My Week in Las Vegas
Sometime in the first part of 2011, my boss told me that he would send me to Las Vegas in January 2012 to represent our publication at the Consumer Electronics Show. I’d never been to Las Vegas before (my friends who have beat me to the punch at the altar have never suggested the city as an appropriate bachelor party venue. Apparently, this makes my friends total losers or the most admirable bunch of guys to walk the face of Earth). Anyway, the prospect of this trip excited me on a few fronts:
1.) My job was guaranteed through at least January 13, 2012. In the print media world, you appreciate these kinds of things.
2.) I’d be the envy of every closeted- or overtly dorky friend I have. And I have a few.
3.) I’d get to see how the rebuilding effort had turned out since that oversized toddler decimated Las Vegas in 1992.
It also worried me on a few fronts:
1.) I’ve never in my life had an attraction to gambling. Never been supplied with a lot of expendable income and tend to be pretty protective of what I have and/or what the creditors are willing to advance me.
2.) I live in Chicago. The “Wow, big city” thing just doesn’t do it for me, no matter how many flashing neon lights you equip it with.
3.) If I’ve learned anything from Hollywood, it’s that decent people inevitably lose their f*cking minds in Las Vegas.
But weighing the two, and considering most of my expenses would be comped, going to Las Vegas on business terms seemed to be a formidable excuse for visiting a city that had never posed any attraction to me whatsoever. Moreover, a trip to the sunny west in the middle of January from Chicago, really, was reason enough.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter (or do so from the live feed on this page down and to the right there), I apologize for retweeting myself. But Twitter proved to be the real-time depository for my thoughts and afterthoughts last week, and so they’ll be a good anchor for this recap.
Also, for anyone who’s hoping for a lot of CES inside information here, sorry. The job pays me for that. You don’t. But if you’d like to send me some bucks, hey, we can start a dialogue. God knows there was no lack of media coverage on the show. You’ll find a few allusions in here, but nothing substantial on gadgets, whozits, whatsits, thingamybobs and whatever else Ariel was storing up in her place under the sea.
OK, let’s go.
@snyderpaul: Attendant’s first words to us after touchdown: “We hope you’ve enjoyed our business as much as we’ve enjoyed taking you for a ride.”
At least their honest about it, right? For those of you who appreciate this kind of honesty in your carrier, I flew United, which charges $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for the second. Suffice to say, I took a carry-on stuffed to the gills and a computer case for my laptop. When CES gave press members a free backpack, this complicated my 1-carry-on and 1 personal bag restriction posed by United.
@snyderpaul: “The ultimate celebration of the Motown sound.” White guys. I’ve been in this city 5 minutes and I’m already confused.
I don’t want to sound racist, but something about this still doesn’t add up to me. OK, I spent the week in Vegas and found out that these guys were Australian (they kept making a point of that, like being Australian makes it OK somehow) and apparently they have good moves, nice suits and vintage dance steps, but you know, um … white guys doing Motown (uncomfortable groan). Now, fair’s fair. There’s a good chance these guys covered the back catalogues of Debbie Dean, Chris Clark, Rare Earth and Teena Marie—Motown’s token white acts. But one has to wonder if that would be worth the price of a Vegas show or better left for some panhandling on the Strip.
As it turns out, Human Nature had a residency at the very hotel/casino where my employers opted to put me up—Imperial Palace. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of visiting this Asian-themed diamond on the Strip, let me break it down for you. The casino’s motto is “Dress down, live it up.” I noticed in Las Vegas that people really don’t mind too much about what they wear. If you feel comfortable in a faded Jazzercise t-shirt and chocolate-stained sweatpants, then dammit, you wear a faded Jazzercise t-shirt and chocolate-stained sweatpants. You see all kinds of lazy outfits when you walk the strip, but depending on which casino you go into, obvious, the attire changes to suit the environment. The Imperial Palace is the place where a lot of the “Eh, it was all that was left in the drawer” outfits come out to play. Any preconceptions of well-dressed men with “I spent 2 hours working to make my hair look this messy” ‘dos put in your mind by “Ocean’s 11,” “12,” or “13,” you know, no. It ain’t happening. Though for my part, I tried. I like to dress up. I feel good in a suit. Plus, I’m representing my publication at a major industry show in Las Vegas. Suffice to say, the sight of a dashing man in his 20s with a Beatlesque hairdo and a suit (hand to God, a suit!) bought me a LOT of second looks at Imperial Palace.
