Vegas baby, Vegas. Been there, done that.

My 38 year-long streak of never having visited Las Vegas has come to an end, as I just got back from spending three days in that pit of depravity. Lightfair, the architectural lighting community's annual trade show and convention, alternates between New York City and Las Vegas for its host cities and this year it was once again being held in Vegas. I generally made the New York shows, but now that I call Boulder home, the desert location makes more sense. We were lucky enough at work to get funding for the entire daylighting team – all four of us – to go, so off we went to Vegas.

My review: eh.

The trade show was great, a chance to meet new people and see old friends, see new products and learn new things. But the town itself was sort of a mixed bag. Las Vegas has never been a place that interested me; I'm a very competitive person, and hate to lose. When you throw money into that mixture, you have a recipe for disaster with me. Losing sucks, and losing money sucks even more. Growing up watching my family play cards and play them exceedingly well only made me withdraw from these games of chance and skill, feeling that I'd never be as good as they were. Furthermore, I'm in a committed relationship with my wife. So a town in the desert whose only redeeming features are illicit sex and gambling just never seemed to make sense for me. I'm funny like that.

With expectations already low, Vegas still managed to disappoint upon arrival. I was staying at the Las Vegas Hilton, which I'm pleased to tell you is a friggin' dump. Interested in taking in the city (and getting out of my shitty room), I walked down to the strip and then down about halfway, and was struck by its resemblance to Wildwood, NJ – essentially a carnival atmosphere loaded with simpletons oohing and ahhing over all the fancy lights.

As an added bonus, the other end of the strip, with its newer and more extravagant hotels, has that sickening aura of Disneyland; that "we can build our own Paris, because we are rich, and you can just enjoy yourself here at Paris-in-the-desert rather than bothering with those rude French people" type of feel.

One evening, as I stood on the Strip talking to Brenda on the phone, I was treated to a water show in front of the Bellagio featuring forty foot geysers of water blasting into the sky, dramatically lighted, with -Toby Kieth's- Lee greenwood's "Proud to be an American" booming through an amazingly high fidelity sound system. Just as I was choking back the vomit from that whole scene, a truck motored by with a giant advertisement on the back. The ad was essentially a large picture of a whore wearing a black leather bikini lying on a white background in a suggestive pose, with the simple headline "HOT BABES", and a phone number. As this scene unfolded before me, entire families with kids in the 8-12 age bracket waddled past, taking it all in with smiles on their faces. Proud to be an American, my ass.

One day, returning to the hotel after a day at the conference, I entered the hotel at the opposite end from the lobby (which left about a mile to walk before I actually reached the lobby). On my way through the maze of cavernous corridors and meeting halls, I encountered a herd of old zombies shuffling out of a huge room. The banner over the door read "$100,000 blackjack tournament", and judging from the looks on those people's faces, the winner was not present in that crowd. Mingling in with the old folks, I was hit with the aroma of farts and Old Spice. It was a memorable moment.

It wasn't all bad, though. I returned to the craps tables, after my last and only other casino visit (Atlantic City, with my dad, in 1998 or so), and walked out a winner. Not big, but shit, I won. After dropping $80 the first night and $60 the second night, I had a couple hours before my last seminar on Wednesday, and plopped $40 on the table. An hour and a half later, after standing shoulder to shoulder with high rollers who the dealers knew by name, and after being called a "gunner" by one of these same high rollers for making so many points, I was running for my seminar, with my pockets full of chips. After the seminar, I went back to get my bags. With 15 minutes to spare, I placed a couple more bets, backing my pass line bets with odds bets, and cashed out with more money than I started with when I got to that place. Yeah!

My main regret is not purchasing one of the "Barry Fanilow" t-shirts that were for sale in the lobby gift store (apparently Mr. Manilow calls the Las Vegas Hilton "home" in Vegas, which should help my case about the place being a real past-prime dump).

I'll definitely go back to Fake City, because Brenda still wants to check it out, and because now I have some money I can lose. It'll certainly be fun to gamble with Brenda, and maybe we'll take in a show or whatever. But I fail to see the magnetic draw that that place holds for so many people on this planet. It's a toilet and a real sucker magnet, you ask me.