Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I returned yesterday from a four-day weekend spent in Las Vegas for a wedding. I probably would never have gone to Vegas had it not been for the wedding, and I do not think I will return. But I enjoyed the time there, mostly because the other people attending the wedding were interesting folks, and it was a nice respite.

We arrived Thursday. We were lugging along two large blue bins for someone who stayed for a while in El Cerrito at the beginning of the semester, but who now is in Indiana. Those bins were sufficiently awkward to be more comical than annoying, particularly since Patxi had a folding cart on which to carry them. Such tasks make me thankful yet again for the invention of the wheel.

The first thing we saw as we exited the secure area was slot machines. I don't gamble, but I can understand playing card and dice games, purely for the human element. But I don't understand the appeal of slot machines. It's hard to deny their popularity, though, particularly when faced with acre after acre of them, all dinging and flashing like the apparatus in some Pavlovian experiment. One of the other Davids there for the wedding commented that the slot machines on the casino floor were like a factory that funded the place, except that the players probably wanted to be there more than most factory workers want to go to work.

Certainly those factory floors make money. The Strip, the section of Las Vegas Boulevard where lots of the big hotel / casinos live, is a place of extremes. It's as if someone dropped the seeds of a highly hallucinogenic plant on the desert floor, then added water. Almost all the structures are big and glittery, as are many of the people. And more structures are going up, too. Patxi and I spent some time walking around, and Patxi never took off his structural engineering hat. It was interesting hearing him point out various features: floors with extremely high ceilings and low column densities, issues of thermal expansion during construction, bracing strategies, and sloppy detailing on some of the few visible joints.

Some of the places had arched ceilings painted and lit to look like skies early in the evening. The motion of the clouds in my peripheral vision was obviously not the usual, which I found disconcerting. But when I sat still and only saw the sky peripherally, the illusion was surprisingly convincing. A group of us ate in a French restaurant in the Paris Hotel on Friday evening, and it really did feel like we were looking out the windows at an early evening sky, not at another larger room.

Water was common as a decorative theme. Most of the hotels had pools, and a lot of them had outdoor water shows of some variety. The Bellagio had a reflecting pool that must have covered an acre or two; at night they had a musical light show, with lights reflecting off the water. The Mirage had a mock volcano in front, which poured out fountains of water and, once every half hour, fountains of fire as well. The Venetian had canals, and Treasure Island had a moat in which two fake ships fought a mock sea battle every couple hours in the evening.

I found the ostentatious displays of water disquieting. Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert, a fact which is impossible to forget if you're outside for more than a minute, or if you bother to glance at the sere mountains on the horizon. Wars are fought over water in the desert, and the water spent in Vegas is water that's needed by the people further south, in Mexico. It's a precious commodity, and it bothered me to see it squandered so frivolously. I'm reminded of a scene at the beginning of the book Dune, in which attendees of a banquet on a desert planet deliberately waste water as a symbol of their status.

The food was good. I ate at a few buffets, and in each case I left feeling contentedly full. And Vegas is an amusing place for people watching. The coffee was generally overpriced and mediocre at best, but that's probably just as well in a place where it's so easy to dehydrate. And I enjoyed meeting and spending time with people involved in the wedding, which is really what made the weekend fun.

The wedding ceremony itself was short and surprisingly comfortable. It was an outdoors wedding, so I let discretion be the better part of valor and abandoned my coat before I left the hotel room. But the shade and the misting system kept the temperature bearable, and even the men who chose to retain their coats seemed to be fine, if less comfortable. Both Mike and Tracy said I do a little early, partly because the minister had substantial pauses in his reading, and both had the grace to chuckle at themselves. In general, it looked like there was a lot more laughter than tears at the wedding. I'm not completely certain about that, since I was sitting toward the front and could only see part of the audience, and since I spent a couple minutes in the middle frantically trying to change over the batteries in Anant's digital camera. But I didn't notice anyone crying.

Patxi and I stayed an additional day in Vegas after the wedding, simply because air fare was cheaper that way. We saw some of downtown Vegas afterward, and it was a bit less over-the-top than the Strip. Still, I was happy to head for home on Monday morning, even if it meant getting up at 5:00, and even if the trip home was a lot more eventful than usual. I went into the office yesterday afternoon, and went to my meetings, and then collapsed when I returned home. I fell over around midnight and got up before six during my stay in Vegas; yesterday, I took a nap in the evening, got up for a couple hours, and then slept from 10:30 pm to about twelve hours later. I think I needed the rest.

And now I'm ready to work again.

  • Currently drinking: Water