A decade ago, after a rained-out Thanksgiving desert camping trip with our five kids, my wife, Kristin, and I headed to the nearest available lodging, the now-shuttered Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Watching our brood eat their Thanksgiving meal as cigarette smoke and slot-machine clamor wafted over their cheeseburgers, Kristin and I locked eyes with an unspoken message: We are the world’s worst parents.
We have avoided Las Vegas with the kids since then, but an aborted drive to slushy Aspen this April with three of our heirs caused us to pause in Vegas. At the time, the city was just awakening from its Covid slumber, with mandatory masks and limited capacity in most indoor spaces, traffic so light that cars were drag-racing down the normally packed Strip, and a lingering, troubling question over the whole place: Will this reopening really be safe?
But extraordinary things have been happening during this slumber, and while we were only going to spend one night there, we had so much fun that we ended up staying four. At first we spent most of our time in the relative safety of the outdoors, but then we started to relax along with the rest of the city, drowning our hands beneath the ubiquitous liquid sanitizer dispensers, masking up and heading indoors.
I knew things had shifted in Sin City when, while maneuvering the minivan through some seemingly dicey neighborhood between Downtown and the Strip, I noted on the back alley wall of a hair salon a striking mural depicting the cult outsider artist Henry Darger’s seven Vivian Girl warriors in their trademark yellow dresses. What were the Vivian Girls doing here?
Makers & Finders — and wandered along Spring Mountain Road, the hub of the city’s Chinatown, rapidly expanding westward. In the midcentury mecca of East Fremont Street, a $350 million investment by the tech titan Tony Hsieh, who died last year, has produced a boulevard of fantastical art installations, restored buildings and a sculptural playground surrounded by stacked shipping containers converted to boutiques and cafes, all guarded by a giant, fire-spewing, steel praying mantis.
“Vegas is going through a cultural renaissance,” a former member of the city’s Arts Commission, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, told me in a recent telephone interview. “A lot of the local culture that comes out of a city with two million unusually creative people didn’t stop during the pandemic.”
Area15, which opened in February in a mysterious, airport-hanger-size, windowless building two miles west of the Strip. Imagine an urban Burning Man mall (indeed, many of the sculptures and installations came from the annual arts festival held in northern Nevada), with some dozen tenants providing everything from virtual reality trips to nonvirtual ax throwing, accompanied by Day-Glo color schemes, electronic music, giant interactive art installations and guests flying overhead on seats attached to ceiling rails. Face masks are currently only mandatory in Area15 for self-identified unvaccinated people, though some of the attractions within still require face masks for everyone. Everywhere, we encountered the constant presence of cleaning attendants spraying and wiping surfaces.
Blue Man Group, who was bringing his creative magic to Area15 in the form of a “Psychedelic Art House Meets Carnival Funhouse” called Wink World (adult tickets start at $18). Wink World is centered around six rooms with infinity mirror boxes reflecting Slinkys, plasma balls, fan spinners, Hoberman Spheres and ribbons dancing to an ethereal soundtrack of electronic music, rhythmic chanting and heavy breathing.
“I worked on these installations for six years in my living room in New York,” Mr. Wink told me. “I was trying to evoke psychedelic experiences without medicine.”
My unmedicated children were transfixed, as if these familiar toys frolicking into eternity were totems to their own personal nirvanas. I’ve never seen them stand so still in front of an art exhibit.
Omega Mart (adult admissions start at $45, face mask and temperature check mandatory), the biggest attraction in the complex, lines one side of the complex’s atrium and seemed — at first — to provide a banal respite from Area15’s sensory overload. Along the sale aisles I found Nut Free Salted Peanuts, Gut Monkey Ginger Ale and cans of Camels Implied Chicken Sop.
Meow Wolf (the name derived from pulling two random words from a hat during their first meeting), Omega Mart is an amalgamation of some 325 artists’ creations tied together by disparate overlapping story lines which one can follow — or not.
