Vegas: The Nickel and Dime iTour

Happy Fourth of July. And Happy Post iPhone Launch weekend. Sorry for the quiet time too lately – I finally got to take the vacation that got postponed from the end of April.

The recap follows…

First some bits on the iPhone launch. I wandered past one of the local at&t stores before they opened at 6. Line was long. Very long. Wandered back by after 10, thinking that their stores were open late like Apple’s stores – closed. So it wasn’t until Saturday morning that I got a chance to play with one.

My thoughts? The UI is shiny and special – no doubt about that. When you flip between notes, it looks like a page turning. Things slide in and off screen as you changes options. In place of a scroll wheel/button you flick your finger on the screen. The enlarging/shrinking photos or web pages with two fingers is really nice. All spiffy eye candy yet, I couldn’t jump from app to app. For example, you drill down and look at photos. Want to make a phone call? Gotta use the home button. Done with the call and want to go back to photos? Home key, drill down through the top level. That’s very, very not-so-good. Flipping to landscape mode? Worked but was temperamental – I attribute that to the demo device getting mauled but who knows what will happen with long term use? Fingerprints? The one in the store didn’t seem bad until you held it at a certain angle… looking at it straight down was OK.

Typing? Ew. Actually, I shouldn’t say Ew because that might be too harsh. One problem with the touchscreen is that there were times that I tapped the screen and nothing happened. The tap went through but nothing told me it did – that was annoying. It’s time for the beachball to appear on the device, I think. The keyboard shows feedback so this specific issue isn’t a problem for typing – it’s just for UI navigation – but the keys themselves aren’t very… accurate. I’ve seen a lot of posts say “you just have to get used to it” – I cry foul on that. I don’t want to be trained by a phone or trained to use a phone. One of my biggest gripes about Palm and Pocket PC’s was you had to “learn” how to write… that’s just crap. That’s why I have a Dash: it’s got a keyboard. Will people learn to thumb type on an iPhone? Sure, but they’ll have to work up to it. I also was amazed at how you have to watch the keyboard to type rather than watching what’s been typed… there’s no way someone can text on the run with this phone: one hand txt’ing is nearly impossible. And without the Apple version of T9 it would be totally useless, but that’s always active so it’s OK. Web? at&t’s network makes Safari looks terribly slow. iPod wise, it’s pretty freakin’ good, aside from a lack of storage… video looks amazing. Music selection is OK with the touchscreen (I’m still partial to the Gen1 scroll wheel) and as expected: CoverFlow looks nice but I don’t find it useful… but it sure is pretty. If they make an iPod 30GB HDD model without the phone, I’m in. If it has WiFi and Safari, I’m still in… just get the phone and at&t requirement out of there and I’ll wait out for it.

After checking out the iPhone for a bit, I finished packing and went to the airport for my 6pm flight to Vegas. It’s odd. Vegas is only 2.5 hours from Seattle yet there’s only two airlines that go there directly. One of which is Alaska Airlines… I flew them last year. They were late. Flew them again as part of an Amercian partner flight: late again. So, going into this trip, I expected them to be at least an hour late: I was not disappointed. I just think that their departure times are estimated times. Keep that in mind and they aren’t a bad airline.

When I got to Vegas I went over to the Flamingo. My sister and brother in law were staying at the Bellagio, and since I’ve been to Vegas a number of times, I just went after the cheapest place with the best location that wasn’t Circus Circus. This is where things get interesting… I had booked the package through Expedia: good price, included airfare and hotel, all paid for months ago. Flamingo says “we don’t have a reservation for you”. I show them the itinerary that I had printed out (which was weird too – I haven’t carried a copy of that for years) and say “Yeah, ya do”. We talk a bit: they admit there was a mixup – I say “Cool, what’s my room number” – they say “we’re full”. Still being in a west coast mindset I talked through this some more with them. When the “desk manager” tells me “you can use that phone to call our other properties to find a room” I flipped the New Yorker switch that I’ve only had to use one other time since moving here. I fuck’n lost it. A full blown Rant in real time: y’all would be proud. The guy, after calling for more managerial reinforcements, tells me that Bally’s has a room and they will hold it for 10 minutes – I would have to pay for it and fix things with Expedia tomorrow morning. Which set off another tirade since Bally’s and Flamingo are sister properties.

