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"Gonna set my soul on fire"

Monday, August 11, 2008
It started, as so many things do, with a drink at the bar. This nameless bar, one of many at PDX, managed to serve me several reasonably-priced drinks while I waited for my flight to Las Vegas. My best friend was getting married and I’d promised that I’d be there for it, which meant threading the TSA maze and watching US Airways give just about the worst service possible.

Part 1: The US Airways experience. With my e-ticket in hand, I went to check in. I subsequently paid $15 to have my suitcase come with me, which is a rip-off. Then, I had to carry this suitcase over to the x-ray machine myself. I guess that $15 doesn’t get me anything except my clothing when I land. While on the plane they were selling drinks. Soda was $2, tea was $1, and alcoholic drinks were $7. Thirty seconds after that announcement, they got on the PA again with (and I swear this is true), “Does anyone on board have change for a $20?” At least we landed safely.

Part 2: I made the mistake of pre-purchasing a shuttle ride from the airport to my hotel. Apparently I’d just missed the one shuttle this company had, so I got to sit around outside (it was 102 degrees) while I waited for it to return, at which point I sat in the shuttle until it filled and we meandered our way from stoplight to stoplight, from hotel to hotel, until an hour an a half later I landed at the Sahara. Getting the seven miles from the airport to my room took almost 90 minutes; my flight from PDX to LAS took 131, but we covered over 1000 miles. Lesson: Any shuttle service will take you to your hotel and you don’t save any money booking ahead of time; just wait until you get there and figure out who has a shuttle ready to go and pay them.

The Sahara is an older, run-down casino at the north end of the strip. It is, however, technically on the strip (this is good) and it also has its own monorail station, which meant that it was more conveniently located than many other casinos that might have been physically closer to the Venetian, where the festivities were to be held and where I spent most of my time.

The fountain in front of the Venetian

What did I do while I was in Las Vegas? Lots. Mainly, however, I was hanging out with friends – some of whom I haven’t seen in years – and just having fun. We went to clubs, we played in the casinos (I walked out like $65 ahead), we ate, drank, and generally made merry. I had far more fun than last time I was in Las Vegas… possibly because of the general party atmosphere and partially because Las Vegas is just a little less seedy than it was five years ago.

I marveled, on my last night there, not only at the fact that we were in a casino playing poker in the hotel room, but that we were five friends from four cities in three states – all brought together because of our mutual close friend.

For those who are unaware, it seems that somebody decided to put a big city in the middle of the desert. For reasons it seems that God only knows, roughly 1.8 million people live in a city with streets too wide, sidewalks too narrow, and tap water that’s unpalatable. Looking around Las Vegas, I see one big façade. I see so much effort that’s designed to produce good looks, but, like any façade, belies a truth. A glimmering city in the middle of the desert; infrastructure for, as nearly as I can tell, casinos and strip clubs. Odds that are “so hot”, and yet, in the long run, the house will always win. The whole setup is boggling to the mind.

Two things really struck me as I was on my vacation. The first is that nobody smiles here. A city – tourists and residents alike – of people who aren’t smiling. The second thing I realized is that the infrastructure is built on manual labor. It seems that little is automated; people are everywhere, waiting to serve, entertain, or find any way to part you with your money. People here are paid to stand in one place, to be a physical presence, to say the same thing over and over and over again, day after day. I just don’t get it. Service everywhere was universally (and inexplicably) slow; like nobody had it “figured out”, and yet with all these people doing relatively simple tasks, you think it could be done with speed an efficiency. And you’d be wrong.

Caesar's Palace

This write-up was about my time in Las Vegas and, despite the apparent whining and criticism, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I had a great time with great people seeing great things. I was unencumbered by an agenda or a feeling that I had to get anything done; I just did my thing and had a great time.

And now I’m very happy to be back in Portland, where they'll voluntarily serve you plenty of water in the restaurants and people wear sensible shoes.

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