For a short time, I tracked the story of the takeover of Omega Mart’s corporate headquarters by a hilariously manipulative New Agey daughter, and then got sidelined into the tale of a teen herbalist leading a rebellion to something else. I have no idea what I experienced other than that Brian Eno composed the music to one of the installations. None of my kids could explain what they experienced either, other than something mind-expanding. If it wasn’t for dinner, we might still be in there.
Raku. Step behind an understated white backlit sign and you enter an aged wood interior of an intimate restaurant that you might find off a Kyoto alley. We slid into the family-style tables behind the main dining room and commenced to feast. There’s a $100 tasting menu if you are feeling adult, but my tribe ordered cream-like tofu with dried fish, foie gras skewers and a dozen other items.
Chinatown became our go-to-spot for snacks and boba tea between adventures. A favorite spot became Pho 90, a low-key Vietnamese cafe with outstanding noodle dishes and exquisitely layered banh mi sandwiches for picnics in the wild.
Red Rock Canyon, 17 miles west of the Strip, is like walking into a Road Runner cartoon with a Technicolor ballet of clashing tectonic formations. We grabbed our admittedly reluctant brood on a 2.4-mile, round-trip hike on the Keystone Thrust Trail through a series of gullies until we emerged above epic white limestone cliffs jutting through the ocher-colored mountains. Here we had our Vietnamese picnic overlooking the monolithic casinos in the distance.
Rail Explorers has set up rail bike tours on the abandoned tracks leading to the Hoover Dam construction site. We booked a sunset tour (from $85 to $150 for a tandem quad bike). After some quick instruction, we, along with three dozen other visitors, climbed into an 800-pound, four-person Korean-made bike rig and, giving the group ahead of us a three-minute head start for some space, started peddling.
Our route was along four miles of desert track gently sloping into a narrowing canyon pass. As we effortlessly peddled at 10 miles per hour, we noticed that the spikes holding down the railroad ties were often crooked or missing. “I bet these were all driven in by hand,” my teenage son, Cody, a history buff, noted.
In the enveloping dusk, we glimpsed shadows moving along the sagebrush: bighorn sheep, goats and other critters emerging for their nocturnal wanderings. But the most surreal sight was at the end of the ride, where a giant backlit sign for a truck stop casino appeared over a desert butte — Vegas was beckoning us back, but now we welcomed the summons. Here we were, peddling into the sunset, feeling more athletic, cool and (gasp!) enlightened than when we first rolled into Vegas four days ago. Oh what good parents we were!
“The moniker of ‘Sin City’ is totally wrong,” Mr. Alvarez told me, “if you know where to look.”
Yasmine Khalil, who recently stepped down as Cirque’s executive producer after 25 years at the company, said the group retained a sparkling global brand, while the pandemic offered the radically scaled-down organization the opportunity to reinvent itself.
But Ms. Khalil said the dusting-off of decades-old Las Vegas stalwarts underscored that in the era of lethal coronavirus variants and decimated profits, Cirque was not prepared to take creative or financial risks. Innovating is hard, she added, “when the primary goal is to break even and to focus on getting people to shows without them getting sick.”
“Would I go sit inside a theater with 2,000 people and wear a mask for two hours?” she asked. “Probably not.”
Originating in the 1980s as a troupe of Québécois stilt-walkers, fire breathers and other performers, Cirque du Soleil went on to reinvent the circus with jaw-dropping acrobatics, live music, flamboyant costumes and monumental, ifthinly plotted, spectacle. At its height in 2019, when Cirque had seven simultaneous shows in Las Vegas, it was drawing nearly 10,000 theatergoers nightly.
“Mystère” and “O” — scheduled to open June 28 and July 1, respectively — will operate at full capacity in theaters of 1,806 and 1,616 seats without social distancing and at prepandemic ticket prices, said Daniel Lamarre, Cirque du Soleil’s chief executive. Employees will be tested regularly, and vaccination, while voluntary, will be strongly encouraged. The aim is to open the remaining three other Las Vegas showsby the end of the year.
Under new rules by Clark County, where Las Vegas is, shows can proceed with no social distancing once 60 percent of the state’s eligible population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose. Masks will be required. On May 6, Nevada reported that nearly 47 percent had received at least one shot.
