Sunday, January 8, 2012

CES : Day -1

The View from the 27th Floor
Las Vegas, Nevada--Januiary 8, 2012

NOTE PLEASE: I have not put any links in this post. Certain phrases seem to show up as links, but that has been done by Google, not by me. I know of no way to remove them. Also, as always, clicking on a photo will open it full sized in a new window, but the way Google handles the pics has changed as well. Once you open the new window, all five pics are available for your viewing pleasure.

I’ve heard it said that the journey is more important than the destination, and if so, our trip to Las Vegas where we will be attending the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was definitely an experience. Our flight on Allegiant Air was due to leave Missoula at 10:10 a.m. and we figured that meant being at the airport no later than 9:00. Since it is Sunday, a day when we normally have breakfast with our friends Mike and Norm, we arranged to meet them at the airport restaurant at 8:00. Of course, the way I’ve been sleeping, or more correctly not sleeping, my day began at 2:00 when I gave up, got up, and starting reading my e-mail. Kevin and I had packed on Saturday night, but there are always last minute things that have to remain out of the suitcase until you’re ready to walk out the door.

Mike had e-mailed me Saturday afternoon asking for our flight details, and I had written him back with the 8:00 a.m. suggestion, but I hadn’t seen anything indicating that he had seen my reply. That message came at 6:50 when Mike sent an e-mail saying that he’d get Norm up and try to be at the airport by 8:00. When I finally saw Mike’s reply, it was clear that we would not be there by 8:00 so I tried to call Mike and tell him to relax a bit. My phone dialed his number, but I heard no ring, and Mike did not pick up. I tried again, a few minutes later and again my phone indicated that the call was going through, but I heard no ring. Figuring that my phone was not working properly, I asked Kevin to call Mike, but he had the same experience. He next tried to call me, sitting right next to him, and no ring. Finally he tried texting Mike, but that didn’t work either. When we got to the airport, we learned that sunspot activity overnight had knocked out Verizon’s service across western Montana (at least).

Whether it was sunspot activity or something else, our phone service wasn’t the only thing not working properly. At check-in, the attendant informed us that our flight would be delayed an hour or so. Allegiant couldn’t be specific about just when our flight would leave Missoula—in part because the plane hadn’t yet arrived in Missoula. Come to find out, it hadn’t yet left Las Vegas, its point of departure some two hours by air away. Well, we thought, at least we won’t have to hurry through breakfast.

Jedediah’s is the new (to me at least) restaurant at Johnson Bell Field, AKA Missoula International Airport, and they have a fairly extensive breakfast menu. The five of us ordered, started drinking our coffee, and soon enough the waitress brought our food. I had a relatively ordinary serving of two eggs over easy, patty sausage, hash-browns, and an English muffin, all of which was fixed properly and served in an attractive fashion. John Steinbeck, writing in Travels With Charley, notes that he never had a truly bad breakfast or a truly good dinner while on the road. I cannot make the same claim, as I’ve had inedible breakfasts and superb dinners while traveling, but this morning’s breakfast was fine. (Well, Kevin ordered sourdough pancakes and got regular ones, but even he had no real complaint about the taste and presentation.)

One of the many water features--this one at Wynn's

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, both Kevin and I have phones (his an Android, mine an i-Phone) with an app that allows us to track flights. Using the flight number for our return next Sunday, we searched for the Allegiant flight coming from Las Vegas and bringing the airplane we would board for our flight south. By 9:00 a.m. mountain time, that flight had not yet left Las Vegas. 9:30 came and went and no northbound flight. Finally, around 10:00, our Flight Aware App noted that Allegiant Flight 561 had departed McCarren Field, heading north to Missoula. Mind you, that flight was supposed to leave Vegas at 6:10 a.m. pacific time, and the passengers would have been expected to be at the airport no later than 5:00. They had thus been waiting at the airport for four hours prior to take off, and we would have been in the same situation had we not arrived an hour earlier for breakfast.

When you eat at Jedediah’s, the restaurant will validate your parking for three hours. We sent Ron, Mike and Norm off just before 11:00 so that they wouldn’t have to pay any extra parking charges. Kevin and I proceeded through security, emptying our pockets, pulling out the laptops, Kindle, cell phones, etc. (Did I mention we’re going to the Consumer Electronics Show?) , removing shoes, belts, coats, hats, and passing through the scanners. Once we reassembled ourselves, we headed upstairs to the departure lounge to await our flight. Kevin picked up my book bag and said it felt light to him. Where had I put my camera? Oh, that. It’s home on my desk. DAMN!!! What kind of a photographer goes off and leaves his primary tool at home? A quick call to Mike, then one to Ron, and I arranged for Ron to grab my camera, take it downstairs to Mike who would pick it up and deliver it to me at the airport. Of course that meant that I would have to go through security a second time.

