Monday, April 11, 2011

full of sound and fury

There’s something about Las Vegas, especially for southern Californians. Whether you or one of your friends are turning 21, 40 or 65 (or any birthday really), getting married or divorced, getting ready to be married or divorced, or just want a little uninhibited getaway, if you live in/around Los Angeles, Vegas will always make the top of the list. It’s money! (not as in gambling, but more as an obscure reference to the movie Swingers which, in 1996, gave Vegas its proper due) (and by the way, a word of caution about Googling that movie: do so at your own risk and be prepared to see much more than you bargained for) (unless you are into that sort of thing) (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”).

As a bona fide Angelina, I have trekked thattaway many times, for nearly all of the above mentioned reasons. In fact, I was just there last weekend. There was nothing particularly different about this trip, except everything!
Let me explain. From the plane, as we geared for landing, it was obvious that Vegas had sort of exploded in the last few years. In the not-so-distant past, the skyline was fairly easy to recognize even from 10,000 feet above ground: a little patch of water (the lake at which point the plane turns around for the landing), a few protruding themed casinos/hotels (i.e. Vegas proper), the odd building here and there (older casinos that only few desperados now frequent, mostly for the cheap rooms and the cheaper buffets), and a few sparse neighborhoods surrounding them (home to the people who sleep there after dealing and shuffling all day) amidst a mostly flat and arid topography.

olden days

Now it’s a strand (of the interlocking DNA kind) of buildings vying for position in a hopelessly tight space almost climbing unto each other to show off their glittery architectural leg-up over the competition (architectural may be a stretch), and seemingly endless rows of houses radiating outwards in every which direction, making it almost impossible to call it an oasis in the desert. When you do finish landing and are deposed in front of the hotel of your choice (typically the latest addition not entirely dissimilar to its predecessors... no need for themes now, only a funky name and a funkier PR spin will suffice), the general feeling of overwhelming claustrophobia that all these additions engender clings in the air like unseasonal humidity, along with desperation, hope, fear, greed, regret and a few other ones from the spectrum of human feelings.

golden days
Let me explain some more. The casinos themselves have changed drastically and arguably not for the better. Sure, on the surface they all look the same and alike: rows of tables for roulette, poker, blackjack, whathaveyou; a small army of slot machines that clink and flash at random; and lounges in between, for those who have no money left for either one or the other. But look closely and what you will see is technology  covertly inducing brain coma under the guise of entertainment.
Just take the generic slot machine, for example.

1)      slot to accept your money,
2)      screen where three or four icons must match to deliver a prize,
3)      a lever to activate the play, and
4)      a chair where one parks one’s fanny to extract as much money with as little cost and effort as possible from the machine.

So to improve the experience, we now have:
1)      a slot that accepts your money, a slot that accepts your printed coupon (money given to you by another machine, no buckets anywhere in sights), and a slot that when inserted with the appropriate card, gives you reward points that you basically have to accumulate for months and years to get a half-way decent break on anything, should you ever come back to the same casino (see above for comment on latest additions),
2)      the screen might still measure more or less the same but instead of matching three or four, now you have virtually hundreds of ways you can win (if one considers getting an extended ring for a 10-pointer a win, because when you do the math, you realize you actually played 250 points to get it) with the matching lines crossing and zigzagging in unreal patterns, to the point where you furtively look at your neighbor to glean if they have any knowledge of the game and realize once you see their open-mouthed expression, with a somewhat superior satisfaction, that they are just as clueless as you. And don’t get me started on the downright sadistic conditions required to get the “spin”, the clocklike apparatus perched on top of the machine, requiring one to crank one’s neck and hope the dial lands on the most valued icon, then realizing that it doesn’t necessarily translate into equivalent dollars and cents,
3)      the lever is still there but it’s sort of like your appendix, you don’t need it anymore: there are buttons to push, many, many buttons that allow you, albeit obscurely, to turn your 1 cent game into one costing you $2.50, with which you MAY hit the progressive jackpot (does anyone actually win that? EVER?),
4)      the chair is much more comfortable, I give you that, with a headrest (to accommodate for the bonus spins, as stated above) and… wait for it… it vibrates! In sync! With your 10-point win! Just in case all the bells and whistles and graphics weren’t quite capable of making that point independently.  A cacophonous chorus ensues, every time someone hits some combination of  something. Now take that and multiply that by .. a lot.. and you'll get the gist.
Oh, I almost forgot about the part where you can now touch the screen to bet on the machine. And I can promise you that there are very few transactions erred on these machines… they are almost idiot-proof. This, in a country where hanging chads decided a presidency not so long ago. Need I say more?
When they say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, I think they mostly mean your money. You may come and go, have a laugh or two, find God right before rolling those dice, and leave with a plan for a complete redo of your game plan for next time, but one thing is certain, your money is sure staying behind. And Vegas is spending it fast.

P.S.  In the spirit of full disclosure, this blogger would be remiss if she didn’t divulge that on this very same recent trip, plans were made to go back for one favorite niece’s 21st birthday, next summer.


At 4/12/12, 4:43 AM , Blogger Karen said...

Megan we could get into so much trouble together... what is your favorite slot? Mine is either Blazing 7's or Sizzling 7's with the reels. I'm not crazy about video slots, although I do play them often on the iPad.

I loved this post!

At 4/12/12, 1:27 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Karen, I would love to Vegas with you (heck I would love to go anywhere with you)! I usually play blackjack but when I'm there with my mom, who is a big slot lover (yeah I said it), I play whatever she's playing -- she prefers the Wheel of Fortune ones. We call them the "I-spin, I-spin" machines. Her enthusiasm is very contagious.

Thanks for the visit :)


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