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Loving Las Vegas, from its glittering Strip to its alluring desert

If you tell people you're going to Las Vegas for a week, the reaction tends to be either a raised eyebrow, implying that's a long time to spend there, or an overly excited and equally presumptuous "Vegas baby!" Sometimes it's easier to just tell people you're headed "out West" to avoid the backstory.

Here's mine. Las Vegas is one of my home towns, a place where, in my 20s and 30s, I very much grew up. I met some of the most amazing friends in the town that tourists - and only tourists - call "Sin City." Since moving to Chicago in 2009, I've seldom been back. But last Oct. 2, I felt an urgent need to visit.

That was the day after the shooting at...