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Two years ago, on a soggy January day at the University of Oregon, Peter Laufer, a journalism professor, picked up a copy of The New York Times and presented his students with a reporting challenge.
He read from a feature at the bottom of Page 2 that highlights an article from The Times’s archives each day. It covered the experience in early 1960 of a fourth grader in Roseburg, Ore., not far from the college. She had written to her congressman for the names of Russian schoolchildren with whom she and her classmates could be pen pals, but the State Department denied the request, fearing they would be influenced by Soviet propaganda. The headline on the article read: “U.S. Bars a Girl’s Plea for Russian Pen Pals.”
“Find that girl!” Mr. Laufer told the class, an exercise designed to teach his students the skill of locating a source and, possibly, a bigger story. He thought she might still be living nearby.
For nine students, that simple instruction turned into a journalism project, which included an on-the-ground reporting trip in Nevada, digging through F.B.I. files from the National Archives and meeting face to face with modern-day fourth graders in southern Russia. This year, they published their findings in a book, “Classroom 15: How the Hoover F.B.I. Censored the Dreams of Innocent Oregon Fourth Graders.”
“It is such a small story, but it resonates so much with the time that it was in,” said Julia Mueller, who worked as the project’s managing editor and wrote a chapter in the book.
Using public records and online databases, the students located the subject of the article, Janice Hall, now married and living near Las Vegas. Her name had been misspelled as “Janis” in the original article, which made it more difficult for the class to locate her.
In 1960, during a tense period of the Cold War, a time when both the United States and the Soviet Union saw every move by the other country as a tactic aimed at world domination, Ms. Hall never had the chance to correspond with Russian students. The reporters were determined to understand why.
They abandoned the syllabus, renamed the course Janice 101 and devoted the rest of the term to unpacking the story.
Each student took a slightly different angle. One examined the fear of communism that had gripped the United States. Another reporter, who was headed to Las Vegas for a spring break trip with her sorority, made a detour to meet Ms. Hall. Yet another interviewed the family of Ray McFetridge, the teacher who had conceived of the pen-pal project and who had died years earlier. Students even obtained the F.B.I. case files on the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Why wouldn’t you want people to be friends with people across borders?” asked Zack Demars, the lead reporter on the project, outlining the students’ central question.
“I think we discovered that it was because of the level of fear at the time,” he added.
Mr. Laufer, a former NBC News correspondent, thought that a reporter needed to go to Russia to meet with current pupils. He wanted his journalism students to explore what would happen if they tried to connect schoolchildren today.
“We decided that we were not going to leave this hanging,” Mr. Laufer said. “If they couldn’t do it in 1960, we were going to do it in 2020.”
The class decided to take letters written by fourth graders in Yoncalla, Ore., and deliver them to Russian students.
In December 2019, months after the course ended, Mr. Demars took a 13-hour train ride from Moscow to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where Mr. Laufer had a contact who agreed to act as a guide.
Mr. Demars met with Russian fourth graders and gave them the letters from their American counterparts. They peppered him with questions: Did he have pets? Did he play sports? What did he think of Ariana Grande?
He also spoke with a group of high schoolers. They discussed American schools and movies and asked to follow him on Instagram. He thinks of these new followers as modern pen pals.
“I don’t talk to them all that often,” he said. “But we interact every now and then, and we have that level of human connection.”
Mr. Demars is now working as a reporter at a small local newspaper in Oregon. During the project, he learned the value of recording individual experiences, which can offer future generations insight into a particular era.
“When I’m out reporting, I’m looking for those things that are commonplace right now but deeply unique to the time period,” he said.
Ms. Hall, 70, said she was amazed to hear from the college students, who are about the age of her grandchildren.
She was also awed by the project, and particularly by Mr. Demars’s persistence: “He hooked up these two fourth grades,” she said, “which is exactly what we were trying to do.”
As Covid-19 vaccinations have picked up and more businesses reopen across the country, Easter weekend saw a resurgence of tourist activity in some cities, perhaps indicating a turning point for the struggling tourism industry.
