Everybody arrives irritated. With an expected 180,000 conventioneers expected, it seems as I arrive five hours late at McCarran Airport that every one of them is arriving at the same time. Bound to be glitches and hassles, right? Yet with the U.S.’ East coast and Midwest fixed under an awful arctic freeze, everybody’s got their own tale to tell about spending more time canned in their planes on frozen tartan than actually flying.
Las Vegas, America’s very own giant sewer with light skin (lots and lots of lights), is about as snarled as I’ve ever seen. Still lots of buildings going up, but now there are shantytown dwellings in between. As we land, it reminds me more of Chicago’s old ten square miles of projects, the Robert Taylor Homes. Just add glitz and ‘Voila!’
Snarled from the air. Snarled from the airport, past the city itself, which is much grown from three years ago, all the way to the sleeve of the strip. The shuttle driver — “Just call me Flash, Sir!” he says in his friendly but mechanical way — is amused at everybody’s general state of dishevelment. “Don’t worry,” he says. “You are here to gamble and have fun, fun, fun. Forget about your other life.” He’s got the wrong crowd, but why should I be a buzz Killer?
Hotel to hotel we go. The drivers’ cars, cabs and shuttles generally seem to ignore them. It takes 90 minutes to reach my destination, the Stratosphere Hotel, tallest building in Las Vegas, which really looks like what the comedian Lenny Bruce called a baby’s arm with an apple in its fist.
Check in is yet another 90 minutes and it’s a crazed Tower of Babel as so many of the Chinese conventioneers think they are speaking English but very, very clearly are not. Everybody who works at the Stratosphere has great teeth. They are naturally smiley and friendly and mostly charming, disarming Filipinos. Extra charges piled on extra charges. I’m an hour too early. $9.95, please. I would wait, but the hotel lobby is already jammed with folks. “Hey,” the concierge says, “No need to sweat any of this if you spend more than $3,000 at the tables. Get comped.”
To get to my room at the Strat, I have to walk through the open maw of the casino. It’s four in the afternoon, but there are thousands of the usual suspects you see worldwide in casinos. Milling around the tables while David Bowie’s Let’s Dance absolutely blasts from the speakers so loud I can feel my fillings shake.
A quick change and then it’s off to get media I.D. at the Riviera. Aside from just the sheer volume of conventioneers wandering round and about, stop-starting to look at things, I really am surprised by the sheer number of street people. I don’t remember any in the 90s, but times change.
Later, as we stand in line to get our badges, a conspiracy theorist of a reporter for USA Today tells me in whispered tones how the cities of Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and San Antonio got together a pool to round up anybody considered ‘vagabond-like’ and then dump them in Vegas.
I am dubious. “What about the elders of Vegas?”
“Money, man. Always money. Mayors do each other favors. And it brings in federal money.”
The Las Vegas Convention Center is at least seven miles square. I won’t use that canned sardine simile again, but, baby this place is packed and popping. The North concourse is for the big, high-rolling corporate entities and probably because it’s the first day proper, a lot of the bright-eyed, bushy tailed UNLV students who work security and info-help jobs are clearly nervous. I’m very impressed at just how very organized everything is at the same time. So there’s a kind of parallel sense that, although everything is as slick and easy on the eye as is imaginable, just because there are so many thousands of people, that any small incident of crime or terror would lead to disastrous chaos. That’s hair-splitting on my part however; everything is as synchronized and laid out, like wandering through the mazes and passageways of a perfect machine.
BMW are recruiting bodies for a show using a corps of absolutely drop-dead blondes who pass out goodie-bags and pamphlets and smell like sweet honeysuckle. I took their doodads and followed their guiding instructions but found the room full to the rafters already, which was a perfect excuse to evacuate and move on. Nevertheless, I assure you all that there is no recruitment tool like a statuesque German blonde.
The Samsung exhibition area seemed awesome from a distance, but was so jammed, probably because they were giving away free snacks and drinks that I couldn’t even turn around to remove my backpack. A new company from Zuhai City, China had obviously invested huge money in incorporating a sort of boxed showroom that was easy to get into, but a bottleneck shape at its exit so that no one could possibly leave the premises without dueling with their salesmen. They did indeed have some dynamite remote lighting and radio products that reminded me of futuristic transistor radios. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin and these guys, who clearly think they speak crustal-clear English… I’ll say it again; they really don’t. Even the pamphlets they pressed into my hands were written in error-riddled English.
In the end I met a sort of savior, a lady named Winh Jinh, a cheery lady from Taiwan who showed me practical clothing ‘we’ could have sex in and compare heartbeats “Just so!” Luckily, she helped me out with the Emperor people from China. Even though her Taiwanese dialect was different, we ultimately communicated enough to get the job done. Maybe I need to take some Chinese courses.
Also, I have to applaud the way in which the security people surrounded a pickpocket, gently jostled him away from the action down the stairs and were fairly gentle about cuffing him and marching him off. No panic. No visible violence. Politeness seems to be everywhere here, which is sort of shocking… in the U.S.
Between his gonzo adventures Ivor will also be taking a closer look at some of the #SexTech on offer at this year’s CES and reporting back on some of the latest innovations, so stay tuned…