Dialogue

Alone in Las Vegas (and 2023 in review)

This is what the USA looks like from the eyes of a 31-year old photographer who's never visited the country before.

Mitchel Lensink
Dec 31, 2023
9 min read
An overview of The Excalibur and New York New York from a walking bridge in Las Vegas

Table of Contents

Howdy y'all,

My name is Mitch, I'm 31 years old and I have recently visited the USA for the first time in my life. It was surreal. Growing up in The Netherlands primes you with sufficient knowledge of what the US is supposedly like, most of our popular media is either based on or directly from the country's culture, but nothing of what you see on the screen approaches the overwhelming sensations of real life. In all honestly, having Las Vegas as the first destination to see with my own eyes probably isn't the most accurate depiction of the US. But as it was a work trip, I had no control over that part, and I'll gladly accept whatever I can get.

Roaming around Las Vegas

I just finished breakfast by myself when I text my colleagues 'I don't know when you guys returned to the hotel last night, but I'm going for a little walk around town. Let me know when you wake up, and we'll meet up whenever's convenient for you!' I secretly hope they take a while to respond so I have a couple of hours to explore by myself. Instead of taking the usual left outside the hotel, I decide to take a right and see whatever crosses my path. At this point, it doesn't matter if things are ugly or beautiful, mundane or special, everything is interesting to me.

I immediately find out that a right turn from the hotel brings you straight to the less glamorous parts of Las Vegas. Just to the left of us lays our usual route, The Strip. A fabulous aggregate of the greatest excesses and theatrical opulent displays of capitalism in the world. This left turn acutely displays the cost of setting up shop for such extravagance in the middle of the desert. An abandoned wasteland of warehouses, run-down shops, and massive parking lots. Perhaps it's just me: my eyes being untrained to what's 'normal' in America and therefore fascinated by every tiny detail. I'm also a pedestrian in a car-centric city, which doesn't help. I'm surprised there's even a sidewalk here. But walking I do, so walking I will.

I'm sure I'm taking a lot of basic photos of regular stuff nobody cares about but right now, I care about those things. I'm not necessarily making the best work I could make in America but I'm definitely documenting my current experience and what things currently attract my eye.

We've just spent four days roaming around the northern end of the strip (The Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio, Las Vegas Convention Center, Wynn, Bellagio, etc., etc., etc.) for both work and fun, so I've got some time to get familiar with how fancy life can get here. The area I'm walking in now, which is only a block away from the stuff you see in the movies, radiates an unwelcoming vibe that almost feels dangerous in some way. I hear the words of my American colleague in the back of my head, 'I don't accidentally wanna end up on the wrong side of the tracks with your European-looking ass' when I suggested skipping an Uber ride for a short walk.

Luckily, it doesn't take long before my chosen route leads me back to the always welcoming Strip. Having seen the south side of it only from the window of last night's taxi, my heart rate increases noticeably. This always happens when I know I'm about to explore a new area, which feels like unlocking a new part of the map in a game. Speaking of which, I can't help but recognize many of the popular landmarks from GTA: San Andreas. I used to spend hours driving around Las Venturas, exploring every nook and cranny, as a kid. It turns out all of that stuff is real, from the Disney-like colored towers of the Excalibur to that ridiculous sphinx and accompanying pyramid. It's surreal to physically walk around in what I once thought was 'just a game.'

It's when I pass Luxor (which is home to said sphinx and pyramid) that it occurs to me that real-life geography might also mimic the one from GTA, which means I must be close to the end of The Strip and, therefore, close to the famous 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign.' A quick peek at the map reveals that this broken logic holds up surprisingly well. So, about 2.5 hours into my walk, I decide the arbitrarily chosen destination should be that sign at the south end of The Strip.

a map of the route I walked in Las Vegas
The route I've walked in Las Vegas

It's a little after noon, and the desert sun is blasting full power, so I shouldn't expect the glistening lights of the sign to have much impact. Even if they are turned on now (why would they? But that's a question you can ask constantly in Vegas), they won't be visible. Upon approach, I see about thirty to forty people lingering around and queuing up for their chance to get a picture with the sign. I never cared much for tourist-trap activities that obscure the reality of a place in favor of 'that one photo', so I instead walked the perimeter of the happening and choose to incorporate the people in my shot of the famous sign. To me, that's the real experience of visiting places like these and the one that is more interesting to document. I spend about ten minutes in the area but soon find it time to cross the street and make my way back. I snap a few photos through the fence of the airport that apparently stretches all the way here (this is where they keep the private planes!) and start my journey back.

