This week I was in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters conference/show. I had booked a room at Planet Hollywood because I thought the folks I was going with/for would be there. When I checked in at the desk, I was told I’d been upgraded to a suite. This surprised me, but theRead More…
This week I was in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters conference/show. I had booked a room at Planet Hollywood because I thought the folks I was going with/for would be there. When I checked in at the desk, I was told I’d been upgraded to a suite. This surprised me, but the lady explained that, when bookings are tight, they often upgrade people who are only there for 1-2 nights as this gives them more flexibility in reassigning rooms.
So they put me into a suite decorated with relics of Harrison Ford’s career, mostly Indiana Jones stuff as shown above, and this:
…which was in my bedroom! A headless suit of clothing watching over me as I sleep was just too weird. Fortunately, it was not lit up when I arrived; I had to find the switch labeled “Memorabilia Light” to get this picture.
All this memorabilia was puzzlingly mixed with 60’s Mod furniture:
…which has what to do with Indiana Jones, or Harrison Ford, for that matter? Boh. Vegas works by its own rules.
I was most amused by these props from the famous “Oh, to hell with it!” swords vs. whip fight in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I read somewhere years ago that an actual fight had been carefully choreographed, but when it came time to shoot it Ford was not feeling well (something about the food on location in Morocco?) and, instead, did what came naturally. I was feeling very unwell myself throughout my stay in Vegas (cold, not intestinal), so could totally empathize.
I arrived in Las Vegas around 11 pm on January 3rd, expecting my colleague Pancrazio to have arrived 20 minutes earlier.In fact his flight was delayed, but this was difficult to figure out, as nothing was being posted about Delta flights on the arrivals board, for reasons mysterious to me (and to the airport informationRead More…
I arrived in Las Vegas around 11 pm on January 3rd, expecting my colleague Pancrazio to have arrived 20 minutes earlier.In fact his flight was delayed, but this was difficult to figure out, as nothing was being posted about Delta flights on the arrivals board, for reasons mysterious to me (and to the airport information staff). Las Vegas McCarran airport was in absolute chaos, with people arriving for CES, and for the Adult Entertainment Expo being held on exactly the same days. My flight from Austin had also carried a number of University of Texas football fans, on their way to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl (college football championship). I’m such an inattentive alumna (of UT) that I didn’t even have a burnt-orange shirt to wear.
While waiting for my luggage, I got an SMS from Pan that his flight had just landed, 40 minutes late. I stationed myself between Delta’s two baggage carousels, where I waited another hour, bombarded by the soundtracks of video ads for Las Vegas attractions, playing on large screens all over the airport. Pan and his luggage finally arrived, and we went out to stand in line for a taxi – another half hour. All told, I spent over two hours in that airport that night.We finally checked into the Luxor hotel (the world’s 4th largest hotel, it claims) sometime after 1 am. Having made our CES arrangements late, we only had two rooms between the three of us. Fabrizio already occupied one, and I had suggested that Pan share with me so he didn’t have to endure Fabrizio’s smoking. When we entered our room, it was already imbued with a familiar stench: Fabrizio had been assigned the room adjoining ours, with a connecting door – the smoke of his horrible Toscani cigars had already made its way under and around the door frame. I tried wadding a wet towel under the door, but this was only marginally effective.
We got about four hours’ sleep that night, what with our varying conditions of jet lag. In the morning, we began trying to locate the DHL shipment of the equipment we needed to set up for the show. Our best-laid plans to get everything to Las Vegas in good time had been set at naught by a shipping screwup (just like last year), so we were awaiting our boxes on the same day as hundreds of other people. The hotel business center said they wouldn’t guarantee delivery for up to two hours after the boxes actually arrived at the hotel. DHL said the boxes were already in a truck somewhere and couldn’t be intercepted. Calls throughout the day produced no new information; we later learned that the scanner on board the truck was broken, so the driver had been unable to log information about what had been delivered when.
everything in Vegas is an “experience”
We decided to walk to the Sands Convention Center to meet our hosts from VWeb (a company that makes video codec chips), who had our conference badges. This walk turned out longer than we expected: maps of Las Vegas are deceiving, because each of the hotel/casinos covers several city blocks. It took us nearly an hour to reach the Venetian hotel at the other end of the Strip.