Chip Rogers, the president and chief operating officer for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the trade organization for the hospitality industry, said that before last weekend, recovery had been “very regionalized,” with places like Florida and Texas doing well and “cities that thrive on large meetings and conventions like a Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas” struggling to recover.
“You’re seeing really good pickup over the weekend dates, which have now extended. Traditionally they’re Friday to Sunday, now it’s Thursday to Monday,” he said, referring to the increase in leisure travel. But the lack ofbusiness travel means weekday bookings continue to lag. Still, he added, there’s reason for “cautious optimism.”
But travelers, even those who are fully vaccinated, should practice caution while visiting some states, health experts warn. Case numbers are going up in some popular destinations, like Florida, which saw a spike as revelers flocked there during spring break. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people continue to wear masks, social distance and frequently wash their hands, even though some local governments have relaxed or lifted these rules.
Mila Miami, a restaurant in Miami Beach, many have traveled from out of state for extended stays — particularly from places like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago — which he said “has enabled the business to pick up customers that we wouldn’t have.”
This influx proved problematic over spring break, when police officers in riot gear used pepper balls to enforce an emergency curfew and disperse revelers ignoring social distancing and mask regulations.
During the weekend of March 28 to April 3, Miami “saw its highest occupancy level since the start of the pandemic, with most hotels reporting upward of 75 percent occupancy levels,” said Suzie Sponder, a spokeswoman for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. That’s only a 6.6 percent drop from the same weekend in 2019.
Ms. Sponder added that the average room rate for the weekend was $282.29, up 25 percent from 2019. And Mr. Rogers, of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said that revenue, which is still down across the board, is the best indicator of the industry’s recovery, noting that Miami’s strong numbers are the exception rather than the rule.
In the tourism industry, “you still have a lot of folks that are out of work,” he said, “because it’s those large, city center urban hotels that employ the most people, because they have those extensive food and beverage operations that are not working right now. That’s where most job loss is occurring.”
Circa Resort & Casino. “It’s like trying to book a dinner reservation on New Year’s Eve. It’s not something you do the day before.” Spots at the pools at his establishments, which include two other hotels, are booked a month in advance because of reduced capacity limits and social distancing, which he said shows that there is demand for leisure travel. Hotels and other venues in the city are limited to 50 percent capacity.
Though the weekend of Easter is, historically, the second slowest weekend in the city, this year was different because of March Madness, the annual N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments. “Everything was packed to the restricted capacity level,” he said. “On Saturday, all of our venues were filled by 10 a.m. because of Final Four. I think that was the case throughout all of Las Vegas.”
Mr. Stevens said that since the Super Bowl, in February, there have been indications that the tourism industry in Vegas is recovering, adding that his three hotels have been sold out every weekend since. “I’ve never seen booking at the rate of what we’ve seen in the past three months or so. This is the strongest booking that I’ve ever experienced,” he said.
But there continues to be a dip during weekdays because of the lack of conferences or conventions. “What we’re seeing is enormous pent-up demand for leisure travel that while it’s going to take place throughout the entire summer, does not necessarily mean that business travel will follow suit,” he said.
NewOrleans.com planning a trip in the next three months. Ms. Schulz notes that she is “optimistic about the fourth quarter of 2021 with a convention and festival schedule.”
Though leisure travel over the summer is expected to keep the industry afloat, Mr. Rogers said business travel will need to pick back up in order to restore the industry to 2019 levels.
“While we’re optimistic, what we’re fearful of and concerned about is, what happens post-Labor Day when all of this leisure travel has passed?” he said. Business travel, he said, “is absolutely necessary if we’re going to survive.”
The bleak reality of a list like this is that it leaves out so many more.
There have been dozens of mass shootings in the United States in just the past five years, according to the Violence Project, which maintains a database of attacks in which at least four people were killed.
And before that, many more were seared into memories: San Bernardino, Calif., and Charleston, S.C., in 2015; Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., in 2012; Virginia Tech in 2007, among them.
Each new attack is a reminder of all of the others that came before it, as the nation has been unable to curb an epidemic of gun violence that far outpaces other countries. These are just some of the horrors that have traumatized the nation.
