For the ‘official’ FXhome report on the trip, check this out.

It’s been a non-stop two weeks, in which I’ve travelled rather absurd distances given the time involved.

On Wednesday 15th the NAB team at work suddenly realised that the show had the potential to benefit me and Tim as well, so a last minute decision was made for the entire office to fly out to Las Vegas. NAB is when all the broadcast and media companies in the world converge on the Convention Centre and show off their Cool Stuff. I’ll have a full report up about the show and the work side of things soon, over at FXhome.com.

Meanwhile…Vegas itself.

Wow, what a place! It’s like an adult theme park, stretched out to fill an entire city. It’s the ultimate expression of greed and the unpleasant side of capitalism – you can literally buy and sell anything there, I suspect.

las-vegas-2009-001First things first, though. Tim and I were flying with Delta Air Lines, stopping off at Cincinnati to switch planes before the final stretch to Vegas. On the way to Gatwick we did, of course, listen to the Swingers soundtrack. I mean, what other choice was there?

The Atlantic flight went smoothly, with even the food being relatively tasty (in contrast with the return flight, which had that strange air food condition in which you can’t tell where the chicken ends and the mashed potato begins), but on our arrival at Cincinnati we discovered that we didn’t have seats on the connect, leading to a rather frantic 45 minutes while the Delta staff tried to convince local passengers to give up their seats in exchange for a few goodies. It was a tempting bundle, but not much use to us as we needed to be on time otherwise it would make our whistlestop 2-day tour of the show rather pointless.

las-vegas-2009-005Thankfully we finally boarded a plane and jetted off to Nevada. The approach to Vegas was breathtaking, soaring over the rocky desert below, with the Grand Canyon nestling in amongst the ravines somewhere. It was only then that I realised it was the first time I’d been to a desert area of the planet. We live so vicariously through nature programmes these days that it’s easy to forget that actually being somewhere is an entirely different experience.

The uncompromising barrenness of the landscape was fairly astounding, with nary a tree or patch of grass to be seen. The contrast with England and Cincinnati was massive. As Tim observed, it was very much like looking down on the surface of Mars – add a red filter and the view would be amazingly similar to the NASA photographs from that planet. Also jarring was the presence of towns, dotted about the place in rigid American fashion, block by block, with a seeming disregard for normal settlement logic. No apparent water source, no farmland. Just buildings, sitting alone in the middle of a vast expanse of rock that extends to the horizon in all directions.

The approach to McCarran airport was pretty hairy, with the tightest banks I’ve ever experienced in a standard passengar aircraft that left both me and Tim feeling decidedly queasy – and neither of us get plane sick.

las-vegas-2009-010A long taxi queue (about 500 metres and 20 minutes) in Vegas heat and a short taxi ride later we arrived at the strip. The European obsession is really quite hilarious, no more so than with Caesar’s, an absurd monstrosity that takes classical Italian architecture and then simply stretches it vertically. Then you’ve got the Bellagio’s mock ‘miniature’ of Lake Como, or the Paris’ half-size Eiffel Tower. It’s all hideous and might be charming in a twee way if you saw it at Disney World but in the context of an actual city it leads to a growing sense of madness, as if you’ve dropped into an alternate universe of Made Money, full of ostentatious glory but with no actual history to back it up. Vegas lives on borrowed grandeur.

After checking in and attempting to freshen up after our 21-hour journey, we hit the strip in search of the Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant chain that Josh and Lucy had been raving about since their previous US visit a few months prior. Unfortunately for our stomachs we went in the wrong direction but this did at least have the benefit of giving us a good pedestrian’s eye view of Las Vegas beating, diseased heart. Visually it’s Blade Runner turned up to 11, a constant onslaught of sensory information from giant speakers, animated billboards and animatronic signs. Not ideal when you’re suffering from intense jet lag exhaustion.

Sex of the seediest kind of everywhere, emblazoned across entire buildings and plastering the pavement in the form of business cards for professional services. Which brings me to the least savory aspect of the city: the constant badgering from rows of men pimping out the services of prostitutes, each flicking the business cards against each other in an attempt to gain your attention, before thrusting the cards at you in a desperate attempt to make some money. It’s the physical equivalent of email spam – it’s ubiquitous and nonsensical; you can’t work out how on earth it can be cost effective to have hundreds of guys out on the street when everybody completely ignores them, but presumably there’s just enough sex-starved suckers in town to make it worthwhile. Probably the same people that get excited at receiving another v1a.gra! email. The touts get so thick in places that it’s difficult to actually progress down the street, hemmed in as you are on all sides. It’s not confined to a red light district: Las Vegas is one giant red light district, the entire city succumbed to unrestrained debauchery, whether it be sex, gambling or any other indulgence. There’s no escaping it – certainly not unless you venture out into the residential areas that you see from the air but, as a visitor, you’re confined to the obscene bubble of the strip.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have minded so much if it weren’t for all the families wandering about contentedly with their pre-teenage kids, unconcerned or oblivious to what was around them. Very strange.

las-vegas-2009-008Then there’s the worker underclass. As with everything in Vegas, this is turned up to 11. Every city has its menial jobs, the stuff that has to be done but which nobody really wants to do. Invariably it’s the poorest or least educated or otherwise disadvantaged people that fall into these jobs, hopefully as a temporary measure before moving up the ladder and finding a better life. Often it’s immigrants that find themselves doing the jobs that the locals can’t be arsed to do (even as the locals scream “dey tuuk urr jeerrbs!”, South Park style, to the Daily Mail/Fox News/etc). In Vegas there’s a real sense of desperation, though, and of social stigma. You don’t really see white workers. The vast majority of them are noticeably unhealthy, and often very overweight or with other health issues (I was served food by one lady that was entirely cross-eyed and could barely see where the plate was). Most are of Mexican descent. The depressing thing is that there was no sense of it being a stepping stone, or a temporary situation. For these people, this is all that they will know, and all that Las Vegas will permit them to be. There’s no American Dream for these people, no matter how hard they work.

I could go on – I’ve not even got into the gambling culture – but I haven’t got time to write it, and I doubt anybody would have the patience to keep reading either. 😛

On the plus side, I saw Frost/Nixon on the plane, which was awesome. And the Tubetape guys were great – as was the incredible steak dinner they treated us to. And NAB itself was brilliant.

For the ‘official’ FXhome report on the trip, check this out.

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Categories: Travels

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