The room I stayed in wasn’t much better than that of a Motel 6. Not that I needed a nice room, obviously. It served primarily as a place to sleep, so provided it had a bed and clean sheets, that was enough. They messed up my room reservation and gave someone else the room with the one king size bed, so I actually got TWO beds in my room. Everyone’s a winner in Vegas. But the TV was some relic from 1991 with ugly color washes that might look interesting on drugs or a lot of alcohol, but for a guy trying to catch a score on programming designed for HDTVs, they were absolutely useless. My room (and presumably, everyone on my side of the “tower”) also faced a blue spotlight that gives Imperial Palace its (very Asian?) blue glow at night. From the street it might look pretty (I honestly couldn’t tell in a week’s time there—every other hotel/casino on the Strip does a good job of dwarfing and/or blocking out Imperial Palace), but it set a feeling of permanent dusk in my room. Whenever I looked at the window, it looked like 5:30 p.m. even if it was 2:30 a.m. They might as well call that particular tower “Anchorage Summer Nights.”
Aside from Human Nature, Imperial Palace’s other major show is another exercise contradiction—Frank Marino’s “Divas.” Like Human Nature, Marino turns a popular notion on its head. This time instead of black/white, it’s man/woman. Marino’s show is him doing impressions (and songs, I guess) in the drag garb of Joan Rivers, Britney Spears, Madonna, Diana Ross, Cher and probably some other chicks I’m forgetting about. Also like Human Nature, I didn’t bother to see it. Vegas has a real hangup about celebrity impersonations. It’s odd. The Flamingo has Donny & Marie. The Imperial Palace has a guy who dresses up like Cher. Who comes back from Las Vegas and goes, “Oh and we saw this wonderful Cher impersonator …”?
Suffice to say, I decided to take in all the lights and “Wow, look at me”-ness of the Strip that night. Stopped in front of the Bellagio to watch the fountain show. Pretty.
@snyderpaul: James Stannage would probably appreciate Donald Fagen’s “I.G.Y.” blaring outside the Bellagio right now. We could scream along…
For Americans, and, well, anyone outside of Manchester, England, James Stannage was a formidable talk radio DJ who’s remarks about a hostage situation during the Iraq war went a step too far and ended up costing him his job. I don’t know what he’s up to these days, but I do know he spends time in the Crown and Kettle in Manchester because while I was off at Etihad Stadium seeing Manchester City shut out Arsenal 1-0 (remember that, Umaar?), Stannage was developing a little crush on my girlfriend. They talked Steely Dan (the music, obviously, not the device—thank God) and she conveyed to him my fandom. When I showed up at the Crown and Kettle after the game, Stannage introduced himself by barking obscure Steely Dan lyrics at me. We discussed the merits of “Home at Last” over a pint and a few weeks later, outside the Bellagio, I’m hearing the strains of Donald Fagen’s “I.G.Y.” pumped onto the Strip. Appropriate as the whole “What a beautiful world this will be” sentiment was as it bathed Las Vegas, I thought it’d be better if Stannage and I were screaming it down the street.
@snyderpaul: Wow. They’re playing the Smiths in a casino at 7.40 a.m. Must be consolation music.
For those of you who are wondering, it was “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side.” And perusing the mostly-deserted slots and tables of the Venetian and finding the solitary few gamblers who had quite obviously been at it all night and could no longer hide the desperation and misery on their faces, the song seemed a lot more appropriate than “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”
@snyderpaul: At the Las Vegas Subway, they have $11.75 footlongs. Guessing that doesn’t make as catchy of a jingle.
Go ahead, try rewriting it. Seriously, more than $10 for one sandwich?
