Right, so back to the non-work aspects of the trip. First the gambling report. Total invested: $5. Total return: $3.75. Gambling just doesn’t grab me. Hard to avoid though. The few other casinos I have visited in Europe and Australia/New Zealand have a much more defined boundary between gaming and non-gaming areas. Usually there’s age limits, and restrictions on entering the gaming areas. Las Vegas doesn’t work like that at all. Rather than banning children, they have signs saying “Children are forbidden from loitering in gaming areas.” Note that – forbidden from loitering, not forbidden from entering. It’s the only way though – children wouldn’t be able to move in the city otherwise. As soon as you get off the plane you’re confronted by banks of pokies. You have to walk through gaming areas to get pretty much anywhere, even just to check in to your hotel.
Maybe the second thing you notice after the gambling is the smoking. New Zealand went smoke free in bars a few years ago now, and it’s something you don’t miss anymore – that stale smoke smell everywhere you walk. At least my hotel room wasn’t a smoking room.
In the interests of exploring Las Vegas, I decided to tackle it on foot. Sure, it was 40°, but I checked out the maps, worked out where things were in relation to each other, and set off. Mistake. Turns out that one of the rules of Las Vegas is that you should never, ever trust any of the tourist maps. They showed casinos and other attractions all neatly lined up along the Strip, with various intersecting roads clearly marked. Looks all good. The reality is far removed from this idealistic picture.
It turns out that the buildings might be right next to each other. Or they might not. There might be several bare blocks of desert, or a high fashion mall. You don’t really know. The map I had showed the Town Square Mall just past the Mandalay Bay. All good, maybe I’ll walk down there…except there was several miles of bare desert blocks, multiple roads not shown on the map…I was losing the will to live. But sometimes you get an idea in your head, and even though it turns out to be further than you think, you figure “I’ve come this far – maybe it’s that building off there in the shimmering heat. I’ll just push on” I suspect this is how trampers get lost. Eventually I did make it there, but I had to sit down for a while, to get some respite from the heat. My map showed another place right next to the Town Square mall that I wanted to visit – but this time I wasn’t so silly. It was still a $7 taxi from there. About a $30 taxi to get all the way back up the Strip to my hotel. Yes, I did walk a long way. Ah well, I needed a long walk in the sunshine – strong sunlight helps you adapt to timezone changes.
I did a lot of walking over the time I was there. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Most of the casinos are enormous, and they want to suck you in – they’re not designed for people just walking along the footpath. They want you to come in, and find everything you need – bars, restaurants, high class shopping, live shows, hotel rooms obviously. Some places even have their own roller coaster. Oh and while you’re there, fancy a little flutter? The ones with ceilings painted to look like a partly cloudy sky are quite amusing – “See how you could just stay in here forever?”
(Yeah, I didn’t even get started on how they’ve got Venice indoors).
Several people mentioned something to me about a previous photo showing that many of the other tourists were stereotypical overweight Americans. I would like to be clear that they were not the only stereotypes in evidence. Behold, the Asian tourist stereotype times four:
Firstly, ignore the appalling photography. It was dark, and I was trying to cross a busy road with many other tourists, and I only had a moment to take that shot. I did my best, OK? But let’s start from the left. Notice the raincoat, the backpack full of goodness knows what, and the sunhat. Even though it is obviously well past sunset, and the typical rainfall for June in Las Vegas is 0.08 inches. No sign of that changing this day either. Moving along, we have a great example of the “visor”, colour-co-ordinated with the outfit. Nice. Then we have another raincoat, followed by an American cowgirl gone wrong, followed by another hiker. It’s a bit unclear, but the hand on the far right may be wearing gloves. It wasn’t 40° by the time this photo was taken, but it would have still been at least 25°. So much going on there. Las Vegas is quite the people-spotters paradise.
Further research conducted – you’re unlikely to get rich busking in Las Vegas. You might make enough money to pay rent (~$180/week) and buy a bit of food, but don’t expect to make a lot. You don’t need a permit though, and it seems the taxman is not very aggressive in chasing buskers. You learn odd things when talking to people you meet. Also, being a travel agent, and having to road-test various attractions around Las Vegas, including several top hotels, and day trips to the Grand Canyon by helicopter, is “quite tiring.” Yes, my dear, my heart bleeds for you.
For the last night of the conference, HP put on a private concert at the Mandalay Bay. Originally I thought it was going to be Sheryl Crow, which would have been good enough. But then I found out it was going to be Don Henley too – fantastic! I went to see The Eagles a few years ago at Twickenham, and that was one of the better nights out I’ve had. Last time I had to pay for beer – not so this time. There I was, free food and drink, unlimited beer, and one of the greatest selling artists of all time playing for us. I thought they might have had Sheryl Crow and Don Henley playing together, but instead they each did their own thing. Don Henley came on second, started with a few of his own songs, then played “a few songs from that other band I sometimes play with.” Amazing.
Finally, since I was talking about drinking vessels last time, I feel obliged to carry on in that spirit. Whenever you watch American TV shows, the characters seem to always be drinking from enormous coffee cups. So as a bit of joke with my wife, I ordered this monstrosity:
Obviously it’s a bit hard to see the scale, but this thing was ridiculous. It felt like it was about a foot high. It was pleasant enough to drink it for about the first third or so, but then it just became a drag. How you were supposed to drink it all before it got cold, I do not know. Plus it’s got some odd name – I just asked for a large, and they had to translate that into Starbucks-speak. Mega-frappa-latte, or whatever the hell they call it. Yet people thought nothing of ordering something like that. No-one even blinked at it. No wonder there’s an obesity problem.
I was more impressed by developments in solving the age-old problem, of how to produce a cheap aluminium beer dispenser, that allows you to put the top back on. How to combine a can and a bottle? Well, they’ve done it:
That’s right – effectively it’s an aluminium can with a screw-top lid. Pity the beer itself was nothing special. I was more impressed by the Bud Light bottles that seem to have either a thicker aluminium than usual, which the marketing says keeps the beer colder longer. That makes a lot more sense than the other large cans of beer I was drinking – 710mL cans in 40° heat isn’t the best of ideas.
One final point on drinks – McDonalds serves blue Powerade on tap. Same price as other soft drinks – unlimited refills. As everyone knows, blue Powerade is a key ingredient in the hangover remedies toolkit, along with chocolate milk and meat pies. Heavens knows why it isn’t standard at McDonalds restaurants around the world. I think I shall write to John Key.