We met the VWeb folks for lunch, and actually took the risk of eating pasta at the Valentino Cafe’. The “appetizer” portions which the waiter thoughtfully offered us were exactly the size of our usual dinner portions back home, and the sauces were actually quite good, though my plate with shrimp and bell pepper sauce was rather short on shrimp: only five or six little shrimps in total – our Neapolitan restaurateur back in Milan would have been horrified had his chef been so stingy! (And would still have charged less for the dish.)
We went to the Sands Convention center (a long indoor walk from the Venetian) to get registered; security was tight, with names being checked against passports.
Then, having nothing better to do til our equipment arrived, we went off to Fry’s Electronics to buy a few necessaries – and just for fun: Fry’s is absolute heaven for geeks. It’s a franchise, but each store is “themed,” e.g., in San Jose, one is an Egyptian temple. In Las Vegas, of course, the building is decorated to look like a giant slot machine. Vegas flavor leaks inside as well: I saw a guy in the aisles with a live cockatoo on his shoulder, and one who, judging by his hairstyle and sideburns, must work as an Elvis impersonator.
While at Fry’s, I got on the phone again and learned that our boxes had finally arrived at the Luxor, so we dashed back to pick them up, then on to the convention center to set up one of our two stands. Murphy’s law always rules in these situations; set-up took a while. We then had to detach all the portable stuff and stow it in a locked cabinet, so it wouldn’t walk away during the night. We finally got back to the hotel around 8, had dinner at the Luxor’s fancy steak restaurant (good, though slow), and collapsed.
The next morning I was up bright and early: I had to be back at the VWeb booth to set everything up again by the show’s 8:30 opening. Shuttle buses were supposed to start running at 7:30, but the first did not actually arrive til 7:45. This became a problem the other three days, when the show floor was supposed to open at 8 am.
When I arrived at the booth alone to reconnect and restart everything, nothing seemed to be working – we were demoing on new machines that I had never actually laid hands on before, with quirks not yet familiar to me. After a half hour or so of panic and a phone call to Pan, I finally got it all running just in time for the first show attendees.
The actual show is a blur to me now. We weren’t even in the main convention halls over by the Hilton, but in the “Innovations” area at a separate, much smaller, convention center. Nonetheless, CES hosted 140,000 people this year, and I feel as if I personally saw most of them. I don’t think the human brain is meant to process so many faces in such a short time. After a while, everyone started to look familiar – and some actually were.
The first morning, a man stopped by the booth to rest for a moment; I had noticed that he was carrying professional sound-recording equipment. The name on his badge was familiar: Andrew McCaskey, author of the Slashdot Review, one of the few podcasts I’ve ever actually listened to. We chatted a bit about podcasting and videoblogging, and I showed him what we’re up to at TVBLOB.
Soon after that, I spotted a very familiar face, though I had to grab his badge to remember the name (I remember faces well, but am terrible at remembering where I know them from). It was an old Adaptec colleague, Andy. It seemed that he had to look at my badge as well, which made me feel a little better about my memory. <grin> He now works for Logitech: Lord of the Mice! Which, as I said to him, are an important part of the user experience.
More people passed. I demoed software, answered questions, and sometimes argued. Some people couldn’t see the point ofÂ a set-top box which can transmit as well as receive video. A guy from Fox News sneered at the idea of consumers communicating via video over their television sets. “We’re making it possible for your viewers to compete with you,” I pointed out. “Yeah, right,” he said sarcastically. “We need it,” murmured his colleague from Fox Radio News.
Other visitors, including some who may turn out to be important to the company, were more impressed. Which was a relief – it’s nice to know that at least some people “get it,” and believe that we’re on the right track.