@snyderpaul: Just saw a street performer in very bad Buzz Lightyear get-up check out a teenage girl’s ass. Pixar’s innocence lost in fabulous Las Vegas!
@snyderpaul: Half tempted to ask Buzz if his mission of protecting the galaxy from evil Emperor Zurg is getting the full attention it deserves…
This was outside a McDonald’s during lunch hour. Some of these street performers have it dead easy. They alter the costumes just enough not to get anything above a warning letter from Disney (or Nintendo, or whatever other studio/conglomorate they pay “homage” to), then they sit outside with booze all day looking like they fell asleep on the sidewalk as the result of a bender and put up a cardboard sign that says “Laid off by Disney” (or Nintendo, or whatever other studio/conglomorate they pay “homage” to), and tourists laugh and think its so clever and drop some spare change or dollars in their case. These guys actually make money by sitting on the sidewalk and drinking all day. Just because they do it in awful costumes. Follow up tweet that I forgot to post: “Need I remind Buzz that if Zurg has his way, it’s ALL of our asses?”
@snyderpaul: Justin Timberlake just walked on as surprise guest at Panasonic conference. He’s pushing MySpace TV. Meh. #professionaljournalist
I should point out that Panasonic trotted out Ed Begley Jr. minutes before and that DID impress me (more to follow). But Justin Timberlake was surprisingly non-awe-inspiring for me. One of my very best friends in Chicago told me of an occasion a few years ago when Timberlake was in Chicago and spotted by my friend and a few girls he was spending the afternoon with. They chased him down the street to a nearby restaurant and, as my friend tells it, “the girls were right on the verge of freaking out, you know? They couldn’t form words, it was just ‘Ohmygodohmygodohmygod,’ and you knew the screams were coming. So Justin’s just all, ‘It’s OK, be cool. I’m just like anyone else,’ and he calmed them down and talked for a couple seconds and it was just cool, you know? Like, someone that huge. It’s something.” I’ve hung with my idols and big celebrities before. I’ve been starstruck and I’ve been non-impressed. It’s not always Justin Timberlake-level fame, but even with that level, I was surprised how unimpressed I was. Probably down to a crappy-looking beard and the fact that he was there touting MySpace (… really, dude?)
Oh, and this:
@snyderpaul: I’m the only one who didn’t think Dick in a Box was funny, aren’t I? Cos he’s still alluding to it as “your favorite SNL skit.” Notsomuch.
He followed that up with “Maybe you don’t like that song as much as you like one about moms.” Justin Timberlake gets more mileage off that Lonely Island stuff than he does *NSYNC, that’s for sure. But how much of a contender (popularity-wise) does “Dick in a Box” (or “Motherlover” or “Jizz in My Pants” or “3-Way”) pose to “Rock Your Body” or “SexyBack”? I’m open to your statistical breakdowns. Anyway, I just don’t like the attitude he poses about his SNL work. He honestly thinks he’s one of the best things to happen to SNL (and maybe in recent years he is, but that’s more a reflection on the show and not his own talents). But you know, I don’t think Chris Farley went around talking about Matt Foley as your favorite SNL character. If prompted, he’d break into it, sure, but that’s on the part of the audience. Has Eddie Murphy even done a Gumby impression since he left the show? So, Justin Timberlake, seriously, a little humility. Let fans tell you how great you are. Don’t tell them how great you are.
@snyderpaul: Sony trotted out Will Smith, Barry Sonnenfeld and Kelly Clarkson. Now with 18 other writers on the “I Walked Out on Kelly Clarkson Express.”
Sony’s press conference was big and it went on about 45 minutes too long. We got a preview of “Men in Black 3” in fancy Sony 3D and then they announce “And now, the stars of ‘Men in Black 3’ …” and I was seriously about to lose my sh*t at the thought of seeing Tommy Lee Jones in person. I was going to rush the stage. But they announced Will Smith and Barry Sonnenfeld. Now, there was a time when Will Smith would’ve prompted huge reactions, but maybe it’s the apparently-looming divorce or the “Is he?” scientology buzz or the fact that he can’t deliver (or move away from) a punchline anymore (and he apparently doesn’t rehearse much), but it was one of the most awkward public spectacles I’ve witnessed in some while. This video captures it perfectly, and yes, it’s mic’ed up for the people on stage, so the audience sounds nonexistent, but I was in the audience and can vouch. We were that quiet. It was painful. “I get it! ‘Cos the show! The Fresh Prince! I get it! It was like a pun!” Just get off the stage, man.
