The guy with the carton of Heineken ambled past moments after I sat down at a bus shelter on Las Vegas Boulevard. Only three green bottles remained from what had once been a six-pack. He downed another and proceeded south toward the Monte Carlo.
"You'd get arrested so fast if you did that in Houston," remarked the Texan seated on the bench to my right. As I was explaining to him that, on the Strip, it's not illegal for pedestrians to consume alcohol, another man walked by, his shirt slung over his right shoulder, his belly drooping over his jeans. "Now that should be illegal," exclaimed the woman sitting to my left.
With nearly 40 million visitors a year from every state and seemingly every country in the world, Las Vegas is unmatched as a people-watching city. Arab-speaking women wearing beige hijabs mingle with bridesmaids in burgundy gowns. Shoppers parade past with their bags from countless stores: Tiffany, Saks, M&M's World, Walgreens.
Scores of people pass by sipping colorful concoctions from long souvenir cocktail glasses. This show runs continuously, 24 hours every day.
People-watching hot spots? The sidewalk in front of Bellagio is a great place to observe visitors as they gather for the spectacular fountain displays. But there are few places to sit down to observe the passers-by. The only free seats I spotted were the bus stop benches.
Mon Ami Gabi, a sidewalk cafe along Las Vegas Boulevard at the Paris resort, is ideally situated for enjoying a meal and a drink while watching the world pass by. It's a favorite people-watching spot for local celebrities such as Rita Rudner, the headliner comedian at Harrah's and a seven-year resident of Sin City.
"The sidewalk is very wide at that point, so you can see a lot of people," she says. "My husband and I have a glass of wine and some pâté and just sit there, observing.
"Sometimes, I sit there and watch how many taxi [advertisements] of mine go by," Rudner adds with a laugh.
The comic also enjoys visiting the Forum Shops at Caesars, where, she says, "you can hear any language you want, so you can also people-listen. If you get tired of people-watching, you can go in the stores and spend more money than you expected."
A bit farther north on Las Vegas Boulevard, the Fashion Show mall offers an opportunity to observe the well-heeled, well-dressed crowd. It's a favorite spot for Paula Francis, a television anchorwoman in Las Vegas for more than 20 years.
"It's especially good when there's a fashion show going on. They have a catwalk that comes out of the floor," explains Francis, who has a recurring role playing herself on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
"The spectators are more fun to watch than the models." The mall is dotted with overstuffed armchairs, perfect for resting weary feet while taking in the human parade.
The other end of Las Vegas Boulevard -- downtown -- is where Mayor Oscar Goodman says people-watchers can discover "the other end of the spectrum: old, vintage Vegas."
The Fremont Street Experience, a four-block-long covered walkway, is just steps from Goodman's office at City Hall. This is where the city's first casinos sprang up after gambling was legalized in the 1930s.
"There's a very cool place called Hennessey's," says Goodman, who was a mob lawyer before entering politics. "They have an outdoor patio there. You get yourself a nice little plate of corned beef and cabbage, a good draft beer, and you can watch the folks walk around."
Fremont Street has a completely different atmosphere from that of the Strip, about three miles to the south. With most hotels offering rooms at a fraction of what they charge on the Strip, downtown tends to attract a folksier and less-sophisticated crowd. Here, the sight of someone ambling past swilling a beer doesn't seem to raise a single eyebrow.
"The dichotomy of people [along Fremont Street] is so great," says Jerry Jansen, a retired police chief from Wisconsin who enjoys observing "the down-on-their-luck locals, the down-on-their-luck high rollers, and everything in between."
"When I people-watch, I try to imagine their lives back home and at work, away from the glitz. It's a fun exercise."