Americana

I'm sitting in the restaurant downstairs of the Trump Hotel with a Miller Lite and three beef sliders, watching whatever comes up on one of the four giant TV screens. It's mostly Fox News and ESPN, though a show hosted by some guy called Pat McAfee is on loop, too. I don't even look at my phone too much. I'm simply sitting here taking in all the Americana as much as possible. Still processing most of what I've seen earlier today. I walked back mostly via the same route as I came but this time on the other side of The Strip to mix up the perspective a little. I hopped through casino interiors, looped around walking bridges, and wondered about the grandness of it all. I absolutely loved being out there: just me by myself and this grand(iose) world out there. Soaking it all in.

2023 in review

Last year, I did an elaborate 'year in review' post where I shared my accomplishments, some statistics, and the ideas I had for the future. As it was the first full year of writing this newsletter on a monthly basis, I found it appropriate. This year I don't feel the need to go in depth as much again. Though it is still nice to draw up 'the score' and see how far we've come since then. The goal is to be grateful without being self-congratulatory for the sake of education, not vanity. So, without dwelling on it too long, here's my 2023 by the numbers:

  • Images taken: 23K
  • Newsletters sent: 12
    • Subscriber count: 131
      • Free: 127
      • Paid: 4
    • Open rate: 76%
    • MRR: €15
  • YouTube subscribers: 628 subscribers
    • Shorts views: 67.5K
    • Video views: 6.4K
    • YouTube videos posted: 3
    • YouTube Shorts posted: 0
  • Zines created: 1
  • Books published: 1

As you can see, most of these numbers have gone up. Though not all in a significant way. The latter applies mostly to YouTube, but I haven't made it enough of a priority to expect any real change there. This newsletter has been my main focus, and it will remain that way in 2024. I am so grateful and happy to welcome you all each month to another episode of my life and learnings. This especially applies to the slowly increasing number of paid subscribers. Thank you all in particular! I'm still not ready to launch a full-blown membership program, but subscribers to the Early Supporter tier are always a welcome motivation to keep going. It's currently only €4/month (€40/year) and Early Supporters will be grandfathered in at this reduced price when I do reach the point where I'm ready to launch the membership program. If that sounds interesting to you, then please consider becoming an Early Supporter. I send a personal message to people who do.

The thing I'm most proud of though, is the publishing of my first book and accompanying launch of my store. I wrote about the bookmaking process extensively before, so I won't bother you with it again. I'll just say I'm still absolutely thrilled to have a book to my name. The fact the book launch coincided with the launch of my online store was a matter of the stars aligning perfectly. I am also super thankful to those who purchased my fine art prints. Running that store is not cheap, and your purchases have made sure I'm able to keep it going.

Free wallpapers

As a small token of gratitude to everybody checking in each month, I've decided to make my 2024 wallpaper pack named 'Globule' FREE until January 14th, 2024. Simply use the coupon code FREEDROPS in the checkout to download the four mobile wallpapers free of charge. Of course, paid members get all wallpaper packs for free already. Just take a look at your Membership Perks page for the instructions.

Wallpaper Pack Globule

A wallpaper pack containing 4 wallpapers, designed for your phone, though I won't stop you using them anywhere else.

Buy wallpaper pack

Signing off

2023 has been an eventful year again with the launch of the book and the online store. I didn't even touch on the exhibition I was part of in September and the many travels I was lucky enough to partake in. Thank you all so much for following along.

We'll kick next year off with a month-long trip to Thailand from January 18th to February 19th. This means that the next time you'll hear from me, I'm probably writing to you from some island and I'll be sharing my experiences on the trip so far. For now though, I wish you all a happy new year where your wishes may come true and your dreams continue to push you forward.

Talk soon.

Mitch

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