So there’s me, roomless in Vegas on a Saturday night. Ha. First time for everything, I guess.

I called Expedia on the walk over to Bally’s. Got disconnected and I’m pretty sure it was from their end. Got to Bally’s – confirmed the hold on the room while I called Expedia again and was put on hold for 40 minutes. Thankfully they offered a reasonable rate. Did you know that hotels can charge up to the price that they have posted on that Information Card that is in a hotel closet? For Bally’s that card says “Maximum Rate is $2500”. Legally, they could charge that. After 40 minutes the guy on the phone comes back and I get disconnected, again on their side. Call again. Wait on hold for 20 minutes. Get disconnected again. Ask to use Bally’s house phone to call them. Now I’m holding the receiver so tightly that hold music kept cutting in and out – this time I wait for 35 minutes. To help things along, I tell them to cancelled the hotel reservation part of the trip and give me the refund I deserve – they tell me that I have to call the next morning to work out the refund. Even though Bally’s is $140 more but I don’t care at this point – I missed out on my dinner plans and had spent over two hours in hotel lobbies. Fine. Whatever.

Bally’s tells me that they have no regular rooms available, so I’d have to take a suite for one night and move the next morning (or stay in the suite for an additional charge). Why the hell didn’t Flamingo offer this to fix their mistake?! I was amazed that I had to switch hotels. I was further amazed that the regular room at Bally’s was in better condition than the suite – the jacuzzi in the suite didn’t work and WTF, a bidet? Yeesh.

Over the next two nights, in the regular room in Bally’s I’m woken out of my sleep both at night and in the morning by a cache of children that are in the room next to me. I swear, the parents were keeping the kids right outside the adjoining door. I stayed calm… I didn’t call security. I just hope it wasn’t a NAMBLA meeting. No, for me, I just cranked up the cable J-Pop channel on my last morning (at 7am). Good enough revenge for me.

Beyond that, it was hot in Vegas – near record temps ranging from 110 to 116 over the majority of the trip. 5% humidity so it was tolerable in short doses and thankfully every place ya go is air conditioned. I didn’t gamble much either – honestly? I think I’m sorta bored with it – and yet, I did come back ahead. I played some Pai-Gow Poker at the Barbary Coast Bill’s Gambling Hall… I have some freakish luck at that place. That’s the place where I hit the same single number on three different roulette tables over three visits on the same day. Talk about having every eye in the sky on looking at your back – I swear that I could hear the lenses spin to watch me. Well, I look at my seven cards one hand and see 9h 9s Ad Joker Td Qd Kd. Yes, folks, that’s a Royal Flush with a very strong top hand!. Not only did I win the regular bet, but the $1 Fortune bet as well which paid 150:1. BOOM! Followed by the *zzzzzzzzzshuh* sound of lenses turning to watch me again… had to get three people from the floor to verify the hand. Whoo! The only other gaming I did was taking a couple of hours to pop my cash-game-in-a-casino cherry at a 1-2 NL table. I played well enough there, but ended up losing an all-in hand that got crushed by bad timing… I pushed with AKc with a Flop of Tc9cQh, in position, where there were four players in the hand each having committed $20/person pre-Flop? Of the three of us left, one guy picked up a boat on the turn which beat the straight of the other player… the river was Qs and the turn 2h. I was pissed that I didn’t see the possibility of a boat, but I was already all in before he had the boat… meh. Anyway, I left + for the trip and that’s good times.

What was disappointing was Vegas itself. On my last trip there 14 months ago, Vegas felt like… Vegas. Sure, the mall was mammoth and the Wynn was beyond opulent last year, but still… I dunno. Back in CT Foxwoods always reminded me of Atlantic City: they are there to systematically remove money from your wallet and you feel it as they do it. Mohegan Sun always felt like Vegas did. Sure they were still only after your money and yes they had a lot of science behind all their decisions, but… it never felt like they were after your wallet every minute. This trip, Vegas felt like Atlantic City. Internet access? $10 or more. WTF for? Print your bording pass at your hotel’s business center? They charge you for that, same as a non-guest. An iced mocha at any Harrah’s cafe? $6. Hot dog at the only snack place in the Bellagio? $9. Try to find a place where you can get lunch for under $10 and without linen napkins? Good luck with that, unless you’re OK with a food court.

