Sunday, August 18, 2013

Las Vegas Star Trek Convention: Day 1

 



  Becky and I pre-coordinated half a year out to go to the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, Nevada with our jobs and saved a bit up for the event.  We had heard every Star Trek actor was going to show, and it being a 20th anniversary of one of the spinoff series, "Star Trek Deep Space 9" we were fairly certain it'd be a good shindig.    The company that sets this up, "Creation Entertainment" promised over 100 actors at the convention so we were pretty psyched-up; indeed, this would be the largest gathering of Star Trek actors ever, to include the original series and film!  Wow!


  Now we're both pretty serious Star Trek fans; not overly so, I mean, we're not usually running around with communicators or wearing costumes in society daily (for no reason) like some fruit-balls out there, nor are we part of any local clubs (there's a few) or anything like that.  We're fans of sci-fi in-general.  We really like the Firefly franchise, and Star Wars is pretty cool (at least 4-5-6 anyway), though there are rabid one-only fans out there.  I ain't no sci-fi snob!



 When I was a kid, I'd draw (in 1978) X-Wing fighters shooting at TIE (twin-ion-engine) fighters in dogfights on paper rather than go outside and run-around aimlessly during recess at the now-defunct West Elementary School in Methuen.  The teachers would drool venom, "Oh, you have such creativity." and wonder why I'd prefer that than run around like a 'tard.  All those teachers are undoubtedly either very dead or being spoon-fed baby-food sitting in urine-soaked gowns.  Their life accomplishment was that they taught the red-colored crayon was red.  None of them owned a Corvette. 









  I was nerdy before it was cool and got my badge for it.  If I wear an Odyssey2 game shirt it was because I owned it, brought the cartridge to school because it was just something I could do because I loved it so much, accepting I'd get scrutinized and beaten-up for it.  Sure, no, I couldn't play it at school, it was just a treasure.  In 1978 that was not an acceptable or cool thing to do, unlike some "hipster" now who's wearing one.  They're all like, "Oh, yeah, sure, Odyssey2.  Meh." not really understanding what it was on a deeper level and not "doing the time" and "taking the punishment and suffering" for it.  They don't deserve to wear it!  We nerds SUFFERED for it!  We earned the right!  I'll rip that Atari shirt right off their backs with their grizzled pseudo-cool beard!  Next time you see a dude with that shirt, ask them, "Oh, yeah?  Really?  What game was your favorite?!"  If they don't say something like "Adventure" or "Warlords" or "Kaboom" and mutter nothing or if they're lucky, something hyper-obvious like "Pitfall" you legally have the right to take the shirt off them.  They don't deserve the shirt, then wear it yourself on top of your own shirt, them lying on the ground, shirtless and make the chalice-in-the-yellow-castle-victory song at them!


Yorgle, Grundel, and Rhindle from Atari 2600's Adventure circa 1979.  I played this NEW when it came out (thanks to Darren Hennessey who owned an Atari, I owned an Odyssey2).

  Now, schools say it's all okay, that everyone's equal but I tell you what, kids, back in the late 1970's if you came in with a Conquest of the Planet of the Apes action figure you'd be surrounded and attacked endlessly.  Honestly, however, it helped me learn how to fight, and taking Bob Meserve's Health and Self Defense class (a hodge-podge of Kung-Fu and Kenpo-Karate) really paid-off.  There's a darker, more sinister result for those nerds who did not take Kung-Fu.  Those guys were at the convention too.  I have a soft heart for those 40-somethings who know what a icosahedron or a dodecahedron is on an intimate level, hiding the Fiend Folio and Monster Manuals I & II in their book-bags.  They too earned their Purple-Hearts like veterans of a long lost war, and I give them a nod of approval, the true "fallen".  I work with some of them.  Most never recovered or fit into society. 




  For myself, I took up guitar playing (out of spite for an ex-girlfriend who'd gush over a previous lover who'd play), learned to ride a motorcycle, got into cars.  I was one of the rare, "cool nerds" and I believe I pioneered it.  It was both the hardest and easiest path, and it's a fine-line without being a poser.  I see a lot of kids now who are both into anime and ride a sport-bike like a Ninja.  I encourage this Spartan method of multi-interest.



