Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CES: Day 0

I lied yesterday. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) doesn't really start until Tuesday. Oh there were a few press events on Monday, and Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, gave the keynote address, as has some Microsoft official fourteen times in the past sixteen years. But this is the last. Microsoft has announced that they will no longer participate in the CES. Lots of other folk were participating, though (some estimates say 140,000 attendees) and there was one event that Kevin and I had to attend. To gain entry to the exhibits, you must have an authorized pass badge, and that badge has to be in an authorized plastic holder on an authorized lanyard. To get all this, you had to show up at a registration desk in one of three locations. The closest to us was at the Venetian, so Kevin and I headed over there at noon to get in line. Now understand, we had pre-registered and pre-paid, but we did not have our badges. Turns out it didn't really matter. There was one line for people with badges but without holders and lanyards, and another line for those of us without even the badges. Both lines were long, snaking through hallways at the Venetian. It reminded me of the line I stood in to see The Exorcist at North Point Cinemas in San Francisco. That line took four hours and was the best part of the evening. This line was even longer in length, but took a mere 45 minutes, much of which occurred when we found ourselves second only to a fellow who hadn't pre-registered and whose credit card was rejected. It never fails, no matter if you're at the bank, the grocery store, or CES, you always get in the wrong line.

That's not how our day started, however. You see, yesterday turned out to be a monorail day. Las Vegas has a monorail that runs from the Sahara at the north end of the strip to the MGM Grand at the south end. It doesn't get you downtown, or to the airport, or anywhere else off the strip, but it does connect up all the major casinos on the strip. Having showered, dressed, and headed out the door, the first thing we did was buy one-day passes for the monorail, which conveniently stops right at Harrah's, our hotel. We rode north past the Convention Center station to the end of the line, the Sahara. Unfortunately, the Sahara is also at the end of its line--at least for the time being--and is closed to the public. The Stratosphere was visible to the north, but as we approached, I began to wonder if this was a case of "you can't get there from here." Every other building we saw offered oriental massage, and they were separated from each other by empty parking lots and chain link fences. We found openings in the fences, crossed the parking lots, and at last reached the entrance to the Stratosphere.

Now the Stratosphere offers the best view of the strip and of Vegas in general, but to access that view, you have to ride an elevator to the top, and that costs $16 per person. Sorry, I've got too much Scotch blood in my veins to pay for an elevator ride, so you'll have to bear with me and forego that vista. Instead, here's what the building looks like from the outside.

After a disappointing breakfast (the coffee looked like mud and the eggs were iffy), we caught a cab for the nearest Verizon store, arriving there one half hour before they opened. Fortunately, a McDonalds was just across the parking lot, and I was able to get a mango pineapple smoothie to clear my palate from breakfast. After determining that Kevin's iPhone battery was so depleted that it would take a major miracle to recharge it, we took a second cab back to our hotel, and prepared for the lineup I mentioned above.

Kevin spent the afternoon in the casino while I retired to our room, hoping to get my equilibrium back. Between the breakfast and the crowded lines, I had completely lost any interest in being out in public. This does not bode well for the rest of the week.

We stopped at one of the discount ticket kiosks and got ourselves tickets to Cirque du Soleil's show Zumanity, picking up a discount voucher for dinner at Embers Restaurant in the Imperial Palace at the same time. If you're going to Vegas, it pays to visit these outlets as the savings are considerable. The tickets I found on-line for Zumanity ran close to $200 each, and we were able to get orchestra seats for half that, plus getting fifty percent off our dinner ticket, which put dinner in a range more closely aligned to Montana prices. The one catch was that we had to get to the theatre early in the day in order to get the best seats available in our price range. This meant another ride on the Monorail, this time to the southern terminus, the MGM Grand from which we had to find our way to New York, New York.

By the time we picked up our tickets and returned to Harrah's, it was almost time for our dinner reservation, so instead of turning right from the Monorail platform, we turned left and entered the Imperial Palace. This is the casino where Bill Harrah houses his famous car collection. I have yet to see that, but it's on my list of things to get done before leaving town. I'll probably go by myself, as Kevin is not a car guy. On the fifth floor of the Pagoda Tower, several restaurants share a bar and lounge area, and Kevin and I found a nice table where he could drink his Pepsi while I sipped on a mango margarita. I was feeling quite comfortable when our reservation time arriced, and somehow I managed to carry my drink into the restaurant without spilling too much of it.

Embers is an elegant venue, all dark paneling and wall paper with flickering candlelight on each table. The menu is mostly steaks and seafood, with offerings ranging from scallops served over couscous to Chateaubriand for two. Kevin and I both chose the Filet Mignon, he with salad and baked potato and me with salad and garlic mashed potatoes. Our steaks were delicious, as were the potatoes, the salads, and the bread. When dessert was offered, I chose a cream puff filled with cherry filling and shaped like a swan. I posted a picture of it on my deviant art site as my picture of the day.

Another Monorail ride returned us to the MGM Grand where we followed the hoard of CES badged conventioneers down one hallway, into another, thence to yet another, finally finding ourselves at a major press reception to which we were NOT invited. Pressing through the crowd we found a door leading outside the building, only to learn that we were as far away from where we needed to be as possible. Some of these casino/hotels are huge, and the MGM Grand is one of them. Unfortunately, the doors we took to get outside were one way, and did not open from the exterior. I began to think that once again we were in a situation where we couldn't get where we intended from where we currently were. After wandering the grounds outside the MGM, we finally found a door allowing us to re-enter the building, only to have to retrace our steps all the way back to the Monorail platform. Turns out that in following the crowd, we had turned right when we should have turned left, and now we had to traverse the casino in the opposite direction just to get outside across the street from New York, New York. My experience so far is that the signage in these casinos leaves a lot to be desired. The signs all direct you to various places within the casino, but rarely to any exit. Of course, the casino owners don't want you to leave the building, so why should they show you a way out. I was beginning to feel like Charley on the MTA, walking forever through the halls of casinos, and turning into the man who never returned.

When we finally found our way out onto the street, it was once again the wrong exit, and instead of having a skyway crosswalk above the street, we faced a barricade and no crosswalk for three blocks. I wish I had a pedometer to show me just how much we walked both through the casinos and up and down the street. Once we had successfully navigated the vicissitudes of Las Vegas street crossings, we reached the Zumanity theatre where we took photos of some of the cast members out in the lobby. Kevin even got one of me with a handsome, scanitly clad, male cast member.

If you have a chance to see Zumanity, and I really recommend that you do see it, be prepared for vulgar language, topless women, and ninety minutes of double entendre. Be prepared as well for breathtaking dance routines, awe-inspiring acrobatics, and some of the fastest set changes I've ever seen on stage. This is an adult show, no question about it, and it involves audience participation, so if you're seated on an aisle or in the front row, you may end up on stage yourself. Like all Cirque du Soleil shows, the action is fast paced, and there's a three-ring circus mood as something is always happening in the foreground, in the background, and in the center of the stage. Acrobatics are,by their very nature, sensual, but the sensuality is usually implied. In Zumanity, it's explicit. I will say that I've rarely enjoyed an evening of theatre as much as I enjoyed this evening.

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