Manning (womaning?) the stand was intellectually demanding work. Because VWeb makes video compression chips, many of the stand’s scheduled visitors were far more technical than I, so I was talking over my own head a lot of the time. I suppose it helped that I am rarely embarassed to admit when I don’t know something – though sometimes this earned me a long lecture from an enthusiastic geek who was only too glad to tell me! (NB: Geek is not a pejorative term from me – I’m a geek myself, and have the profoundest respect for geeks, as well as finding them amusing.)
I made some observations about working a show like this: You can get almost anyone to stop for a demo if you smile, ask how they’re doing, and ask if they’d like to see it. Americans are so polite that they rarely turn down a direct offer. So I tried, most of the time, to radiate friendliness and availability – which meant that I was damned busy doing demos most of the time, to a huge range of people. Not all were potentially profitable customers, but I learned something from most. Just listening to the questions people ask is a good way to spot market trends.
Out of Context
Mid-morning on the third day of the show, I was brain-dead, and asked someone from VWeb to keep an eye on my station while I went for coffee. As I walked out, I passed a short, bald guy who looked familiar; I had a strong sensation of knowing and liking him very much. Since we were at CES, I figured he must be a former colleague from somewhere, but just couldn’t place him. This was embarassing, but I quickly decided that I would feel even worse if I later remembered who he was and regretted not having said hello. I tapped him on the shoulder and said “This will sound rude, but I think I know you.” He stopped willingly, looked me full in the face, and said “I’m Evan.” He looked at me expectantly. I read his badge: Evan Handler, Palm, Inc. The name meant nothing to me, and I couldn’t remember knowing anyone who then or now worked for Palm. I was so flustered and shy that I simply walked away. (Yes, shy – even though I had just spent three days accosting total strangers, I get shy at moments like this.)
A few steps out of the hall, I realized why his face looked familiar. Nah, couldn’t be. What would he be doing here? Working for Palm? Was he doing ads for them? The whole thing made no sense.
I got my coffee and went back to the booth, tormented with doubt. I askedÂ Peggy, the LA actress/model who was doing presentations for VWeb: “Are you a Sex & the City fan?” “I saw him, too!” she said excitedly. “And I yelled, ‘Hey, Charlotte’s husband!'”
Yup.Â Evan Handler is the actor who played Charlotte’s second husband, Harry, in the series – a character I loved, and one of the few male characters to come out of that series with any dignity. And I had blown the chance to get an autograph for my daughter. Argh! I looked around a bit, but there was no hope of finding him again in the crowd.
I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings by walking away like that. Probably he just thought I was completely insane.
(Ross was both amused and furious, but she got even madder at me when Evan turned up onÂ Lost.)
Speaking of sex, the Adult Entertainment Expo (“It’s sexy, it’s powerful, it’s business”) was held concurrently with CES, on the lower level of the same Sands Convention Center where I was stationed.
I didn’t see any of it. The two levels were connected by a mezzanine where the bathrooms are located, and on the first day Fabrizio managed to wander from one to the other (“by accident,” he claimed). He was one of the few who got away with it: by the second day of the show, there were security guards watching the exits from the bathroom level – every time I was down there I heard them saying: “Sir, sir – you can’t go down there with that badge. Sir?”
To legally enter the expo, you either had to be an exhibitor or pay a $50 entrance fee. Mere curiosity wasn’t worth that much to me, though it must have been to quite a few people: the juxtaposition of the two events was clearly intentional. I didn’t have much contact with the “pornies” except when standing in line for coffee. The women working those booths looked exactly as tired as I felt; they were just dressed a little differently.
Leaving Las Vegas
My return home became yet another customer service saga. Many people attempted to leave Las Vegas on Sunday when CES closed – we heard it was taking two and a half hours to get through the airport with the crowds, and hoped that the next morning would be better.
For Pancrazio, it was. He woke up (and so did I) at 3:30 am, so as to arrive at the airport at 4:30 am for a 6:40 flight. He was sitting at his gate well before I arrived in the airport at 6 am for my 8:40 flight. I found the American Airlines line stretching halfway down the terminal, and congratulated myself on my paranoia and foresight in arriving so early.
