My cab ride with the Englishman and his stylish cardigan was quick and painless. One of the things that I actually like about Las Vegas—maybe the only thing that I actually like about Las Vegas—is that the airport is bizarrely close to the city itself. From the airport to The Strip takes only fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes, if traffic is congested.
The Luxor’s main entrance was, like all things in Las Vegas, oversized and melodramatic. It looked like a shabbier version of the backlot of the 1963 film Cleopatra. But the entrance was also somewhat rundown in small ways. Several overhead lights were burned out; bits of trash rolled around the drop-off area like tumbleweeds.
Once we’d exited the cab, I made a display of taking out my wallet. I said to the Englishman, “Let’s split this.” I even opened the wallet a little, to show the Englishman how serious my intentions were.
The Englishman mercifully waved me off. He fished around in his (much fancier) wallet with his delicate English fingers, and said the words I had been hoping to hear: “I can expense this.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
And with those magic words, it was decided. Final score: Disheveled Frankenstein 1, Las Vegas 0.
I checked in at the front desk and received my room key. The key wasn’t a key at all: it was a flimsy plastic card with a magnetic strip on the back. In addition to functioning as a key, the card also served as a reminder that a talented troupe known as Blue Man Group was a show that no Las Vegas visitor of sound mind should miss. There was a photo of the Blue Man Group’s painted faces on the room key, their claustrophobic eyes peering out from underneath a suffocating layer of rubbery makeup. The photo captured them mid-drumbeat, banging with tribal abandon.
Key in hand, I paused to thank the Englishman one final time before going my own way. To my complete surprise, he asked me if I’d like to join him for a drink.
I had no interest whatsoever in having a drink with this nice man. However, moments earlier he had paid for our cab. This meant on some level that I now owed him.
I tried to cobble together a graceful way out of this situation. But there would be no grace here. I backpedaled and lied, generating a series of half-cooked fictions. I probably looked like a malfunctioning robot—arms twitching, sparks of electricity shooting out of my neck.
What I wanted right then, what I felt I honestly deserved right then, was to go upstairs, unpack and order a club sandwich. But what I said was this: “A drink sounds great.”
We agreed to meet back downstairs in 20 minutes.
I dragged my suitcase towards the Luxor’s East Tower elevators cursing like a Teamster, exhaling through my nose like a bull in a Tex Avery cartoon. I stood alone at the bank of elevators and pressed the call button. None of the East Tower’s six elevators were in any hurry to arrive.
A minute went by. I gave the call button a few more Muhammad Ali-type jabs—bap, bap, bap, bap—hoping that the machinery was receiving the message.
To my relief, one of the elevators let out a mournful-sounding gong—BUUUUNNNNGGGG. Elevator arrival was imminent.
But nothing arrived. This was followed by another round of violent call-button jabs. The six elevator doors remained closed and muted, indifferent to me. I’d been so focused on delivering my call-button blows that I didn’t realize I was no longer alone here. A Japanese man was now silently standing next to me. I had no idea how long the man had been there.
The man was as short as Yoda. Stray wisps of dark hair circled his ears. He had a overbite that made him look somewhat feral. He had the I’m-here-for-CES backpack strapped to his back, same as the hordes at the airport had earlier. In broken English, the man asked, “Is this East Tower?”
I nodded my head. Affirmative.
After an absurd stretch of time, one of the elevators finally arrived. The two of us got on board. I pressed the button for the 13th floor. The elevator made another mournful gong: BUUUUUNNNNNGGGG. The doors closed. And the two of us began to ascend.
Seconds into our ascent, I realized that the Japanese man hadn’t pressed a floor button for himself. “WHAT FLOOR ARE YOU GOING TO?” I asked him. I pointed to the display of buttons on the wall of the elevator and mimed some button presses, to give him the gist. He held out his room key/Blue Man Group advertisement for me to look at. He was also was on the 13th floor.
“AH,” I said, pointing to the thirteen on my own key card. “THIRTEENTH FLOOR FOR ME, TOO. WE’RE TWINS.” I always talked louder and slower to people who aren’t native English speakers for some idiotic reason.
“YOU KNOW,” I said, to the man, “I HAVE BEEN TO YOUR COUNTRY—TO TOKYO—MANY TIMES.”
The man pointed at his chest. He said, “Kyoto.” He was from Kyoto.
“OH, I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO KYOTO. I’VE HEARD IT’S A NICE PLACE,” I said.
“Very, very beautiful,” he said. “Very nice.”
“CHERRY BLOSSOMS,” I said, then made a thumbs-up sign. The elevator made a mournful gong, and the doors opened on the 13th floor.
The Japanese man and his backpack trailed me and my suitcase down the hallway the way that Eurydice follows her husband Orpheus on the path leading out of hell. The man’s room, oddly enough, was directly across the hall from mine. While standing at my door, I looked back at the man as he fiddled around with his plastic key.
“HAVE A GOOD CES, NEIGHBOUR,” I said as I did some key-fiddling of my own. The man bowed slightly in my direction. Then he and his overbite disappeared into his room and shut the door behind him.
My room was large, ramshackle, and threadbare. It was worn down from too many years, too many guests. The Luxor had opened its doors back in 1993. I wondered if the room had been updated since. It didn’t look like it.
The two beds were the size of small, worn out trampolines. Everything was thin, faded, worn. This was a non-smoking room, but the smell of cigarettes hung stubbornly in the air.
The bed sheets had a disposable quality to them—more like paper towels than proper sheets. There were two dark armoires in the room, one on each side of the flatscreen TV, like a pair of gloomy sentries. A ventilation unit in the corner thrummed at an absurd volume—ooo-wang, ooo-wang. It sounded like the engine of a James Bond villain’s speedboat. I didn’t mind the sound. I slept with a white noise generator of one kind or another every night, and have done so for many years. If anything, the ooo-wang was an advantage for me.
Thousands upon thousands of people had stayed in this room before me. I could feel that. A hundred porn movies had probably been shot here. There was an air of gloom and desperation in the room; of bad times, arguments and abuse. A stale history of hangovers and sadness, of people suffering tremendous emotional and financial losses, losses that they’d never recover from again. The wall-to-wall carpet was a shade of brown that Pottery Barn would have called “Burnt Misery.”
Worst of all, especially for someone attending a convention, there was no desk in the room. Instead of a desk, there was a makeshift socializing area—a glass table with two patio-style chairs—arranged by the ventilation unit.
It irritated the hell out of me that there was no desk. How can a hotel room not have a desk? I didn’t understand it. I reluctantly set up my computer in the socializing area. Then I sat down in one of the patio chairs only to discover that it was the wrong height for the table. My chin rested on the table’s chipped glass top. I watched as my computer nascent attempts to connect to the Luxor’s wi-fi, feeling a sense of despair creeping around at the edges.
Connecting with the wi-fi turned out to be more challenging than I would have liked it to be. (I didn’t know this yet, but I would never connect to the Luxor’s cut-rate wi-fi for the duration of my CES stay.)
I splashed a few handfuls of cold water on my face in the bathroom sink. Then I grabbed my key card and left my computer and the Luxor’s wi-fi to continue their courtship. I headed back downstairs, ready to get this damned drink over with.