You go through 14 casinos, 28 shops, 56,234 flashing lights, out into the 105-degree heat, walk half a mile to the nearest foot-bridge, wait 15 minutes for all the people in front of you to cross the bridge, avoid the guys on every corner thrusting hooker trading cards in your face (I swear I'm not making that up), then repeat the process as you walk back to the spot directly across the road from where you started.
|"It's just across the street."|
My frustrations with Vegas started before I left the tarmac in Chicago, where our plane was grounded for an hour and half because of "paperwork issues," according to the pilot. I'd never heard that excuse before. As we sat in a hot, crowded, stuffy, un-moving plane and the pilot announced every 15 minutes or so that we'd be cleared to go in about 10-15 minutes, it set the tone for the whole weekend.
Actually, let me back up three months. Perhaps this trip was doomed soon after the moment, three months earlier, when I booked my tickets to the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference '14 in Las Vegas. I wouldn't have even considered going, but my old ALA-roommate friend Dallas was going and had a room to offer, I hadn't been to ALA in five years, and I'd never been to Vegas. I thought this would be a good opportunity to see old friends and visit a place I'd never been to. And maybe get some "professional development."
Anyway, two days after I booked my flight, Dallas took a bad spill on some ice in the parking lot at work (another victim of this year's shit-tastic winter), broke his leg/hip, had emergency surgery with four new "forever pins" in his hip, and was laid up for the next three months. He was hoping he'd be healed enough to go to Vegas, but had to bail a week before we were to leave.
That was probably a good decision for Dallas, but a bad one for me.
|Just outside Vegas is the world's largest pothole.|
It turned out that a friend of mine from work, Tom, was not only only my flight, but staying in the same hotel as me. That was one ray of (hot, blinding) sunshine for my Vegas trip. Once we arrived in Vegas-- two hours late-- Tom and I were able to share a shuttle to our hotel.
Because of how our hotel (The Flamingo) was laid out, the shuttle stop was about a quarter mile from the entrance. We walked in the hot, 105-degree Vegas sun with our luggage into the building, and although we were relieved to be in the cool air conditioning, we were immediately hit with other violations to our other senses. Cigarette smoke, flashing lights, souvenir shops, lingerie. It was like walking into a shopping mall on steroids. We walked down a long crowded hallway for what seemed like forever, and Tom said, "Tim, what have we done?"
"Has anyone seen a hotel lobby around here?" I said to no one in particular.
When we finally found the hotel part of the casino, there was a line at the check in. It was roped off into parallel queues, like at Disneyland, with rows of waiting people. The line to check in at the hotel was longer than the TSA security line had been at O'Hare! WTF??
About that time I checked FB and read what a friend of mine just posted:
"I've been trying to keep an open mind but I think vegas is the most horrible place I've ever been and I hate it and I hate ala for making me come here and I can't believe people like to come here."It was a theme I would hear from every librarian I talked to in Vegas.
Because of our plane delay in getting to Vegas, and then the wait in line to check in, by the time I finally got to my room it was too late to go to any of the ALA events that day. But a new problem presented itself.
My phone battery was dying. After spending all day traveling, I was down to about 25% power. I was planning to go out that night, and I knew I'd need power to contact people and meet up with them. Plus I wanted to call my wife. But the network connection in my room sucked ass, and it drained power just having the phone on (as it constantly searched for a connection.) And when I tried to turn on the wi-fi in my room, they wanted to charge me $13.99 a day for service. Screw that. I've never been in a hotel before that CHARGED for wifi, and I'd be damned if the Flamingo was going to profit off of that.
So I had to turn off my phone and charge it up. I couldn't leave, I couldn't surf the web, I couldn't catch up on email, and I couldn't even check the conference app to plan my day. I was held hostage in my room by a useless phone.
So I watched crappy TV for an hour and a half.
|The view outside my hotel room was not bad.|
When I was finally charged up enough to leave the hotel, I encountered the second most frustrating thing about Vegas: finding shit.
I usually have an excellent sense of direction. But I got lost in Vegas more times than I can count. On the first night in Vegas, I had dinner plans with an old friend, but first I wanted to go to the convention center and check in at ALA. I looked at a map in the hotel "lobby" and thought I had oriented myself correctly. But when I left the hotel, I had no idea where to find the shuttle bus stop to the convention center. I made an entire circle around this huge, ginormous building, walking for 50 minutes in the hot sun. Finally I went back into the hotel and asked the bellhop, who did a lot of pointing and explaining, but couldn't show me a map.
|A "map" of the hotel. And no, it doesn't get any clearer if you make it bigger.|
I did eventually find the bus, and took it to the convention center, a monstrosity of a building that resembles an airport without any planes. After further administrative headaches to register for the conference and get my badge (with a lanyard!), I was ready to party. Sort of.
After dinner with my friend, I decided to walk the 1.9 miles along the famous Las Vegas Strip back to my hotel. When we exited the building after dinner, it felt like walking into a blast furnace. For a second I thought that there was a bus blowing exhaust in our face, or we were right in front of an external air conditioning unit blowing hot air. Nope. This was just an evening breeze in Vegas, where it's 101 degrees out.