As far as the Kelly Clarkson performance went, well, I (and an innumerable amount of reporters and editors) didn’t even make it to the first chorus before we were rushing to the exits. I felt bad for Kelly Clarkson. In fact, there’s always been something about Kelly Clarkson that made me think, “I’d like to hang out with her. She seems like she’d be a decent enough person.” Her problem? She wears her insecurity way too much on her sleeve. After making a passing “joke” about how happy she was to see her face projected on Sony’s mega-display at the convention center, she went into a shaky acoustic performance of “Mr. Know it All.” She seems like a nice, Texan girl who just got thrown headlong into the world of manufactured pop idols and has never been able to find that right balance of nice plainspoken girl with pop star. Flagging record sales only seem to be exacerbating the situation. At any rate, the newsmen flocked toward the shuttle buses and when one jumped on board the one I had a seat on and breathlessly asked if he was on the shuttle back to the Venetian, a British reporter behind me responded, “Yes. This IS the ‘I Walked Out on Kelly Clarkson Express.'” It sounds phenomenal in a British accent. Try it.
@snyderpaul: Sir Mix a Lot just stepped on my foot. Insert your own clever joke here.
Yep, it was him. He was wearing an Anthony Ray nametag, but I knew. Sadly, I recognized him from all those horrible aughts “talk shows” VH1 once crapped out like “I Love the (insert decade here),” “Best Week Ever,” etc. and not “Baby Got Back.” This is the kind of random celebrity sighting you get at these shows. I didn’t get to see what company he was there to shill for, but I laughed at the thought.
“Hey, we got Sir Mix a Lot!”
“That’s great, Becky, considering it’s still 1992! You’re fired!”
He barely apologized for stepping on my foot, by the way.
@snyderpaul: This guy’s been in so many of my favorite shows and films its crazy. For the Arrested Development fans… Stan Sitwell!
Coolest celebrity moment I had, I had to put the professional journalist tag aside and grab a snap. Like Timberlake, Begley was there with Panasonic, talking about green homes and going on about Panasonic’s solar panels and home heating system. But the guy’s been in so many of my favorite movies and TV shows I had to say hey and tell him how much I admired his work.
@snyderpaul: Las Vegas Gun Store’s ad on cars: “Shoot a Real Machine Gun! Try One!” I gotta admit, I’m intrigued. Tempted, even.
I never did. But I still stand by that ad. That’s good advertising. And it was probably thought up by someone in-house.
@snyderpaul: Pretty sure that the staff parking garage for the Wynn Hotel is bigger than any parking garage in Milwaukee. Think about that for a moment.
Seriously. Think about that. By the way, the Wynn is absolutely gorgeous. First suite I got to see in Las Vegas and it made me consider doing some serious gambling to secure myself a room like that for the remainder of my trip. Then I heard Morrissey’s voice: “when you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay …” and walked away from the ATM.
@snyderpaul: This is sacreligious right? You couldn’t do this with Christianity. It’d be news. Is Eastern religion just more chill?
As much as I’d like to see “Mary of Magdalene’s: Where the Vegas Industry Prays,” you know it’d come up as a news story in the right-hand column of the Huffington Post with “SCANDAL!” above it.
@snyderpaul: Eating at an Asian restaurant. Only white guy in here. They didn’t bring me chopsticks. Just assumed fork. Only one with a fork. Racists.
This was at a restaurant in the Imperial Palace called, I believe, Ginseng 3. It served Chinese, Japanese and Korean fare. I was the only white guy in there and the only one they didn’t even offer chopsticks. Just a fork, as if even offering me chopsticks would be a complete waste of wood. I wonder if the boys in Human Nature get offered chopsticks? Luckily for them, the orange chicken was fabulous and I reserved my complaints. And no I didn’t ask for chopsticks, either, but why not give me the benefit of the doubt? What about my makeup says “This guy can’t do chopsticks”? I can. Not well, but I can. Dammit.
