look down on The Strip from high up on the Mirage — nevermind the fact that John Lennon has been dead for longer than many of us have been alive. Vegas is old and new all at the same time, as long as those old and new things are mostly good things, not bad.
The only people who haven’t forgotten Vegas are the families of the dead and wounded and the psychos who are out there trying to prove something — anything — other than the terrible, awful raw truth: Paddock did what he did because he could. That’s it. He was bored and a little troubled and said Fuck it. You ever said Fuck it? Ever gotten in a fight with your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend and said, Fuck it, I’m out! Then you went out and did something you shouldn’t have done like gotten really drunk or cheated on them? Well, that’s sort of what Stephen Paddock did. Except he did it from the 32nd floor to a lot of people who didn’t deserve it with a bunch of machine guns. That’s Vegas. No ideology to combat against. No group of people to keep an eye on. No issue to gather around other than guns, which is only happening after Parkland. No nothing. Just Stephen Paddock and his dead, bored eyes and a shitload of goddamn firepower. Vegas is gone. But it’ll always be around a little bit, nagging us in a seldom visited corner of our minds that deals with The Big Things. It’s there saying this: There’s no there there. There’s no motive. There never will be. He did it because he could. You could. We all could. It could happen any day to any one of us. Or all of us. The North Koreans could drop a nuclear warhead on L.A. and we’d just have to sit there and watch everything we know and love about our own little world burn to ashes and for what? For nothing. For some shit we can’t control that’s out of our hands and never was in our hands because the uncomfortable thing to admit is that humanity is its own worst enemy and there’s something deeply wrong in all of us. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s what Vegas is. It’s a reminder that we’re all capable of the inconceivable for the very simple fact that we’re all the same animal. You might sit there and say Well, not me. I would never do something like that. And you probably won’t. But you’ll be shitty to someone this week. You’ll be short to someone. Maybe it’s your wife. Maybe it’s the cashier at the gas station. Maybe you’ll be looking at your stupid fucking phone like we’re all doing all the time and you won’t notice the person behind you at the grocery store with a million bags in her hand as you let the door close on her. Maybe you won’t be Stephen Paddock, but you’ll have a piece of him in you. We all do. That’s Vegas. And it’s terrifying.