• Melissa Miller

Growing up in Vegas: Constant Culture Shock

My mom survived the worst blizzard in American history; the Buffalo, New York "Blizzard of '77". Living through that, and foolishly walking to work in it, she vowed to herself to never live in the cold again. Thus, my life began in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. A city known around the world as 'Sin City', Las Vegas is the adult playground of the world. Boasting burlesque shows, strip clubs, nightclubs (also dayclubs), and bars consistently within arms reach. People spend their whole lives wishing to go to Las Vegas and see the bright lights of The Strip,... I've spent most of my adult life wishing to leave.




Culture shock is defined as: the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. Keep in mind, Las Vegas is in a valley in southern Nevada where temperatures in the summer constantly hit 115 if not higher for months at a time. The locals here will always quip, 'Well, It's a dry heat.' Dry heat is the same thing as turning up your oven as high as it can go and then opening it after 30 minutes- the exact same feeling. Instead of being rewarded with whatever you have been baking you are rewarded with dehydration and the little hairs on your face being burned off.


I moved to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas when I was 14. Looking at the buildings in the city of Dallas I asked my mom, "Where are all the casinos? What's the use of a bank having such a big building? It's so cloudy; does that mean there will be a tornado?!" My parents, teachers, classmates, and anyone else I came into contact with, laughed at my ignorance. But just to emphasize, when I first walked in the snow on the mountains outside Las Vegas I yelled to my parents "Wow! Stepping on the snow sounds exactly like it does in video games!" No joke. I was that lost.


I asked my parents for a tree-house. "You can't build a tree-house in a palm tree, Melissa." Honestly, that's all I wanted. We were well off. I had everything a child could ever want. Seriously, my parents took us to Disneyland so often my little sister and I cried begging not to go back as we 'had been there too many times'. We went out to eat every single night going from high-end restaurants on the Vegas Strip, to buffets at local casinos regularly. In Vegas, life is designed around your local casino. Everything you need is in the neighborhood casino: food, games for kids and adults, arcades, movie theaters, etc. The first time I went to a shopping mall with a movie theater in it I screamed "this is the best idea ever!" unaware that is how it is everywhere else in the country. I was completely lost when I left the city.


The kids in school made fun of me. "No one lives in Las Vegas" they said when I started school in Texas. No one believed me. It wasn't until a couple months into the school year when the weather had become very bad. I was in 8th grade and all the children were looking out the windows commenting on how a tornado was going to come towards the school. I obviously had no idea what to do in this scenario and began crying hysterically and figured I would be dead by the 3 o'clock bell. My teacher began to comfort me and explained the part of Texas we were in hardly gets tornadoes, and tried to explain the difference in normal clouds versus tornado clouds. When my near-death "experience" ended I noticed all the students staring at me. It was then they realized I wasn't from around here. They began to cut me some slack.


Things were so different in Texas. People would open the door for you when you walked into a building. People smiled, waved, asked how you were, before proceeding with their day. Vegas is a weird mix of New York attitude with California slowness. I always blamed the extreme heat on the reason for the terrible attitudes of locals. "Sunburn to the brain" is what my siblings referred to the phenomenon of anger, constant forgetfulness, and overall carelessness.


I flew into Baltimore, MD to visit a man I was dating and had one of the biggest culture shocks of my life. On the plane I noticed humidity for the first time. Flying through the clouds, waiting to land, I felt the strangest thing in my skin. Water. I am not talking about women's hormones or anything like that. My body had become so used to a certain level of dehydration, as I flew into Maryland my cells felt as if they slurped all the water in the air. I have tried to discuss this feeling with others but no one has felt it. The second time I flew into Baltimore I was excited for the feeling again. It happened the same as it did previously, and I asked others on board as they slowly grabbed their bags thinking I was nuts.

In Baltimore I saw colors I had never seen before. Green, red, purple, orange and weird mixes, on every leaf I could see. Just last week, as I flew into Nebraska, I called my mom on the phone yelling "Mom! There are real-life Christmas trees growing outside! They aren't plastic!" The palm trees that line every street in the Vegas Valley are beautiful and all, but they are no match for the scenery of an actual landscape.


From NASA Goddard while at the NASASocial event Novemeber '17

It is funny how people always want the opposite of what is given them. My mom in Buffalo wanted warmth, and I wanted snow. People dream of coming to Vegas and deplete their life savings in the casinos or at strip clubs. Kids in town are like me, either they love their Vegas-life or they despise it. The schools are filled with drugs, and rough-attitudes by living in such a busy, money-hungry, town. Every billboard is plastered with one of two things: lawyers, or half-naked men and women. My mom loves to mention my comment upon landing in Las Vegas at age 2 and half, "Mommy... Look. Butts!" as I pointed to a billboard of women in thongs posed their backsides at the audience. I felt like that would've been my first clue of the impending doom of what I had just done to my children, to bring them to such a place. Personally, I am far more traditional in many areas and would never bring children to Las Vegas, period, but alas. Vegas has made me go on a mission to find a community where life isn't focused on slot machines and sex. A homely area where people still attend church, go to the local High School football game and meet up after for a celebratory dinner at a mom-and-pop.


Seeing photos of tourist attractions around the world tire me as I have seen them everyday for years. The Eiffel Tower was in my backyard, and I walked Venice at the Venetian casino more times than I can count. A pyramid kept all the stars from the sky, and I made my wishes on planes. By 8 years old I already enjoyed my prime rib medium rare and returned it more than once because someone over-cooked it. I knew every fork, knife, spoon, and table etiquette there was before I began to eat solid food. Kids in class were on multiple drugs before starting middle school and I was a nerd for not joining in. When it snowed in Las Vegas in December of '08 all the kids ran out of class crying and began to throw snowballs at each other. We rode the bus home with all the windows rolled down because we knew this moment may never happen again.


I had an amazing childhood. I was truly blessed with the best parents anyone could ask for. But with all the power I have, I will never take my kids to Las Vegas, Nevada.

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