LAS VEGAS -- It's Thursday night at the Linq Promenade jutting off from the Las Vegas Strip, and all the regulars are in attendance. A shot girl in a plaid napkin, er, skirt works the crowd. Tourists mug for the camera at a photo booth. Someone is setting up beer pong inside O'Sheas, and people wait for cupcakes and ice cream at Sprinkles.
Conventioneers stroll in small packs, wearing credentials attached to light-up leis. Music booms from Virgil's Real Barbecue. Visitors sit alongside a small, bubbling fountain, while the High Roller spins in slow motion, lighting up the desert sky.
It feels roughly like any other Thursday.
But it's not. This Thursday falls into the "after." After a gunman in a Mandalay Bay hotel suite smashed his windows and opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more. After Las Vegas' bombast and swagger was replaced with stories of strangers saving strangers, of first responders running toward chaos, of those who didn't make it home.
Las Vegas has been forever changed, but right now the city feels in limbo. On the surface, the Strip is oddly as it always is -- full of energy and movement, full of tourists and the employees that serve them, full of the excitement of a new pro hockey team, new shows and promised restaurants. But underneath that buzz is a current of shock and sadness as the local community grapples with the new weight of tragedy, with how to remember and honor, how to wear their sadness and move on.
For now, Las Vegas Boulevard is something of a parallel universe. The bars are open, the booze is flowing and the casino halls are crowded with tourists and conventioneers who booked their trips in the before. Inside Mandalay Bay, attendees at the Tableau conference flooded hallways and restaurants, the laughter and bustle lending a sense of normality to the scene. Only the screens around the casino, displaying messages of strength and support in between ads for Janet Jackson's upcoming show, hinted that something had been irrevocably altered.
Just outside, however, the Las Vegas Village festival space has been totally preserved as investigators work to unravel exactly what happened on Oct. 1 and why. The banners hang. The carnival rides are dark and still. The tents and stage stand empty and silent, an eerie reminder of what unfolded just two weeks ago.
It's far too early to know how the Route 91 shooting will change Las Vegas in the long term. Whether travelers and meeting planners booking future trips will consider the city and select somewhere else. But Las Vegas is resilient. It weathered 9/11 and a brutal recession, and just last year it set a new visitation record with 43 million arrivals. The city's message in this difficult moment is #VegasStrong
. But the real hope is that tourists will be strong, too.