Heavy doses of anxiety, security and elation greeted the imminent arrival of 2018 in Las Vegas.
A crowd of 330,000 visitors was expected to fill the Strip and Fremont Street downtown, as a record contingent of law enforcement officers kept the peace.
This year’s massive outdoor party unfolded in the shadow of the Oct. 1 mass shooting that left 58 people dead. In the run-up to midnight, police and national guard units lined Giles Street behind Route 91 Harvest festival fairgrounds, scene of the attack.
Several people said they came to celebrate in spite of what happened three months ago Monday.
“We figured this was probably the safest place anywhere in the world,” said Lynn Cherry, 59, as she sat outside New York-New York with Alan Hale, 57.
The Panama City Beach, Florida, couple — in matching 2018-themed party glasses — had set up a digital camera in anticipation of midnight fireworks above the MGM Grand. They also spotted police snipers perched atop Strip hotels.
Bianca Maldonado, 18, of Chino Hills, California, said she wasn’t about to let the shooting dissuade her from continuing a family tradition.
“We’ve been celebrating New Year’s Eve on the Strip for years,” she said while encamped in front of the Bellagio Fountains shortly after sunset with her aunt, Stella Gomez. “We love everything about this place — the music, atmosphere and the ambience in general. The food is amazing.”
She said they also were reassured by the tight security.
“We try not to think about (the shooting), to be honest. We just want to think happy thoughts,” Maldonado said. “There’s a good amount of police presence here and I know they’ll do a good job.”
Bucket list trip
Sporting sequined silver-and-red hats outside Harrah’s, Vincent and Sharon Martin of Miami described being in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve as a bucket-list trip.
“Being able to drink, walk around and have fun — it’s kind of like Disney for us,” said Vincent Martin, a 55-year-old mall manager, adding that he and his wife usually visit the city at least twice a year. “If you work hard, you gotta play hard.”
He said they were not deterred by the Oct. 1 shooting on the Strip.
“We were here on Oct. 16,” he said. “It’s going to happen anywhere.”
But Sharon Martin said the increased security presence for the New Year’s celebration was “really appropriate” in the wake of the shooting.
Highway message boards urged revelers to be vigilant and obey restrictions on backpacks, coolers, large bags, strollers and glass bottles on the Strip. “See something, say something. Call 911,” the message boards flashed.
Jiazi Guo, a tourist from San Francisco, stopped to have her picture taken with Ashley Swope of Las Vegas, who was patrolling the Strip with her Nevada National Guard unit.
“I really wanted to take a photo with her because it’s so unique to see, not just the National Guard out here, but a woman. It makes me think of girl power,” Guo said. “I really do appreciate them all being out here especially in the aftermath of the Oct. 1 shooting. My parents were really worried about me coming here, but seeing them here makes me feel protected.”