If you take the population of Las Vegas, Nevada, and you divide that by the number of days in the year, there should be 5,000 people in the city and its suburbs with a birthday on the same day that Las Vegas began.
On the hundredth anniversary of its founding, however, Las Vegas had only gathered twenty-nine of those people.
One of them arrived in a beaded blue headdress, her eyelashes sequined, her rufﬂed skirt torn.
Another stood smiling as he watched her while she preened.
There was a child in a knapsack. Its mother on the phone.
An Elvis showed up brieﬂy. Turned out that he was lost.
A small family arrived carrying posters of their daughter: 1979–2005 . . . IT WOULD BE HER BIRTHDAY TOO!
All of us were there awaiting guidance from the city, assembled in a downtown fast food parking lot, seven thirty in the morning, the beginning of the summer.
This was May 15. And I had just turned thirty.
“You of all people,” wrote the city in a letter, “know how special our city really is . . . [because] Las Vegas is literally in your blood! Won’t you help us celebrate your bond with Las Vegas by marching in this summer’s Centennial Parade?”
When a city ofﬁcial arrived, we were told what we should do.
“Smile! . . . Be psyched! . . . This party is for you!”
My mom was there to wait with me, but they asked if she would march.
“When’s your birthday, by the way?”
“Late July,” said my mom.
“Close enough,” she was told.
We were positioned behind the mayor, and he behind six horses, and they behind the color guard from Nellis Air Force Base.
A young man with a shovel and a wheelbarrow marched beside us, stopping every now and then to scrape up the horses’ shit.
“I’m from Atlanta,” said the guy who marched beside my mom and me. “But me and my wife come out here once or twice a year to play. Guess that’s why they asked me. I don’t care, right? I’ll march in their motherfucker.”
We marched past Kostner’s Cash, and we marched past Super Cash, and we marched past Gambler’s Pawn and Loan, and then an empty lot.
Past Drive-Up Wedding, Bail Bonds Now, 45% OFF ALL OUR LADIES’ STOLES AND FURS.
We marched into an area that locals call the Naked City, a neighborhood once inhabited by the city’s many show-girls, and then by many vagrants, and now by seven signs for Adopt-A-Block Las Vegas.
SMILE! blinked a monitor as we neared some TV crews.
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A LIVE TELEVISION PERFORMANCE AREA!
“What do you want to say to America today?” asked a woman in a pantsuit while gripping a microphone, beside her a man in tight blue jeans, an open shirt, a ponytail, a camera on his shoulder with its black cord twisting up the street into a van.
“This is wild!” yelled the man who marched beside my mom and me. “Happy Birthday, Vegas, yo! I love you all, Atlanta!”
We passed the bank of cameras and waved the posters we were given. Twirled some streamers, tossed confetti, shot compression-powered string. We stood and sang the birthday song to a grandstand in applause.
“You guys rock!” yelled a woman from the grandstand as we passed. And then we reached the end of the grandstand, and were done.
We turned around, joined the crowd, watched the others march.
The Sons of Norway’s Viking ship rocked sideways on its chassis.
The public library’s Book Drill Team passed out their branches’ hours.
Seven Chinese boys held aloft an orange dragon.
There were women marching silently behind a plastic banner: 1-800-BETS-OFF . . . CALL IF YOU NEED HELP!
Men who drove old cars.
Girls with 4-H calves.
Old women wearing pageant crowns.
Congressmen, dairy carts, ballroom dancers, Meadows Chevy, the Organization of Ladies Kazoo Post-92 from Laughlin—over two hundred different entries marching past us for three hours.
All of them being applauded, waved at, snapshot.
Broadcast on the news, on local public access, on videophone recordings that were posted to the Web.
The parade was called by one newscast “the happening of the century!”
A local blogger wrote that “something special happened here!”
A radio host asked listeners if “all that really happened?”
And the mayor swore that this parade was going to be remembered “as one of the greatest things to ever happen in Las Vegas.”
And while I wasn’t born there, and have since then moved away, during the summer I lived in Vegas I began to feel those claims, appealing in their hopefulness the way parades appeal, the way a list appeals to those with faith in withheld meanings: the dream that if we linger long enough with anything, the truth of its signiﬁcance is bound to be revealed.