Sometimes, it's the fine print that gives it away. In Vegas, it happened as I squinted at too-small numbers on a laptop screen. No, I wasn't checking odds. It was day three of a data conference. Our millennial teacher wore sneakers and a blazer. The calculations class clipped along with the speed of someone swiping left on an app. After a while, it was laughable. I let the learning wash over me. Could I keep up? Did I want to keep up?
In many ways, that became the week's theme. Any conference delivers overload. This one was doing its best to be Google or any number of tech companies parodied on "Silicon Valley"—the land of play at work. There were ping-pong tables, photo booths, tiny flags for cheering at keynote speeches. Everywhere, a free source of caffeine. Between sessions, my tired face moved along a river of lanyards looking out at a massive, manmade beach. I heard people making plans. Who was up for rooftop golf? Sake, anyone? Someone had heard that clubs at the MGM came alive after midnight.
I settled for a Lyft to a windblown dispensary on a warehouse street. Legal cannabis gummies mellowed me out as I looked out from the hotel window at a low cardiogram of mountains ringing the city grid. Don't be lame, I thought. Not everyone here is young. There were salt-and-pepper-haired execs who had gotten their Trunk Club business casual consultation before joining the data nerds. I knew, because I was one of them.
It wasn't like Las Vegas had skipped my generation. Elton John, Donny and Marie stood 55 feet high across entire sides of massive hotels. Downstairs, Billy Idol was playing nightly at the Hard Rock Cafe. So, once alone, why did recreation feel like such a forced march? Well, because it was. I had spent much of the late afternoon snaking along the strip with people in various stages of being blotto holding tall drinks. There was no way to get from A to B without being offered ways to obliterate your cares.
Nor was there any avoiding the black signs. Signs thanking first responders. Thanking us for being there for us. #VegasStrong. Telling the drunk and the sober that counseling was available to all. The last leg of my way back to the Mandalay crossed a median crowded with memorial candles. I took an iPhone picture and felt too dry to cry. Las Vegas didn't want to remember and Las Vegas couldn't forget.
On the last day of the conference, I skipped Data Night Out. By then, I was grateful to millennials. They deserved a giant red slide, deserved their tribal face-painting. I asked the guard for a quieter bar and walked the tunnel to Franklin's, in the Delano. Under tiny electric stars, I nursed a 28-year-old single malt scotch and thought about my father. Two weeks before, he had suffered a heart attack.
Or so we thought. It was called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or "Broken Heart Syndrome." Another drink in, I tried explaining it to the eldercare nurse from Scranton. She came to Vegas from time to time with her girlfriend. Broken Heart Syndrome. She would have to look it up. Did she have advice for a Las Vegas newbie? I asked. Hydrate, she said. It was good advice. My flight was scheduled for Saturday morning but I left a day early.