I started out fairly relaxed about the long wait, though I wondered if I might not have done better to arrive just barely in time so I could get pulled out of the line and rushed off to my flight as so many were doing – I was amused and annoyed at the people who had blithely imagined they could make a 7 am flight arriving at the airport at 6:15.
I fell into conversation with a retired super-geek, also going to Chicago, who said confidently, displaying his Treo cellphone/palm computer: “If anything changes on the status of this flight, I’ll get a page about it.” The woman just ahead of us was crouched on the ground, listening on her cellphone and writing things down. When she finished, she said: “The Chicago flight is delayed until 10, and will likely be cancelled, due to mechanical trouble.” Uh oh.
I tried to call American Airlines myself, but they were evidently bombarded – I got cut off as soon as I went into the hold queue. “Try Advantage [American’s frequent-flier program],” suggested the woman (her name was Lee). “I got right through to them.” I tried, got cut off again. Maybe there was something about my cellphone? Lee very kindly dialled the number on her phone and was able to get through; I spent the next 20 minutes on her phone, mostly on hold, as the Advantage agent had to speak to Alitalia, and got put on hold in turn.
The agent finally came back on and said she couldn’t do anything over the phone due to the way the ticket was booked. I would have to get through the line to the desk and have the local American Airlines agent rebook me. If the flight did actually take off by 10, Alitalia would try to hold their connecting flight in Chicago long enough for me to run for it – though, realistically, half an hour would never have been enough.
We were in line for over two hours, crawling along (me with two large bags to haul plus a heavy backpack). American Airlines had a lady walking down the line periodically giving updates and helping where she could – which wasn’t much. She gave out a special emergency number to call about this specific problem, but the people on the other end proved to know nothing about our situation. I suggested to the line lady that customer relations would be much improved by a distribution of coffee (none of us had had breakfast that morning), but she said they couldn’t do that. <sigh> Hell, go to Starbucks and buy it if you have to – that simple gesture might have helped American Airlines gain customers for life, instead of losing them.
When I finally reached the desk, it took the agent about half an hour to find a solution: he rerouted me Chicago-Brussels-Milan. I then had to go stand in line at America West to get a boarding card for the Las Vegas-Chicago leg. When I saw the long line there I could have cried – I was already exhausted, and cranky from lack of caffeine. I asked an agent standing there if I could just go through the first class line (where there was no one waiting). She was very nasty in saying no: “That wouldn’t be fair to our PAYING customers. You’ve only been rerouted from another airline.” As if that was my fault. I didn’t think to say that I had actually arrived from Austin on an America West flight a few days before, and had certainly paid for that one.
“What if I just sit here and cry?” I asked. “I don’t have any tissues,” was her reply. Snide bitch. She probably thought the same of me, but… customers are allowed to act bitchy, especially under duress. For service staff to do so is a HUGE mistake (a mistake the American Airlines staff did NOT make in a far more difficult situation, kudos to them). The customer may not always be right, but you’ve still always got to be nice to her. And I was treating this agent as politely as I could, considering that steam was coming out of my ears.
She did me a further disservice, I later realized, by not pointing out that there were two America West lines. I got into the wrong one, of course – Murphy reigning supreme that day – but fortunately I figured this out before it made much difference to my wait time.
Along came a gorgeous young Polish woman in the same fix, who worried that we wouldn’t make it through this line and security fast enough to make the flight – two years before, she had missed a flight due to Las Vegas’ legendarily slow security. After 30 or 40 minutes, growing increasingly nervous, we asked another agent if we could be pulled out of the line and sent ahead. He refused, and claimed that the 25 minutes remaining before the flight would be sufficient to get through the rest of the line AND security.
On the suggestion of two guys waiting ahead of us for a later flight, we cut to the front of the line, asking permission as we went. Most people were kind enough to agree, though some attempted to ignore us. One man sniped: “You should have gotten here earlier.” I explained, with far less heat than I might have, that we had gotten there in plenty of time – 6 am for a 10 am flight?!? – and vowed to myself never again to leap to conclusions about others’ travel planning.