I removed my shoes, leaving them with my cap, my coat, the contents of my pockets and my bookbag in Kevin’s capable hands, and headed back downstairs and through the airport lobby in my socks. Mike was there in no time, and once more I passed through the scanners. Had the plane been on time, I would have been forced to use my phone’s camera and my Nikon Coolpix Point and Shoot to record the next week’s activities. I’ve heard it said that God looks out for fools and drunkards, and I’m not a drinking man, so I apologize for all those folk whose day was disrupted by the good Lord delaying our flight and thus making sure that I had time to get my camera.

Our flight, scheduled to leave Missoula at 10:10, actually backed away from the terminal at 1:00 p.m. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and I read most of the way south. Upon our arrival in Las Vegas, the flight attendant told us to head to carousel 12 to claim our baggage. A group of very tired looking people gathered around carousel 12 and waited. And waited. And continued to wait. Turning away from the unmoving track, I saw my bag disappearing on carousel 10. As I began to run after it, an announcement came over the loudspeakers saying that baggage for the Missoula flight would be on carousel 10 instead of 12. (How could I see my bag from that distance? Well Kevin and I made so many trips to Phoenix last year that we put very distinctive stickers on our bags. I dare say that to date, ours are the only bags I’ve seen anywhere with a rainbow colored “MONTANA” sticker plastered on the front of the bag, and a rainbow colored flag wrapped around the handle. Don’t get any ideas about copying our ingenuity.)

A small bauble (around five feet tall) at a shop in Wynn's

And no, I didn't check the price. Figured I couldn't afford it.

We got to the hotel shuttle just in time to be told we’d have to wait for the next one—this one was full, and when we finally arrived at our hotel, Harrah’s, we found the registration line snaking its way across the lobby and out toward the parking lot. When our part of the snake reached the registration desk, the clerk offered us a choice. We could either take a room with two queen beds available now, or we could wait another two hours for the room we had reserved to be ready. By this time, I could barely stand, my blood sugar had dropped precipitously, and I felt desperate to drop off the bags and find something to eat. We accepted the room with two queens, and took the elevator to the 27th floor. At 5:00 p.m. (mountain time), having been awake for fifteen hours and having had nothing to eat since 9:00 a.m., I collapsed on the bed taking time to call Ron and Mike letting them know we had at last reached our destination.

Having caught our breath and refreshed ourselves, we went back to the lobby and stopped at the buffet. When I was a child, just shy of my tenth birthday, my family moved to California, passing through Reno on the way. Every year thereafter, we returned to Montana for a month at the cabin, and most of those trips involved stopping in Reno to eat at Harrah’s buffet. It’s changed. Mind you, I never paid for the meal, but I know that my parents didn’t pay $25.00 a piece for our meals, as Kevin and I did this evening. Now some of that price increase is due to inflation, of course, and the food was excellent, with a much larger selection than what we would have enjoyed back in the 1960s. But $25 for a buffet?

One of the hunky pirates in the outdoor show at Treasure Island

After dinner, I pulled a sweater over my t-shirt, and Kevin and I headed out to walk the strip. Most of the photos I’ve included in this post were taken along our six block stroll. Three things come immediately to mind: 1) Las Vegas really is a fantasy land where one block offers you Venice, complete with gondolas, the next offers soaring waterfalls and brightly lit trees, and across the street you can choose between pirates attacking sirens or a volcano exploding. 2) You’d never realize that we’re in the middle of one of the worst economic times in our country’s history. The amount of money being put into the slot machines or played on the poker, craps, roulette, blackjack tables is truly astounding, as are the baubles available in all the fancy stores along the strip and inside every casino/hotel. 3) Las Vegas sits in the middle of the great American desert, but you’d never know it with every casino having a major water feature, and the roses in full bloom along the sidewalks.

Day Minus One ends with fireworks at Treasure Island

My biggest concern at this point is a simple one. Do I have the stamina to spend five days wandering through exhibit after exhibit at the CES? The show runs Monday through Friday, mid-morning till early evening, with literally thousands of exhibits to draw our attention. Kevin’s main interest is communications equipment while mine centers on photographic equipment and the related peripherals. We’ll both have lots to see and comment on, and I plan on keeping you all informed. Too bad that neither the Missoulian nor the Independent seemed interested in talking to me about having a live correspondent at the show. Oh well, their loss. More tomorrow.

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