  Oh, I've diverged a bit.  My bad!  So here's the tale:

  We're pretty psyched-up for Vegas (as most people are).  We'd been a few times before.  I was there in 1994, 2002, and 2010 on various hotels on the strip (more on that later).  To save a few buh-buh-bucks, we leave out of Denver instead of Colorado Springs (which is a bit of a mistake).  Even though we saved $400 each which is ridiculous an amount for 90 miles difference, C.Springs airport is only 4 miles from our house and parking is "do-able".  Our plane leaves DIA at 7am which meant we'd have to be at the baggage check-in at 6am.  Stepping backwards further, we'd have to leave at around 5am and then get-up to get ready no later than about 4am.  This is assuming there's no hiccups.  Weather indicated it'd be raining the whole way but we were spared, and traffic was thankfully light the whole way (albeit dark, of course).  We were pretty groggy but we pressed-onwards nobly and didn't crash, get any speeding tickets, etc.  We listened for a while to George Noory on "AM Coast-to-Coast" via XM Radio which to me is a blast.  The show itself has been running since 1984 with Art Bell and is a bit of an underground show, originally only airing on AM channels between midnight and 5am as a talk-show that deals with guests and callers on a serious level about the "Unexplained" such as UFOs, paranormal, etc.  Since AM Radio travels very far, most road-trips can handle it, though now XM radio takes care of that nicely as XM covers the entire continental US (and, of course, it's live radio).  They'll have some IRN news as a form of a break, and then punctuate with about 1/2 of a song.  The song could be classic rock, or something very odd, like a 1972 Dr.Who theme bit (uber-nerdy-cool, not like that trendy new stuff).  In this instance, they were playing alternate dimensions.  Becky commented the guest-star-guy was a quack, speaking in-circles, "The finite IS in the infinite!"  Uh huh, yeah.  Sure thing, buddy.  Speaking the obvious.  The host of the show always pulls them onward, agreeing and accepting whatever they say without being condescending.  Rather a trick to pull-off.  The "professor guest" was trying to use bigger and bigger words and speaking in a false British accent like some character from a Thomas Dolby video.


George Noory takes over for Art Bell on AM Coast-to-Coast, the original underground radio show!

  We choose the parking garage, mostly because of the suspicion of death-hail Denver often gets such that I accept the extra $5 per-day and we meander-in.  Check-in these days is all automated, with only barely-alive humans taking the luggage afterwards.  There was no first-class seats left.  Sometimes you can luck-out and upgrade for a few bucks if there's any versus paying the $1000 during your initial, (now always online) booking.  Ah, I remember when there were such things as travel-agents who'd make bookings for you.  Making phone-calls and such.  Going to one was a day's event, resplendent with pamphlets that announced, "Las VEGAS!" or "Bora Bora!"   Those days are nearly completely gone.  Even they take advantage of sites like Orbitz and the like.  I still know of one in-town.  It's always empty.

  There was a ridiculous line for TSA pre-screening check-in but Becky's leg-brace afforded us under-velvet-rope access and quicker entry (it's still hard for her to walk since that Toyota lost control on that mountain road in 2008, and she still feels pain every day, 5 years later).  Scanning went smoothly enough and we just make it to the initial boarding gate on-time.













 
The seats are 3 by 3 with an aisle separating.  We're no strangers to flying and we agree that I'll take the middle seat on the way back as the plane's full-up.  On the aisle is another guy, "Fatty McFat-Fat McDLT McArchDeluxe".  He can't fit in the seat both sideways or in-front, his fat-ism is too fat, his fat belly pressing against the seat in front like a fatty fat-fat.  Fat!  He complains to the stewardess about space and the he/she (man, I remember when stewardesses were all women and all good-looking, not trolls, ah but equal-opportunity!  BAH!)  says to him that it'll cost extra for that and that he could "buy" more space.  He eventually concedes, and Becky and I get the extra space for free.  Honestly, I'm surprised we didn't cut the difference.  Of course, on the whole plane, the guy in front of me, and only me, decides to put the seat back.  This is an unwritten rule in aviation, that you shouldn't do this if anyone's behind you.  Everybody knows this.  The Italian couple (seemingly newlyweds) started to make offspring in front of us.  It was mostly the female, the male didn't really give a shite about it.  That level of desperate public intensity won't last forever.  After a few years this backs-off.  I remember I was kind of like that when I was 8, getting "butterfly kisses" from my "girlfriend" for hours.  I didn't think much of it then either.  You can't help but think about how the relationship will eventually dissolve.  Once all the heavy-petting is over and you get down to business as a romantic partnership, how will it evolve?  The fact the male was indifferent speaks volumes.  I figure he doesn't appreciate the attention and is already scheming on how to get away from her for a few hours to cheat on her in Vegas with some floosy at the club and wondering how much booze it'll take for her to pass-out.  He was that kind of guy, wearing a club-blazer-jacket at 7am to Vegas.  Nothing's open, friend.  You better have a private limo waiting for you at the runway or you're being pretentious. 

