Thursday, April 23, 2020

What happens in Vegas: little good;


Excalibur, Las Vegas
     Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, in a display of imbecility staggering even by that city's minimal standards of intelligence, announced on TV that she is prepared to open her city up as a test case in a kind of experiment to see how many people die if social distancing measures are ignored under crowded conditions. "I offered to be a control group," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper. Then again, I am biased against Las Vegas, as my most recent visit there, 11 years ago, is a reminder. 

     LAS VEGAS — When Dante passes through the grim portal advising all who enter to abandon hope, and descends into the upper suburbs of Hell, he is immediately surprised at the sheer number of damned souls he finds.
     "I would not have thought that death had undone so many," he observes, a line that came to mind when we arrived here from Los Angeles.
     You can't enter this most improbable of cities without being awed, first by the enormous fantasy casino buildings—15 of the 20 largest hotels in the world are in Las Vegas—and then by the mass of humanity crawling through them.
     We were bound for the Excalibur. I would have preferred something fancier—the Bellagio —but in consideration of the boys, we settled on this 4,000-room mega-hotel with a medieval theme. The valet drop-off is as wide as a six-lane highway, but can barely handle the army of ever-arriving gamblers. Some 37.5 million people visited Las Vegas last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
     Having been here once before, a brief visit 15 years ago, I of course planned to skip Vegas entirely on this trip—once is plenty. We would return home through Arizona. But my older son wanted to see Hoover Dam, in nearby Boulder City. Hence Vegas.
     We had no sooner given our car to the valet and stumbled into the Excalibur lobby, on our way to the 16, count 'em, 16 check-in stations, when we were greeted warmly by a man in a suit and steered to a kiosk offering show tickets. Another man shook my hand. This unexpected personal touch confused me.
     "Las Vegas must really be on hard times, if they're glad-handing everyone who walks into the Excalibur," I thought. The second guy launched into a spiel about bargain tickets. We were interested in taking the boys to the hotel's swordplay extravaganza, so listened politely about how a dinner package would normally cost $300, but he could let us in for $50—"that's $12.50 a person," he added, doing the math for us, perhaps under the fair assumption that anybody who could do simple arithmetic wouldn't go to Vegas.
     That seemed awfully low for a dinner show, but there is a recession on—tourism in Vegas was down 4.4 percent last year—so who knows? We were about to sign up when he explained that, of course, at such a low price we'd need to first learn about the joys of time-share condo ownership, a two-hour orientation which . . .
     We bolted like rabbits.
     I'll admit, I was irked and offended, and got more irked and offended every time I walked into the lobby and had to dodge the time-share shills, avert my eyes and run away.
     As minimal as the standards of taste and hospitality are in Vegas, subjecting your guests to real estate hustles every time they walk through your Brobdingnagian lobby seems beyond the pale. But then I suppose the time-share condo scam pales compared with the thinly veiled robbery of gambling itself, one of the rare vices that merely puzzles rather than entices me.    
Hoover Dam
     "How does Richard do it?" I wondered aloud, of a friend who spends time in such places.
     Then again, nothing is more inexplicable than another man's pleasures—a fact I was reminded of after my last column, about California pot prescriptions, drew e-mails from fervent potheads, complaining that I was denigrating their source of innocent relaxation.
     There is something to that. It is too easy to scoff at, oh, the guy who spends 10 years of his spare time constructing a matchstick model of the Eiffel Tower in his basement. You need to force yourself to remember, "Well, it must have been worthwhile to HIM—he did it, voluntarily."
     Obviously, this gambling stuff must have allures. These people come here of their own volition to pour their money down this rat hole. And indeed, I felt obligated to go to a blackjack table and lose the small parcel of cash I had allotted for that purpose. A task, which, at $10 a chip, took all of five minutes.
     Hoover Dam, by the way, was thrilling. If walking through the low ceilinged, stale-cigarette-reeking casino floor made me doubt the value of humanity—"If a meteor were going to destroy earth, I'd hurry here, so the loss wouldn't seem so bad," I told my wife— Hoover Dam, this massive yet elegant curve of concrete offered a certain redemption. We made this. There was the added bonus of the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, a delicate span being constructed across the Colorado River nearby.
     We all agreed that Vegas has been the low point of the trip. We even preferred Reno, which we hit driving west to the coast. Yes, Reno was small, and forlorn, but the buffet at our hotel—the Eldorado—was much better than that at the Excalibur, the staff was far friendlier, with no insulting time-share pitches, and you could play blackjack for $5 a hand, which doubled my playing time.
     We checked out of the Excalibur and drove to a lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It hardly seems possible that both places—Vegas and the Grand Canyon—could coexist simultaneously on the same planet, never mind bookend a single day. But they do and they did.

    —Published in the Sun-Times, Aug. 3, 2009

9 comments:

  1. I wonder how the workers in Las Vegas feel about being offered up as a “control group”. And will the mayor be milling about the casinos?

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    1. The mayor will not be milling around the casinos. She told Anderson Cooper she has a family and many other things to do.

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  2. I decided to take a look at what the Las Vegas newspaper was saying about the issue. I don’t see much support fir the mayor’s position. And one letter to the editor suggested: maybe we should change our motto to “What happens in Vegas, goes home with you and kills your family”

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  3. So all the schmucks who go to Vegas will come back with coronavirus in their empty pockets. Great.

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  4. Oh, and one interesting tidbit: the mayor and city council actually don’t have jurisdiction over the Strip; the county does.

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  5. I too have visited Vegas twice. once because I was working there for a couple of weeks and the other time I went to visit my dad who lived there and brought my then very young son. It was 99 or 2000 and you could still take a tour of the inside of the Dam. that was definitely the highlight of the trip.

    I like to gamble but wouldn't go all the way to Vegas to do it. Still hope to one day see the grand canyon

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  6. On the other hand, the gamblers hoping to make a big score in Las Vegas have a much better chance of surviving their stay in Vegas, either by not contracting the disease or by not dying of it, than they do of making that desired big score.

    john

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  7. I doubt even Hunter S. Thompson would want to go there now.

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  8. Only been to Vegas once, when I lived in Boulder and drove from Colorado to Hollywood to visit a friend. At night you can see the lights of the Strip from many miles away..It was a Sunday in late August of ’71 and hot as hell, low 90s at two in the morning.

    The downtown streets were as alive as the Loop on a weekday at noon. Really enjoyed the neon lights of “old” Vegas, but the Strip itself was a real turn-off. Too vast, too bright…it felt like Miami Beach on acid (I used to live there). Played the slots in a truck stop on the edge of town, lost a few bucks, and got back on the road.I can’t imagine what it must be like all these decades later. I’ve never wanted to find out.

    Got gambling out of my system early. Poker in high school and college. Mostly lost. Hated losing. Been to the track a few times, but to play the ponies, you need to know what the hell you’re doing. Down in Florida, my horse once paid 25-1...but how many times does that happen when you pick a nag because you like his name?

    My first time ever in a casino, in Ohio, I headed straight to a video poker machine. Drew four deuces. Saw the lights and heard the buzzers and watched the numbers roll upward. Video poker is probably programmed to put you on a losing streak after you win big. Still, it’s tempting, and quite addictive…even I can see the attraction. And it’s just a twenty-minute train ride away. But I never go. Can’t afford it, and still don’t like losing.

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