Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Slot machines chatter while forlorn gamblers insert their last dollar bills and stare hopefully at the screen. Men in suits. Young adults who look like they haven’t slept in days. Old ladies on Rascal scooters. The one-armed bandit beckons them all right up until their flight’s final boarding call.
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas! Pay no attention to all the downtrodden losers silently lining up at the gate. Your luck will probably be much better.
As you walk toward the concourse you encounter glass enclosures packed with smokers like the last of an endangered species on display in an artificial habitat at the zoo. For a brief moment your heart goes out to them. You know they would rather be outside in their natural environment, pacing the sidewalk a scant ten feet from the entrance.
The opulence of the concourse is but a sampling of what awaits you on The Strip. Elaborately patterned carpets, gold ornamentation and lots of glass are the customary decorations of this fantasy land. The baggage claim area serves merely as a transition from your world to theirs.
Just so you won’t be completely blinded by the bright light of unbridled advertising just outside the airport doors, moderately sized placards remind you that this is the land of Cirque du Soleil, Penn and Teller, and Carrot Top. You will soon step into a rolling billboard complete with brochures, discount ticket offers, and if you’re lucky, a cabbie that can hook you up right from the comfort and convenience of his taxi. Just don’t let him take you to The Strip via the Interstate – it’s just a trick to jack up the fare.
Some people love traveling to Las Vegas. At best, I’m indifferent.
It’s not like I have a choice to visit there. My industry holds its annual trade show at The Sands every September. The rationale seems to be that hotels and food are plentiful and reasonable. Airfare is usually affordable from every corner of the US. Once you arrive at The Strip, there is no need for a rental car to get around. Since you spend most of your time indoors, it doesn’t matter that you’re in the middle of the desert.
Vegas offers something for everyone. Fine dining. Shows. Clubs. Gambling. Free drinks if you consume them in conjunction with gambling. In-room entertainment (not of the HBO variety but definitely pay per view). If you want your senses to be heightened, Vegas is definitely the place.
After a few days, I begin to experience sensory overload. The perfumed scents pumped into the casino to mask the smell of cigarette smoke. The constant clanging of the slot machines. The “snappers” along the strip passing out trading cards for the in-room entertainers. Young women dressed to the nines accompanied by what I can only presume to be their grandfathers. Older women dressed in black, dripping with jewelry, seeking to get lucky in some manner or another. Cocktail waitresses dressed up like Playboy bunnies from the 60’s, some actually in their 60’s. It’s easy to keep your head down and avoid these bright shiny objects by the second or third day.
For the first time visitor, the entire town must seem amazing. Towering hotels designed to resemble Italian cities, Roman castles, Egyptian pyramids, the Eifel Tower, the New York skyline, and George Jetson’s apartment complex. I imagine it to be what the great Columbian Exposition would have looked like had it been designed by Walt Disney and Donald Trump. Proof of this is the roller coaster atop the Stratosphere and the pirate show in front of Treasure Island. Vegas aims to supply the illusion of European sophistication but it can’t quite camouflage its Wisconsin Dells foundation.
This hardly seems the ideal setting for a group of individuals dedicated to health, fitness, and outdoor recreation. The fact that we have to bus our attendees 30 miles out into the desert to provide a safe place to ride a bike speaks volumes about the irony of the venue. To be fair, a city that prides itself on public smoking can’t be expected to provide safe streets for low-wage workers to ride bicycles on. Workers’ health concerns get trumped by visitors’ conveniences every time. It’s a pity our organizers don’t recognize the incompatibility issue.
Nevertheless, I will board a nonstop Southwest flight to Sin City and arrive with my game face on. I will step out onto the floor of Interbike 2011 – every bit as opulent as Vegas itself – breathe in the smell of vulcanized rubber, and introduce all that enter to the 2012 collection of the oldest bicycle brand in the world. If I have time to wander the show, I may even bring back spy photos of cool new products for the cycling enthusiast.
And when I return, I will happily leave all that is Vegas in Vegas. Except for maybe the trading cards – they could be worth something someday…