Having checked in and put our suitcases through the scanners, of course we were both singled out for special security treatment – in a separate line, shoes off, everything out of our hand luggage, then pass through a monstrous machine which puffed jets of air at us. I think it sucks up the debris and checks it for bomb-making chemicals; in my case, all it got was dandruff.
I don’t know if the Polish woman made the flight in the end; we got separated at security. I arrived at the gate as the flight was boarding, and still hadn’t had any coffee. The gate agents promised me there would be some on the flight and, mercifully, there was.
I was cramped up in a middle seat for the 3 1/2 hours to Chicago, often inadvertently elbowing (and irritating) the woman to my left, who was reading a book about “Toxic Bachelors.” At least the flight staff were pleasant, though the only food available was a $5 “snack pack”: tortilla chips and salsa (that’s a vegetable, right?), breadsticks (“authentic from Torino!”) and processed cheese, a fruit cup, candy, and a packet of raisins.
During the Chicago layover I had time for a nice spinach salad, and even nicer gin and tonic, at Wolfgang Puck’s. My trans-Atlantic flight was now with American Airlines, whose staff were very kind, making up for some of the day’s woes. My seatmate was pleasant, an Oracle employee on her first trip to Europe, for a business meeting. She asked my advice on how to get over jet lag (I wish I knew). We were in an emergency row seat, which didn’t have the legroom I’d anticipated as it was at a bulkhead – and I could have used it, because after all the standing around, my knees were aching, and my right leg hurt all the way up to the hip (yes, I have inherited my dad’s arthritis, and it gets pretty bad sometimes even though I’m only 43).
Emergency exit seats are cold, I suppose because there’s less insulation around the emergency doors. The stewardess brought us little bottles of cognac, so I made a toddy with hot water, lemon, and sugar – worked a treat. I fell asleep listening to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” on my iPod.
Brussels airport was quiet. I had coffee and a pastry, got on my flight to Milan, and fell asleep, waking only as the descent into Malpensa began to hurt my ears. My buddyÂ Antonello the taxi driver was there to meet me (Enrico was teaching), for which I was very thankful. I finally reached home at 1:30 pm local time – just about 24 hours since I’d woken up in Las Vegas.
Jan 17, 2006
In response to my travelogue, Faisal made some excellent suggestions, including “travel light!” Words to live by, truly. But there was a reason for my carrying so much: I needed clothes. Even before the dollar nosedived against the euro, clothing was cheaper in the US than Europe. I could expect to pay 300-350 euros for a new (much-needed) winter coat of decent quality. A coat as good or better could be got from Lands’ End in the US for $150. By having it shipped to my friend in Tulsa and picking it up from her, I also saved myself international shipping costs and 35% customs duty. Ironically, I did not need this coat at all during my stay in the US: everywhere I went was unseasonably warm, so much so that in Austin I ended up buying and borrowing t-shirts.
It’s also easier to find clothing to fit me in the US: as I’ve saidÂ before, I don’t seem to have the standard Italian body shape, so have a hard time finding clothing in Italy that fits me well. And it’s difficult to find colors that I like. Naturally, Italian shops carry colors (orange, lime and olive green, yellow) that suit Italian skin tones. No blue or purple, little pink or bright red. Colors that look good on me don’t look good on Italians, and vice-versa. So I end up buying black, white, beige, and grey – boring!
My new coat is “orchid” pink. It certainly stands out in the crowd of dull colors in Milan. And I certainly need it – we’re due for snow again today.
Buy the music This trip gave me food for thought on many topics, so I’ll divide this account into subheadings. Travel Reading Milan’s Linate airport no longer has a newsstand once you pass security, so buy your reading material before you go through! There’s a big magazine/book store near the check-in counters. I did haveRead More…
This trip gave me food for thought on many topics, so I’ll divide this account into subheadings.
