Photos from Las Vegas’s Sign Boneyard
Vegas, baby. Vegas. The name conjures a blur of images combining glitz, chintz, swank, and smut, all set against that incessant tinkety-tink, dingaling-ding casino soundtrack. But the most iconic images of Las Vegas have always been its signs. Casinos have risen and fallen throughout the years, and so have their signs. But, in a show of preservationism that would make any Santa Claus Lane purist proud, much of the classically tacky, old-school Vegas signage has been saved, kept in a Nevada graveyard to which two intrepid local photographers, Matt Straka and Larry Mills, recently trekked. They showed off their collections last Thursday evening at Muddy Waters, the eastside Haley Street gem whose storefront would be utterly nondescript, were it not for the cool little sign that hangs above its doorway. I arrived and said a couple of quick hellos, but was quickly and completely sucked in by the amazing art on the walls. I discovered that there’s something about a gigantic, gaudy sign that was (presumably) once-upon-a-time stylish and sparkling, left to lie on its side in the desert sand, dusty and forgotten, that makes my heart go pitter-patter. I made mental notes, ranking the pieces in order of my desire. This one for the office, that one for the hallway … But then, remembering that I did have a job to do, I got down to business. Peep first, shop later, I told myself. The crowd was in high spirits, enjoying the company, the drinks, the grub, and one of the first warm evenings in recent memory — and they were absolutely enamored with the guys’ work. All of which would have been fantastic, had I been a little quicker on the draw: By the time I gave the prints on the wall another look, found a price list, determined my number-one choice, located Mills, and told him which one I wanted, I was too late. “Just sold it,” he said. Alas. (Note to self: Always, but always, shop first. And I call myself a woman.) I pouted for a quick moment, but then brightened. All was not lost — there was wine and mingling to be had, and I had a good shot of each. And besides, maybe the photograph I so adored was never meant to be mine; maybe the crumbling walls in my office couldn’t hold a work of such heft; maybe the lucky soul who’d snagged it loved it more, wanted it more, needed it more than I; maybe I should be more focused, and shouldn’t allow myself to get caught up in frivolous shopping while I’m on the clock. Maybe, just maybe, its unavailability was, in fact, a sign in its own right. Nah.