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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dispatch from Sin City

I left my home in northern VA Monday for a 3-day business conference in Las Vegas, NV. I've never been to Las Vegas before, so I was looking forward to having my cultural horizons broadened, in addition to networking and gaining useful insights from the conference.

The flight out was uneventful. I scored an aisle seat which is good since I'm bulky - too much weightlifting and schweinshaxen in my younger days. That's the best I can hope for these days - my current sugar daddy doesn't spring for business class, even for trips to Asia.

Okay, here’s an avionic poser for you - at one point in the flight, the stewards told us to buckle our seatbelts because we’re about to hit some turbulence. How do they know? Turbulence is invisible. And besides, if they know ahead of time, why can’t they just go around it? Personally, I think it’s intentional. Pilot must be the dullest job in the world, so they have to invent ways to make it interesting. Either that or they’re trying to shake the gremlins off the wings.

The first thing I saw in the gate was a bank of slot machines. There were a bunch more in the terminal. In fact, there are slot machines pretty much everywhere. I didn't see one in the bathroom, though.

I stayed at the Venetian, which is one of the newer, gaudier resort hotels on "The Strip." I had a very nice room, suite actually, with a good view of the mountains to the west and some colorful neon on the strip. The problem with the hotel, and certainly it's deliberate, is that you have to pass through the casino to get anywhere. And once you're in the casino, it's nigh impossible to retain your bearings, which is also certainly intentional. I won't miss wandering around the Venetian casino floor desparately looking for landmarks.

A few of us did some exploring and people-watching on the strip in the evenings. It's sensory overload, kind of like Disney World, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, and the Superbowl halftime show all rolled up into one, spread out over two miles, going nonstop day and night, and filled with seedy tourists. We caught a comedy show on our last evening there, in which the first performer described himself as "upper middle white trash," i.e., not trailer trash getting pulled over shirtless on COPS, but not quite thoroughly refined and civilized. I'm sure I'm offending at least half my readers when I observe that that term pretty well captures the human element at street level.

Las Vegas is everything they say it is, and then some. It's so thoroughly over the top gaudy and tasteless, and so full of unappealing characters, it makes me embarrassed to be human. But I guess some people like that sort of thing; there certainly were a lot of them who did not appear to be there under duress. Our conference spanned the middle of the week and it was wall-to-wall drunk overweight tourists wearing cheap clothes and tattoos everywhere. I can't imagine what it's like on the weekend.

Normally when you're at a business conference, you only wear your credentials when you're actually in the conference; it's just not cool elsewhere (as if your light blue polo shirt and khakis don't scream "conferee" anyway). Well, not this time. I made sure, at least while I was in the hotel environs, that I wore my nametag everywhere. I didn't want anyone getting the idea I was there of my own volition.

We did get a little unintended comic relief during the conference - a Korean guy asked a detailed question with an absolutely opaque accent - the speaker initially pretended to understand but feigned the need for clarification, but then had to just give up and admit that he couldn't understand a word of it. After a few rewordings and some help from the floor, the rather innocuous question was finally understood and answered.

Fortunately, my buddy Arlan, an erstwhile Detroiter now living in Las Vegas, was able to provide a degree of redemption for his adopted home town. I played hooky from the conference for part of Wednesday afternoon while Arl graciously toured me around the non-strip parts of Las Vegas, which turns out to be a fairly normal city outside of the neon and concrete hell. We visited the local Amateur Electronic Supply where I picked up a 1:1 HF balun (1500 watts PEP; I'll only use 100) for my dipole, consumed some appetizers at a little Thai restaurant, and stopped by his house where I had the pleasure of playing his Brian Moore electric guitar while he gathered up pieces for a low-power portably ham radio station. We made our way to Red Rock Canyon State Park, which was not too far from Arl's QTH (house). The park was stunning, but the radio station we set up there failed to yield any contacts. Actually we made several contacts in the form of tourists asking what we were doing or telling us about their tangential acquaintances that use CB radios. We followed that up with a nice Mexican dinner, a trip to Fry's, which is an electronics and appliance superstore, and then topped it off by taking in a set of Chicago-style blues at the Sand Dollar, a lovely little hole in the wall not too far from The Strip but thankfully not polluted with upper middle white trash tourists.

Plane trip back, Friday p.m.: whoever is farting, please stop.

Epilogue: "Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," goes the puerile expression on the lips of every upper middle white trash "Vegas" tourist laboring under the delusion that his or her life is somehow more interesting as a result of drinking watery beer and throwing money into colorful, noisy sewers. Here's my corollary: Whatever happens in Vegas, please, for God's sake, leave it there, I don't want to hear about it!

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