Milan’s Linate airport no longer has a newsstand once you pass security, so buy your reading material before you go through! There’s a big magazine/book store near the check-in counters.
I did have a book with me: I re-read Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light” after many years, and greatly enjoyed it. But I read fast, so it wasn’t long enough to get me through the 10-hour flight from Madrid to Chicago (especially when that turned into an 11-hour flight – all four Iberia Airlines flights I took on this trip were late)Airport bookstores tend to be disappointingly stocked – best-selling trash and not much else. “The Da Vinci Code,” which I had read at my dad’s house in a fit of boredom and curiosity to know what the fuss was about, is not great literature. It’s very poorly written and the plot is only minimally interesting; the “big revelation” was already familiar to me since my dad read “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” years ago and told me all about it. But “The Da Vinci Code” continues to sell, along with many derivative and imitative works, plus everything else Dan Brown has ever written. Which I will never bother to read – hell, even the jacket blurbs are poorly written!
I made sure to hit a Barnes & Noble bookstore before I left Las Vegas, so on the return trip I readÂ Sharpe’s Rifles andÂ Master and Commander – though I didn’t plan it that way, both are series about the British military during the Napoleonic Wars, one set on land and the other at sea. A further similarity: in both, the English hero’s best friend and staunchest supporter is Irish. Both are rich in detail about military structure, equipment, etc. And both are superbly written, though O’Brian’s “Master and Commander” has more humor, most of it sly and understated.
Security was a different process in each of the four airports I passed through on this trip. In Milan, I had to place my feet (with my boots on) onto a new shoe-sniffing machine. In Chicago, I had to remove my laptop from my backpack and put it through the x-ray machine separately, which seemed pointless as they didn’t do anything particular to it.
Leaving Las Vegas, I was one of many randomly selected for the full treatment – separate line, remove boots, my laptop got swabbed and sniffed, and I got the full wand treatment, plus patting along the sides of my ribcage (by a female security person). I did not get the third-degree bra-grab that some American women have complained to the press about. FYI, a full-body pat-down for all passengers has been routine at Indian airports for as long as I can remember, carried out discreetly behind screens by same-sex security personnel. I guess it’s new to Americans, but has never been a big deal to me. I’d rather get felt up than blown up.
Fortunately, I am a paranoid traveler, and had allowed myself plenty of time at the airport, so the extra time in security wasn’t a problem. Some people who did not check in so early risked missing their flights.
Tsunami news in America, as everywhere else in the world, focuses on the local. Italian headlines concentrate on the handful of Italian dead (with several hundred still missing). Lecco’s papers, even more narrowly focused, were about the one Lecchese confirmed dead and three more missing.
Other countries’ news media are no different. These local obsessions usually get on my nerves, but an article by Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini, published in “Il Corriere della Sera” a couple of days after the tsunami, pointed out that bringing the global down to the local is the only way for some people to grasp it. I grudgingly admit that he’s got a point.
For myself, I hope that no news continues to be good news. One story I’ve heard so far through the Woodstock grapevine is that a Sri Lankan alum a few years younger than myself (I knew his older sisters) was vacationing on Sri Lanka’s east coast with his family. They were the only survivors at the hotel where they were staying, and took four days to find each other at various hospitals (though fortunately their injuries were only minor).
You can learn a lot about a country from its advertising. One theme in the US is ads about products and services designed to let you work ALL THE TIME: “Turn your car’s passenger seat into an office.” “You can never afford to lose important data” – the photo shows a guy with a laptop beside a pool, beavering away while people around him are relaxing and having fun. No wonder so many Americans crave the laid-back (as they perceive it) Italian lifestyle.
I didn’t get to see much of the Consumer Electronics Show that we went to Vegas for – most of that time we spent tucked away in a hotel suite with our hosts, Toshiba America Electronic Components, doing demos by appointment.
We did have a few hours here and there to hit the show floor, and had to wade through the crowd every time we arrived or departed from the hotel or (god help us) tried to get lunch or coffee. So I was able to observe other attendees, and what a study that was – globalization in action! The largest single group of attendees might still be white American men, but there were very large minorities of Japanese, Chinese, and Indians, who together outnumbered the white guys.