@snyderpaul: One woman to another: “Don’t make me f*ckin smack yo mouth. I will drag yo ass cross the floor out of here.” It’s 7.19 a.m. Vegas, baby!
That exchange took place at the Imperial Palace. I’ll let you guess how they were dressed.
@snyderpaul: The going rate for Krishna consciousness in 1972 was 250 pounds. Ringo was happy to pay.
Believe it or not this signed check (er, cheque)—and doesn’t it look like it was actually made out by George?—was on sale at Consumer Electronics Show. Some autograph dealer bought booth space right in the middle of a bunch of companies selling new state-of-the-art headphones, home theater systems, TVs, projectors and other gadgets to sell a bunch of gaudy framed merchandise. The guy had some damn obscure items too:
For those of you who are wondering what that is, let me explain. That is a framed guitar and picture titled “The Fab Four,” which, at least according to that little plaque at the bottom center, commemorates the Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Despite the fact that the Beatles seldom chose Fender guitars (or as is the one framed here, the much cheaper Squier subsidiary)—and certainly didn’t any such guitar on the Sullivan show, the most glaring error here is that the guitar bears the signatures of the Rolling Stones. And not real signatures too, but as is explained in the nicely added paper note at the bottom of the frame—laser signatures! And I don’t know why they mentioned the Eagles, but there you go. I didn’t ask for the price on this one. I just thought, “Wow. A clusterf*ck framed!”
@snyderpaul: Just played it. Feeling so Gem.
Well, Gibson had a booth. What was I gonna do, NOT play it?! Still figuring out how I pitch this to my editors, but nevertheless. Got to play it. Gem looks way cooler playing his (if you don’t dig the performance, but want to understand the allusion, jump to 3:56):
@snyderpaul: This city has a real problem with keeping elevators and escalators operational.
Every day I was in Las Vegas, there was an elevator I could’ve used that was not operational, an escalator that turned into metal stairs or a moving sidewalk that became a stationary, metal grated sidewalk. Normally I wouldn’t mind a bit of additional exercise, but you try walking the floors of the Las Vegas Convention Center and Venetian Hotel/Casino for 5 consecutive days and tell me how your legs feel.
@snyderpaul: I’m guessing whoever wrote “Viva Las Vegas” didn’t have to stand in one of these mile-long lines for transportation.
The Venetian could’ve done a little better job keeping the free shuttle that moved express between the hotel and convention center under wraps. I had a great little secret on Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday, everyone had cottoned on, but it wasn’t the first mammoth line I had to stand in for a ride. That was at the airport when I arrived and had to wait for a taxi. Did they move quickly? Well, that’s a matter of relativity. My point is that Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman didn’t write any verses like “Standing at the cab stand in a mile long line, never gonna get me to a meeting on time / And even if the meeting starts a little behind, I’ll still be standing in this unending wind / Oh there’s cabs to the airport, and cabs to the show, a thousand people standing all waiting to go / And I’m just warning you so that you know, oh VIVAAAAAA LAS VEGAS!”
It would’ve helped. That’s all.
@snyderpaul: Saw an ad for the best Beatles tribute band in the world. Does anyone really scour the Earth for Fabs tributes to fairly bestow that title?
It’s a question I’ve often wondered about. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen American English called the world’s best Beatles Tribute Band. And the Fab Faux. And the Beatless. And Beatlemania. And 1964. I know there’s a Battle of the Beatle Bands at Beatlefest (I’m sorry—The Fest For Beatles Fans) every year, but surely that can’t be the decider of the world’s crown. So who’s going around the world searching for Beatles tribute acts in an unending quest to find, truly, the best Beatles tribute band on Earth? I’d like this person to exist. If only to place a transcontinental call from someplace like Zimbabwe. “Joe, I’ve found ’em.”