March 22, 2021: A grocery store in Boulder, Colo.
A gunman inside a grocery store killed 10 people, including Eric Talley, the first police officer to arrive at the scene. The gunman was injured and taken into custody.
were killed at three spas, at least two of which had been frequented by the gunman. It was the country’s first mass shooting to command nationwide attention in a year and caused particular alarm among many Asian-Americans.
March 16, 2020: A gas station in Springfield, Mo.
A shooting spree across five miles left five people dead, including a police officer and the gunman. It ended with a car crash at a gas station and the gunman’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Aug. 31, 2019: Drive-by shootings in Midland and Odessa, Texas
a rampage across the two cities in which eight people, including the gunman, were killed, and 25 others were injured. The gunman hijacked a postal truck and opened fire on residents, motorists and shoppers before he was fatally shot by the police. Three officers and a toddler were among the injured.
Aug. 4, 2019: An entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio
Armed with an AR-15-style rifle and body armor, a gunman killed nine people and wounded 27 others in 32 seconds in a bustling entertainment district before he was fatally shot by a police officer. The gunman’s sister was among the first people he shot.
prowled the aisles of a Walmart in El Paso, a majority-Hispanic border city, killing 23 people and wounding about two dozen others. The back-to-back combination of the two attacks left the nation shaken.
July 28, 2019: A festival in Gilroy, Calif.
An annual garlic festival in an agricultural community south of San Jose turned deadly when a 19-year-old man opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle. The gunman killed three people in the attack, including a 13-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, and wounded more than a dozen others.
May 31, 2019: An office in Virginia Beach, Va.
attacked the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, killing 12 people.
Nov. 7, 2018: A bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
A gunman entered the Borderline Bar & Grill, a country music bar, and shot a security guard at the entrance with a .45-caliber handgun before opening fire into the crowd, killing 12 people. The gunman was found dead at the scene after being confronted by officers who had stormed the bar.
killing 11 congregants and wounding six others. The gunman shot indiscriminately at worshipers for several minutes.
June 28, 2018: A newsroom in Annapolis, Md.
A man armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades assaulted the newsroom of a community newspaper chain in Annapolis, Md., killing five staff members, injuring two others. The gunman had previously sued journalists at the chain, the Capital Gazette, for defamation and had waged a social media campaign against them.
May 18, 2018: A high School in Santa Fe, Texas
Armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver hidden under his coat, a 17-year-old student opened fire on his high school campus, Santa Fe High School, killing 10 people, many of them his fellow students, and wounding 10 more, the authorities said. Witnesses said that the gunman first entered an art classroom, said “Surprise!” and started shooting.
Feb. 14, 2018: A high School in Parkland, Fla.
a wave of nationwide, student-led protests calling on lawmakers to tighten gun laws.
Nov. 5, 2017: A church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
A gunman with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands stormed into a Sunday church service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas and sprayed bullets into its pews. He killed 26 people, including nine members of a single family, and left 20 people wounded, many of them severely. The gunman later shot himself.
Oct. 1, 2017: A concert in Las Vegas
deadliest mass shootings in American history, a gunman perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, smashed the windows of his suite with a hammer and shot at a crowd of 22,000 people at an outdoor country music festival. Fifty-eight people were killed and 887 sustained documented injuries, either from gunfire or while running to safety.
Jan. 6, 2017: An airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As an airline passenger retrieved his checked luggage, he pulled a 9-millimeter handgun out of his suitcase and used it to kill five people and wound six others at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida. When he ran out of ammunition, he lay on the floor, waiting to be arrested.
July 7, 2016: Downtown Dallas
A heavily armed sniper targeted police officers in downtown Dallas, leaving five of them dead. The gunman turned a demonstration against fatal police shootings of Black men in Minnesota and Louisiana from a peaceful march focused on violence committed by officers into a scene of chaos and bloodshed.
June 12, 2016: The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
killing 50 people and wounding 53 others. After a three-hour standoff following the initial assault, law enforcement officials raided the club and fatally shot the gunman.