The group we were working with from Toshiba was a microcosm of this trend: the top bosses are Japanese, two senior marketing managers are Indian (both living in the US for many years), one engineer is a recent arrival from India, and one is Japanese. There were also two women, one Chinese-American and one Caucasian.
Personally, I cheer at this: I want to see India do well, and, now that the Indian entrepreneurial spirit is finally being unshackled from government regulation, it undoubtedly will do very well. Ethnic Chinese already run much of Asia’s economy, so it’s no surprise that China is moving into position to dominate the world economy, and not just because of its huge population. I was thinking about this from Day 1 of CES (January 6th), so I was wryly amused at this week’s fanfare over a National Intelligence CouncilÂ report drawing similar conclusions. You don’t need to work for the CIA to see where the world economy is heading.
Standing in the extra-security line leaving Las Vegas airport, I fell into conversation with a young Indian man carrying a shoulder bag from the CES show. It turned out that he’s from Delhi, and runs an export business from India, China, and Thailand into the US and Europe. He had come to CES to see what new technologies might be helpful in his business. He asked what I had been doing there, and I told him about TVBLOB. “For example,” I said, “You can create your own custom TV channel, and broadcast it anywhere in the world.” He got it instantly: “I could create a channel for my subscribers, and show them new goods they’d be interested in!”
I’m beginning to wonder where in the globe I’m “from” nowadays. Most Americans I spoke to assumed I was foreign, at least during the first few days of the convention. Apparently my accent has become mid-Atlantic, and to Americans I sound British. I pick up accents quickly, however, so I suppose I was sounding more American by the end of the show, although much of my conversation was in Italian, with my Italian and Bulgarian colleagues.
Customer Service, Good and Bad
Kudos to Macy’s: When the lady at the cash register realized we were foreign (at least, one of us was), she told us we were entitled to a discount with an “International Savings Card”. To get it, all we had to do was go to the gift wrap window and show proof of overseas residence; the card gives an 11% discount on just about everything at Macy’s.
Big thumbs down for FedEx: They screwed up the outgoing shipment of our box of demo equipment because the people in Milan didn’t know what forms were needed, so it got hung up in Memphis and barely arrived in time to be useful. To send it back, I went down to the Hilton Business Center. The young lady there tried for quite a while to get her FedEx software to accept the shipment with appropriate insurance, but something was wrong, and she needed tech support for the software. This was on a Sunday, the day the CES show ended, and we then discovered that FedEx’s tech support office is not open on Sundays. Which is absurd for an international shipping company. So I shipped it UPS, which cost 50% more, but the box departed Las Vegas and arrived in Milan without further hassles.
I’d never been to Las Vegas before. It’s not the sort of place I would have chosen for a vacation, and I will never go there again unless I have to – once is quite enough.
For a hyper-attentioned person like myself, Las Vegas is exhausting, especially inside the casinos. The casino floors are a wilderness of slot machines, thousands of them, with flashing lights, animated displays, moving numbers, and sound. They come in an infinite variety, with themes from TV shows, video games, movies, even the game Monopoly. Gambling (or “gaming,” as it is euphemistically called) is forbidden to minors, so you have to be at least 18 to get near these machines, and in fact most of the bettors are far older, which makes the childishness of the decor frankly bizarre. Is gambling supposed to be related to childhood in some way? Are the manufacturers mixing metaphors of childish and adult “play”?
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hung up on dignity; everything about Las Vegas proclaims it a Disneyland for grownups. The glamour is all fake: cheap rhinestones and “crystal” chandeliers, gleaming brass, colorful carpets. Most of the shows are meant to be sexually titillating (even some for women – at least we have equality), but bare breasts and simulated sex are as far as they go, at least in this part of town. The only show I got to see was the free one outside the Treasure Island casino, presumably toned down for a general audience. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.
I did buy a new (cheap) video camera, so was able to get someÂ fun footage.