Monday, May 2, 2011

A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again...

(apologies to David Foster Wallace for the use of this title)

Report from Las Vegas where I attended a weekend 60th birthday celebration for an old friend...

To begin... instead of calling this the Hard Rock Hotel they should call it the Why Is Everyone Here So Unhappy Hotel. You walk in to the giant lobby which is also the main casino lobby and you have to wait on line to check in because there are 3 check in people and fifty people checking in. Half the people on line are drinking beer in plastic cups, it is 3:00 pm. Right away standing there, I can feel my inner being turn to unhappy. I try to take in the scene around me. Mostly bored looking college age students, some oldsters paying slots, lots of people smoking (smoking is permitted everywhere). There is a kind of main entrance to the casino area with two giant stripper poles on which two women dressed to look like wenches are " performing". I think they do an admirable job and are pretty athletic and are not afraid of heights since these poles are high and they climb to the top and sort of hang upside down. No one is watching them and they seem totally irrelevant. I am not sure where people who come here buy their clothes but that is another odd thing. The men are all wearing shorts, T-shirts and baseball hats and the women are wearing mini dresses, some wear weird shorts, all are wearing high heels. It looks like a convention of hookers and their clients.

I check into my room and on top of the mini bar are boxes of things like cookies and candy. I examine the boxes and then I notice a small card that says "Items that are removed for more than 45 seconds will be charged directly to your guest account. Placing other items inside the bar may also incur charges to your guest account." I place the items I had picked up back where they were, hoping that whatever computer chip is tracking them registers them back. I worry that I will be charged when I check out and in my head rehearse explaining that the charges are an error and wonder if I sound convincing. I decide I do and also figure it will likely not be the first time an auto generated mini bar charge will be disputed so I decide not to worry about it since in fact I did not eat anything from the mini bar so as far as I am concerned if they try to charge me I have an open and shut case.

Later I wondered about the business purpose behind this mini bar inventory tracking innovation and about the cost of installing it vs the old way and what the benefit is? My guess is that given the hotel demographic many of the guests had figured out that under the old system if they had a late night attack of the munchies they could eat the $6.00 M & M's and chips and in the morning run across the street to the cvs and buy identical replacements for less than a third of the mini bar price. The 45-seconds-and-you-get-charged software puts the kibosh on the old siwtcheroo savings technique.

I decide to go outside for a walk. I get outside and I realize there is no place to walk. We are not on the "strip". There is a small mall across the parking lot with a Chinese restaurant, a blimpies and a CVS. Next to that is a place called "Paradise - The Best Gentlemen's Club in Las Vegas" and then nothing but a long stretch of Paradise Road that basically looks like a lot of Los Angeles or Central Avenue in Yonkers or anywhere in New Jersey. I decide to go back to the hotel and even though I am tired decide to go to work out at the gym. The guy at the gym desk says "hi have a good work out." There is only one guy in the gym on one of the four running machines. He is running amazingly fast, is totally muscular and has really long blonde hair. I am not sure about this but I think I recognize him from one of the many "Chipindales - Girl's Night Out" billboards en-route from the airport. I start to run but the guy is really distracting me because the place is empty, he is running at full bore and I basically feel like a slug. I stop the machine and walk out past the reception guy who I ignore because I did not have a good work out and it is sort of embarrassing to leave after four minutes. I faintly limp as I walk past him hoping he may think sports injury. He looks up but I am limping/rushing past him and he mercilessly does not attempt to say anything (although I did notice his mouth open like he was going to but then he stopped kind of mid gape and went back to folding towels).

At 6:15 PM I went down to the lobby to meet Birthday Friend and the guests to get on the shuttle bus to go to another friend's home for a birthday barbecue. We arrive at the house pulling up to a gate and it looks like we are coming into a gated community, but we then go through another gate and there is no community, just one really, really big modern house. I mean gigantic. That is really all I care to say about it other than to quickly note that the owners have an extensive modern art collection, high tech security system, really nice landscaping including gigantic imported palm trees placed strategically between the pool and the outdoor kitchen area, a home gym that is larger than the gym at the hard rock with an entertainment room next door, separate guest house and for the evening had hired very good caterers who made ribs that were sublime. Did I say the house was very large?

After dinner we drive back to the hotel and for a few minutes I watched Birthday Friend gamble at a card game I had never heard of before. The dealer gives you 7 cards, you take your best cards (say three kings) and put them in a box and then you take your next best cards (say a pair of nine's) and put them in a box. Then the dealer does the same and if both your boxes beat both his boxes, you win, if you only beat one, it is a tie and if the dealer beats both hands, you lose. Since there is no drawing of cards, it really is just a game of pure chance. It seemed a lot like playing solitaire against your computer. After watching four hands (all a tie), I did one quick walk around the casino to watch the smokers gamble and gawk a bit and then went up to bed where I fell asleep watching a Mel Gibson movie on tv. It was not Mad Max but it should have been.

The next evening the Birthday Group went to the Santana Concert in the large indoor arena at the hotel. We were way up front so people were standing up the way they do in front of the stage at concerts. I really do not like standing up that much especially if it involves sort of pretend dancing with a bunch of aging baby boomers who get overly enthusiastic (when a greatest hit started up such as Black Magic Woman) and kind of do these rhythmic fist pumping arm movements with a full plastic cup of beer in one hand that threatens to not cooperate with my wish to not have beer spilled on me. Also, while Carlos's on stage patter is all about unconditional love and peace that message seems to be in direct contrast with the fist pumping thing that strikes me as aggressive and a little scary (especially when done by large fat men). In addition, Carlos issued instructions to the crowd like "everybody jump" which everyone did but one thing about me is that if someone says jump, I often feel compelled not to (not to mention how incredibly stupid middle aged people wearing khakis and a blue blazer (or the alternative Hawaiian Tommy Bahama shirt) jumping in place and fist pumping while holding a beer look). So sitting there dwarfed by all the people around me standing, jumping and fist pumping made me feel very uncomfortable and trapped because I was in the middle and to get out would not be easy. But after a while I really felt that my routine of sitting there with my head down, eyes closed pretending I was really deeply into the music was not going over so I sucked it in and said "excuse me" a lot as I squeezed past people in my row to get to the perimeter where I stayed for the rest of the show. You have no idea how much better I felt on the sidelines.

Final thought - it was very nice to be able to celebrate my friend's 60th birthday with his other friends and family. I was at his 40th, 50th, 55th and now 60 th birthday parties (all in different locations - 55 being the most exotic - Turkey (unless, like me you find Las Vegas stranger, in its own way, than Istanbul). I guess there are two kinds of people - those who like Las Vegas and Rock Concerts and those who do not. I think we all like loyalty and friendships over time. For that I am grateful to my friend - none of the rest of this stuff matters.

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