First Impressions in Las Vegas

A short entry today on my first trip to Las Vegas.

On arrival I was amazed. I was a dumbstruck tourist in sin city.  I had certain expectations about Vegas, and boy was I wrong. I live outside a medium sized American city, but I’ve been to New York, LA, Chicago, Seattle, etc… so I thought I knew what I was getting in to going to Vegas.  Wrong.

So the first thing you find out when you get to Vegas is that the airport sucks.  This is also the last thing you notice about Vegas, but I’ll try to circle back to that.  From the terminal where we landed we had to take a tram to get to ground transportation.  We don’t check luggage, period.  So we find the tram and on the platform there are FOUR people standing there in little orange vests directing people to board the tram, then “go either to the left or the right once you board.”  Are you fucking serious? That’s a job? Really? Four people stand on a train platform to explain the boarding process?  I’m immediately in a bad mood.  I’m being herded, and for absolutely no fucking reason.  Are there people who can’t figure out how to get on the tram? If so, how the fuck did they get to the airport?

After a short ride the tram stops and there are people there to explain the de-tramming process.  It mostly involves walking forward, then turning.  We continued to follow the Ground Transportation signs past hordes of limo drivers holding up signs.  I checked for my name. Nothin’.

We found a little area set up as a lobby for the MGM Grand where you can check in.  We wanted to ask them about a shuttle.  We waited several minutes in line there, but decided that wasn’t getting us anywhere, and the taxi stand was nearby…

Now I’m guessing about 90% of the people at that airport all want to go to the same general area, so you might think they have a pretty good system in place to get people to the strip.  Yeah, you’d be wrong.  The system is you get in the single longest line I’ve ever seen for anything in my entire life (and I lived in Orlando and I’ve been to all the parks) and wait for a cab.  At some point later in the day you get to the front of the line where you are assigned a number. When instructed, you proceed to the spot where that number is painted on the ground, and there might be a taxi there.

If you’ve ever been to a real city you probably understand how taxi stands operate.  They are self regulating, and they run quite smoothly and efficiently.  Why is this not the case in Las Vegas? The answer is simple – Las Vegas is not a city, it is a large amusement park designed my coke-heads.

Vegas is not in any way pedestrian friendly.  It has a monorail that runs up and down the strip (behind the buildings, so you can’t see anything you would want to see from it.)  But unless you have to go from one end of the strip all the way to the other, it’s not terribly useful.  We got on, rode two stops, got off, walked to the street, and we could see where we started.  I don’t think it saved us any time, and because of where the stations are located I don’t think it saved us any walking.

We were there to see the UFC, and we stayed (sort of) in the hotel where the event took place.  Now I don’t know what the normal douchebag factor in Vegas is, but last weekend it was though the roof.  I’ve never seen so many posers in TapouT shirts in my life.

The most important thing I learned about Vegas was also one of the most important things about skipping class in high school – walk quickly and appear to have a destination.  If you’re just wondering you will get assaulted by sale people left and right.  They want to sell you tickets to shows, make dinner reservations, give you some kind of discount on gaming, and just generally sell you crap you don’t want.  They are everywhere you go, inside and out.  A lot of the people outside kept trying to hand us the most pornographic flyers I’ve ever seen.

We stayed in a non-gaming, non-smoking hotel attached to the MGM Grand.  It was great.  But anytime we left for more than 10 minutes we would come back reeking of smoke.  I’m sure someday, when the last smoker kicks the bucket, there will be a smoke-free Vegas.  It’s going to be fantastic.  It seems like if someone had the balls to make a smoke-free casino they’d make a killing. I walked away from a roulette table where I planned on losing a bunch of money because there was a dude chain smoking there.  The money I was going to burn there – yeah, it’s still in my wallet.

I expected everything in Vegas to be expensive, but even that occasionally surprised me.  I stopped at a Starbucks in the MGM Grand casino to get a bottle of water.  It was $3.75 for a liter.  I’m pretty conditioned to paying stupid amounts of money for bottled water, so I thought that was okay.  Later I went to another Starbucks, essentially in the same building.  They offered the same brand of water (Crystal Geyser) in a 16.9 oz bottle (roughly half a liter) for $4.00.  I have limits.

Food was another big surprise.  The best meal we had was in a Mexican restaurant. It was also the most expensive meal we ate. One of the things I was looking forward to the most about Vegas was the buffet at the Bellagio.  We went, and it was – well, it was big.  Spectacular? I wouldn’t say that.  I mean everything I had was good, but I wouldn’t say anything knocked my socks off.  Three things stand out in my mind about it – the coffee was good, there was an absurd amount of bread, and the lamb carving station had the only rude hotel employee I ran into the whole time.

So, back to the airport.  The security process doesn’t seem to have caught up with the rest of the country.  My ID was checked only once (I’m not complaining about that, I just think it should be consistent.  Three ID checkpoints seems to be the norm.) They have the same kind of herding process where they tell you where to stand.  But the worst part is they don’t sort the security line in to Casual Travelers, Families, and Expert Travelers.  Man, if ever there was a place that needed it!  In other airports we can just jump in the Expert Traveler line and breeze right though – when you get to the x-ray machine your shoes, jacket, and belt are already off, you have your toiletries in a zip-lock bag (nothing over 3 ounces) and the bag is out, electronics are all together in one place, laptop is out of the bag, everything is in the grey bins.  While the Casual Travelers are still taking off their jackets you’re on the other side of the metal detectors slipping your shoes back on.  Well, not in Vegas.  We had to stand there and wait while the TSA explained every rule to the people who apparently don’t travel much.  Look, I’m not saying I agree with what the TSA does, but that’s how it works.  If you want to fly you have to dance their little dance.  And if you’re going to be in front of me in line, KNOW THE DANCE.

It must sound like I had a terrible experience in Las Vegas, and that’s really not the case.  I had a lot of fun in the brief time we were there, and I plan to return for a longer trip at some point.  This was sort of an exploratory mission.  I learned a few important things that will help me next time:

  • Have a plan.  Vegas isn’t a city to take on blind.  It may be a giant amusement park, but it’s a poorly designed one.
  • Always look like you’re going someplace.
  • Do lots of online research.
  • Memorize the map of the strip, or at least the locations of the things you want to see.

So much for a short entry today.

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