Nice to see some Bobby love on the Strip. This is right outside the Flamingo. For the extra touch of Vegas class, that piece of litter above the star is one of those prostitute trading cards that street dudes are all too happy to click at you and shove in your hand—even if your hand is in your pocket in a vain attempt to avoid their attention. Seriously, I’m still hearing that clicking when I fall asleep. But anyway, yeah. Love the love for Bobby. Especially dig that it points out he was also a songwriter. Too right. He wrote “Dream Lover,” you know.
@snyderpaul: Just heard on the radio: “…party goes ’til 10 p.m. Silverton Casino, where the party doesn’t stop!”
Certain restrictions apply.
@snyderpaul: I like that you can spot the off-duty Elvis impersonators in Vegas. Conviction. It’s about more than a wig and rhinestone jumpsuit, y’know.
I saw a couple of these guys at the Consumer Electronics Show. T-shirts, jeans, and huge black quiffs combed back, sideburns ’til next Friday and those gaudy gold shades Big E just had to wear to denote his fame. I like that though. It’s not often you can look at people and go in an out-of-work environment and know what they do for a living. In Vegas, sometimes you can.
@snyderpaul: Just got told I look like one of the Beatles. It works in London and Las Vegas.
For those who care, I never tire of hearing it either. But this is special—twice in the span of a month. Once by a 6-year-old girl in London and then by a 50-something woman in Las Vegas. I’m doing something right.
@snyderpaul: Was gonna say the coach bus drivers here are maniacal but then I thought “If it’s me or that guy in the Honda Civic, I like my chances.”
Riding the shuttle buses got to be an exercise in “I wonder how aggressive Vegas drivers really are.” Shuttle drivers just pull out into traffic. They have the “Oh, they’ll stop. Don’t you worry” mindset. No waiting for gaps in traffic, if they need to make a right, dammit, they’re pulling out. None of the buses I rode were hit, but I have to imagine that some guy in a compact car at some point in history thought, “No, you know what? I’m NOT letting him in!” And then ended up driving a rental for a week while the auto shop dinged out his car’s crumpled front end.
@snyderpaul: Alright. Frenchmen jumping around to Beatles songs. Let’s have it.
On my final night in Vegas, I decided to treat myself to a proper Vegas show. Never seen Cirque de Soleil show before, so as a complete Beatle nut, I thought it would be fitting to see this one. I walked by the Mirage everyday and this advertising just tempted me to a point of, “Dude. You’re in Vegas. This is your chance. Why the hell not?” I texted a friend in Chicago who’d seen it and asked if the $145 day-of asking price was really worth it. She informed me it was. I told her I knew she would say that and asked if it was really worth it. She informed it was and told me in no uncertain terms to go. She had previously told me she and her sister had cried. I was skeptical. I mean I like the Beatles, I know their music inside and out and once when I lived in Madison, a Cirque bus rolled through town, and the dudes on the top deck made weird faces at me. I got irrationally upset about it. Like “Who the f*ck do you think YOU are?!” angry. Pesci in “Goodfellas” angry. Totally at odds with your typical Madison personality. But “Love” made me love them. And, for a little while, everyone. I didn’t cry during “Love,” but there ended up being something in my throat on a few occasions. I can’t explain it. My tweet after the show explained it all.
@snyderpaul: Even at my most cynical, “Love” was f*cking amazing.
Make a special trip to see it. It is that touching. Although I will say it makes you a tad annoyed that the Beatles broke up in such a bitchy fashion.
@snyderpaul: Repurposed to be wholesome, but this was the apex of suggestive in the 40s right? Or maybe I’ve been in Vegas too long.
And that lets you know where my mind was as I arrived at the airport at the end of one week in Vegas.
In the end? I’m in no rush to get back, but I won’t knock it. I had an enjoyable time. And yes, “Love” was far and away the highlight.
Dean Martin – Medley: Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes/I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine/I Love Vegas
Not sure I share Dean’s affection for Vegas, but I appreciate his sense of fun. From the brilliant set, The Rat Pack Live at the Sands, which was recorded at Dean, Frank and Sammy summit in 1963. Dean’s the far and away highlight of the disc.