What is broken in Vegas and when the hell did this happen?

I answered my own questions while at Bally’s – what else can you do while navigating the habitrail? You think. Today, the majority of the strip is in the hands of two corporations: MGM-Mirage and Harrah’s. Sure, Boyd’s group is still there, but they’re building up Echelon Place. Riviera and Sahara are isolated to one end of the strip; Tropicana and Hooter’s are beneath impact. The Wynn is an independent, but they are supposed to be t3h luxury. Everything else is owned by one of these two companies. Big companies. Hotel companies. Filled with accountants and number crunchers that purposely watch everything and put a price tag on anything. As a resort town, do I expect to find cheap bottles of water? No, but there is overpriced and ridiculous or price-gouging. And this is also what happens when you have one or two companies in control of a closed market. If Harrah’s goes to $4/mocha, maybe MGM-Mirage goes to $4.50. They sell just as many mochas – Harrah’s has to notice this, so they go to $5. Next thing you know it’s $10 for a mocha and canolli breakfast. Were it not for the SBC with the Hawaiian barista that made a great Coldbrew vanilla latte at Bill’s place, I would have been lost.

For the here and now, Vegas will nickel and dime you at every opportunity. The hotels believe that they no longer need to draw you to Vegas, like they had to in years past. For decades, people had to be “convinced” to go to Vegas and the resorts were made or broken by The Drop in the casino each night. Free rooms, free food, good shows were all a gimmick to get people out there to gamble. They figured that no one would willing go into a desert to gamble without incentives. Over the last 14 months they changed their thinking: going to Vegas is now Something-To-Do and a place To-Be-Seen-At and the hotels will charge you for it. Especially with all of the luxury condos that are springing up out there… even the WSoP has impacted it, sending amateur players to Vegas that have no idea how things have worked in Vegas – they might even think the $9 hot dog is normal. Vegas now has a price of admission like any other theme park does. No more free rides. No more cheap hotels. No more free or cheap food – even the most basic of comps are extremely hard to come by. I took $150 out of a casino on a $1 bet and said “Whoa, I should go”. Pit boss should have offered me breakfast, lunch, and a room to keep me there and get me to gamble more: the longer you gamble the better chance the house has to get its money back. I was turned away by a hotel because… well, I don’t know why! That one just blows my mind. Either way, they lost my gambling money, that’s for sure. In Casino Ace mentions that it’s all “a business” now, referring to the rise of The Mirage at the start of the 90’s… he was right, but I think he was just a couple of decades early.

I figure that it will correct itself in a few years. While in the town, I noticed that the majority of the people were dressed well. Very well. Like yuppie brand name well. Like I felt like I was dressed like Cousin Eddie most of the time there. This could have been caused by the 4th of July or it could just be how Vegas is now. Either way, at some point Vegas is going to be too expensive for the mass market. When that happens, things will begin to fix itself. Vegas is too big to become a niche city: it’s success is in numbers and lots of them. They need a lot of people coming through there to support the city: catering to the uber rich won’t cut it, considering the amount of rooms in the hotels and the number of hotels… a niche place like Rodeo drive works because it’s small: Vegas? It needs bodies.

Beyond that, my flight on Alaska last night was delayed by three hours, so I didn’t get to sleep this morning until 4 am. That was fun, in its own way but I’m back to work tomorrow, so maybe I should take a nap.

The most interesting thing of the weekend? I didn’t check email for four days. I stopped my Dash from getting new messages – in fact, I still haven’t opened my work mailbox – and I didn’t even go looking for a hotspot until I hit the airport. And even then, I was more interested in trying to get a movie in iTunes than anything else… damn shame it told me it would day over a day to download one.

Oh, well, that and my parents are moving this week. That still blows my mind on a number of different levels. Was good to see some family this side of the Hudson River too. Very good, in fact.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back home in time to see WA’s summer official begin tomorrow though: who would have thought 80 degrees would feel cool in an non-air conditioned home???

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