Near Yellow Mountain

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Back in the Saddle

After being home six straight weeks for the holidays and some maintenance work including my first colonoscopy (I know - TMI) and a major periodontal event that had me eating a lot of ice cream and smoothies after ringing in the New Year,  it was time to hit the road. I have not been home six straight weeks since 1995. Yuki, our faithful mixed breed, seemed confused but happy at my long stretch in the house. I represent “easy pickings” when she wants her backside scratched or a portion of whatever I am eating.   

The first stop of the young year was Las Vegas – one of my least favorite cities in the world. Each year the industry I work in has an international gathering which is a great chance to see contacts from every corner of the globe. So, despite the event being in Las Vegas, I looked forward to attending. On the other hand, I knew I would see my ex-boss (see the “Moving On” entry from September if you are a new reader) which was not really a big deal but did have the capacity for a little drama – since he was about to find out I have reentered “his” business.

One of the few positive things about Las Vegas is the airport (recently updated and close to the main part of the city). Unfortunately my final destination was Caesar’s Palace – a monstrosity of a hotel that is laid out to keep guests confused and wandering past the cash eating slot machines, ATMs (to provide fodder for the slots), and over-priced restaurants. The table games, for those guests with triple digit IQs, are also abundant but the slots seem more appealing to the casual gamer. Is it any wonder that American has a retirement crisis when people fly hours to the desert to put money in machines that advertise they return 98 cents out of every dollar you are foolish enough to "invest"? But then, who could resist the added attraction of glaring lights, loud noises and cigarette smoke from the person in the next seat who obviously has that one “lucky" machine.

For those of you that have not been to Las Vegas before or haven’t been in a long time – first, count yourself “blessed” and second - all the stories that you have heard about the $.99 “all you can eat buffets” are now the stuff of Urban Legend. Cheap food left town about the time Jimmy Carter was making speeches from the White House in a sweater touting his (in)famous WIN (“whip inflation now”) campaign.

I elected to stay at Caesar’s because it was the venue for the event I was attending. When making the reservation, I asked if they had a gym. “Of course”, was the reply. What they didn’t tell me was there was a $25 fee to enter- unheard of in most hotels in the US. The fee settled it for me, exercise for my few days in Las Vegas would be running outside. Las Vegas may be the only place in the world where people smoke on the way to the gym.

Typical of the nature of the city, my room on the “50th floor” of the Forum Tower was actually about 20 feet above ground level. I entered the elevator, pushed “50” and was shocked when the doors opened about two seconds later. I thought Las Vegas must be the only city in the world with bullet train technology in the elevators but then I entered my room and saw that, in the event of a fire, leaping from my “50th floor” window was not likely to hurt very much when I landed.
Unlike 99%+ of the people who visit Las Vegas, I am a former resident of the state of Nevada. Almost a quarter century ago, I lived between Reno and Lake Tahoe and would happily move back to the Nevada Mountains. Despite my disdain for all things “Vegas”, I have a soft spot for Nevada. I enjoyed the low taxes that were only possible due to the largesse of those who come and mindlessly dump their hard earned money into the “wealth recycling containers” known as slot machines.
A couple hours after arrival, I was having dinner with a Japanese client. After dinner, I was asked to “help” with some gaming activity. If you are going to “hit the tables”, it is better to be a “helper”. My job was to get Yen changed to dollars, dollars to chips and keep track of losses. When my friend put a very large stack of chips on "red" and won; I already knew the final outcome – within ten minutes the chips were gone. Fortunately this gentlemen is brighter than most people, he had budgeted what he was willing to lose during his trip and stuck to it.
The next morning, I went for a run, taking my IPhone in case I saw something interesting. Fortunately outside the hotel, the morning air was crisp and clean - a welcome change from the fetid air inside. As I made my way down the strip, I took in the various “over the top” designs, I looked up and saw the image of  “Donnie and Marie” looming over the street which made me think perhaps King Kong had returned as a Mormon brother and sister. Finally I snapped a picture and uploaded it to Facebook with the caption “the waste of a perfectly good desert”. I probably should have held the thought because more than one Facebook friend did not agree.
The conference went well. I was fortunate to secure some new business, renew old friendships and apparently vex the spirit of the ex-boss who clearly wanted to know what I was up to. He tried unsuccessfully to join a couple of conversations I was having at one of the cocktail parties but that was the extent of the interaction and only a footnote to the week.
I happily left the city of illusions on Thursday without gambling a penny and headed for LA to enjoy dinner with my daughter at a Thai restaurant near LAX. By Friday evening I was home. Next stop is Shanghai in a couple of weeks and then Tokyo. The “one man band” is, indeed, “moving on” with a lot of help from his friends.

PS: my apology to any and all slot players I may have offended. I am sure you realize that the house always wins in games that require no skill or have a competitive element like poker, blackjack, etc. I am in no position to judge how anyone spends their "entertainment" dollars, Yen or RMB.