I was trying to meet up with some other friends of mine, so I walked 2.5 miles, beyond my hotel, to find them. I kept trying to use the map app on my phone, but guess what? My mobile connections on the street in Vegas also suck ass, so my map app kept spinning and spinning, loading in vain. After pushing through throngs of people along the strip, when I got to the place my friends had been, they were gone. So I walked back home to my hotel: hot, sweaty, tired, alone, and ready to end an overall shitty travel day.
That was my first day in Vegas.
Saturday, Day Two of Vegas ALA, started at 5:22 am, when I woke up and could not get back to sleep. This would be my first day of the convention: let's class up this place, librarians!
I was able to "connect" to the convention center's wifi, but I then spent most of the next two days waiting as my phone told me: "Obtaining IP address..." The wifi was spotty and unreliable, and although I kept having brilliant insights and snarky observations to make, I couldn't post them on Facebook. It was torture! I couldn't even use the convention planning app while I was in the building where the convention was happening.
I attended some sessions, one titled "Boba Fett at the Circ Desk: Leadership Lessons from the Empire Strikes Back" (I swear I'm not making that up) and in the afternoon returned to my hotel for a quick nap and to call my wife. I was in contact with some old library school friends about meeting for drinks the next night, but figuring out a meeting place was difficult. We couldn't just say, "Let's meet at Bally's" because Bally's is about the size and shape of the Death Star. We couldn't even say "At the big entrance to Bally's off Flamingo Ave" because there are, like, four of them. So I actually had to take a walk across the street (see above: librarian crossing street in Vegas) to scope it out and suggest a meeting place. Then I had to go outside on the street because I couldn't send any messages from inside the fortress of any casino.
One bright spot on Saturday was that we went to dinner at Bobby Flay's restaurant in Caesar's palace and had an excellent meal.
|Bobby Flay's Scallops: a high point of my weekend|
Sunday, Day Three, was both the worst and best day of the convention. It started out crappy and got worse. The morning session I wanted to attend was in the Paris hotel, which has a huge replica of the Eiffel tower growing out of it.
|The Eiffel Tower along the Strip at night|
Once inside "Paris," it took me forever to find the entrance to the meeting rooms. On my way I tried to stop for breakfast, but all the cafes and food shops had lines out the door. Two things you should know about me, which might explain why I hated Vegas, is that I hate crowds and I'm not a patient person. Especially when my blood sugar is low. So I went to a little convenience kiosk and bought the crappiest breakfast ever: a bottle of orange juice, a small bag of snack mix, and a Hostess cupcake. I paid $9.40, and afterwards I felt the opposite of nourished.
I went to my session and then was excited to take the Las Vegas monorail to the convention center. (Monorail!!) But I wanted to pick up some lunch before I went, so I stopped at the food court in the casino. Bad idea. I got a fancy cheese and bacon hot dog with fries and a drink. I took it to the convention center in the monorail, which turned out to be a disappointment. At the convention center I sat on the floor, while my useless phone told me "Obtaining IP address..." and ate my crappy food alone. The food didn't taste good, was bad for me, and afterwards my stomach felt bad.
After two awful meals in a row, I got lost trying to find my afternoon session. Finally I just said, "Fuck it," and decided to play hooky. I made my way to the exhibit hall in order to get my SWAG on. I scored a bunch of free pens and fought off one aggressive salesperson who was determined not let me leave his booth without buying a $399 cell phone charger. (It was down to $99 by the time I walked away.)
When I returned to my hotel in the afternoon, I stepped off the air-conditioned bus into the afternoon sun and could literally feel the heat bubble up in the veins in my hands. Is my blood actually boiling? I thought.
|Actual weather report on my hotel TV|
Sunday got a whole lot better late afternoon when I met with some of my old friends from library school. We had drinks, bitched about Vegas, and went to our library school reunion at Bally's Skyview room, which did indeed have a kick-ass view. I loaded up on hor d'oeuvres, mingled with a lot of old acquaintances, and even hobnobbed with the mayor of the city where my library school was. (Seriously, we had like a 10-minute conversation.)
After that a friend and I walked along the Strip, saw the fountain show at the Bellagio, and then had some ice cream inside.
|Famous dancing fountain show|
My friend went back to her hotel, but I was not done with Vegas yet. It was my last night in town and I didn't want to leave without seeing some of the famous buildings I'd heard so much about. I wanted to see the faux NYC skyline at New York New York. (And feed my skyline/skyscraper obsession.)
From my perspective, here's the best thing about Vegas: there are some pretty amazing buildings here. I can't imagine the architectural effort that can create an enormous structure that looks like a skyline from the outside, but inside is a cavernous casino. Where else can you see the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Magic Kingdom, a Roman palace, gigantic elabotate fountains, and funky modern skyscrapers all along the same street?
I went inside New York New York, and it was incredible. What on the outside looks like a row of smaller buildings in front of a huge mini skyline is actually one huge building, with possibly the most incongruent walls in the world. (Although I did not know that the Jefferson Memorial was in New York, right next to the Statue of Liberty.)
One could argue that it's cheesey and tacky to have all these replicas of famous landmarks in one place, but I have to admit the replicas are damn impressive approximations. If you walk into the Paris hotel, the grid-like base for the Eiffel tower goes through the walls, as if the tower is growing out of the building. That's pretty fucking cool. And these are interspersed with just the garden-variety cool skyscrapers.
|Cool leaning cartoonish buildings along the strip.|
|The Strip from the airport.|
There was some further travel drama in getting home, but I'm tired of writing this post and you're tired of reading it, so I'll end here.