Gay McDress-Up ready for a "morning" on the town with his Italian lover.


  To our delight, the seat-backs had LCD TVs installed.  Star Trek: Next Generation was playing happily appropriately and we watched that for the 1 hour (and some change) flight.  When we land, pretentious Italian boy and his fawning girl went to baggage-claim like the rest of the chumps.  They're fate of not being able to go to any club (none are open at 8am) or check into a room (earliest check-in anywhere on the "Strip" is noon) will begin the exorable erosion of her adoration I'm sure.

  When you get off of United Airlines (an airline best suited for cattle, btw) you're dumped-off at the farthest terminal.  Right there is a "Welcome to Vegas" sign and underneath is the least-paying slot-machine of all-time, a "Wheel of MisFortune"  Thought I have my picture taken under it, I didn't play it because I know it's the most cursed machine of all of Vegas.  Don't play it.  It's the first one you see at the Vegas "McCarran" Airport and pays-out the least.  I call that "Wheel of Fortune" the "Money Dumpster".  It's been there since 2001.  It's made millions.

 
  We stop at Ruby's Diner and have the cinnamon French-toast before pickup of our baggage at baggage-claim.  It amazes me how many people avoid the $25 for the baggage fee, stowing African-Safari-sized crates above their heads in those plastic tiny bins when they can have luggage taken care-of for them.  I'm not sure if it's because they're skin-flints (cheap bastards) or they're afraid of lost-luggage or what.  I'd rather not deal with it, and if you're going to Vegas, $25 won't buy you a Pepsi.  Shrug.  Ruby's Diner was good, though ironically (for me) run by Asians with a World War II setting of a vintage airport with an early '50s feel ala Jet-Set.  It'd be like a Nazi concentration camp themed diorama ran by Jews.  Unintentionally ironic.  The food was good.


  Got baggage (about 30 miles away down in baggage claim, though right next to the Taxi area).  Normally I pack light but we're gonna be here in Vegas for 4 days and we have costumes to wear as we intend on entering The Guinness Book of World Records for "Most number of people in an area for a minimum of 10 minutes wearing a Star Trek costume". 



  We know from experience the taxi should cost from the airport about $30, give-or-take.  The convention is at The Rio off the strip one block next to The Palms quite near the newer Aria, New York-New York and Caesar's Palace.  The location gives a decent view of the "Strip" as a whole.  Sure enough, it costs about $30.  Let me tell you about days-gone-by...




  When I had been to Vegas in 1994, buffets were 99 cents.  You could get a steak for $4, and it was pretty good.  By 2002, things got a bit more pricey, though a buffet you could have was about $13.  Now, a buffet is 50 bucks.  In 1994, a taxi was about $4, and you could rent a car for $12.  Now, parking is not free in Vegas at any hotel.  Parking (even though you're staying there) is $30 a day.  In 1994, drinks were "comped".  Yep, drinks of any kind were free-of-charge, as well as cigarettes, cigars, and often times a basic buffet was free as well.  You'd get coupons for free buffets, usually one or two per-day if you were staying at the hotel itself when you checked into the room, as well as a few next-door buffet coupons and a few nicer in-hotel restaurants as well, usually a buy-one-meal get-one-free kinda deal.  A very expensive meal, with wine, might cost you $20 in 1994.  Clubs, if any, were free.  Shows were about $12.  Everything now has gone-up a factor of ten, and they charge, heavily, for drinks.  In 2010, you could at least get a Pepsi for free.  No more. That's now $6 and is rather a rude cost.  A rum and Coke (basic "well" rum, not a quality rum) costs $14 as a "special deal".  Becky had wondered why I wasn't buying scotch, but Johnnie Walker Blue at $500 a bottle was a bit steep, a glass being $100 for one ounce.  Rot-gut Jack Daniel's basic whiskey was $20 a shot.  Seriously?  So, back in the "days", Vegas was a cheap getaway where you could gamble.  Just about no one is gambling as before, maybe 30% of the folks are actually gambling compared to 100%.  I commented all of this to the first taxi driver and he said, "Those days are long-gone, my friend."  In all honesty, to do nicely and comfortably in Vegas, with a little gambling, one should appropriate $1000 per day for meals, a show, and a little tiny bit of gambling PER PERSON easily.  In 1994, I spent a week on $200 and had money left-over, and that included the cost of the room of $17 per day.  Now, for a week, expect to pay $1000 just for the room (internet is about $15/day so beware, and parking is $25 at the Rio).  Luckily, we took a taxi.  Renting a car in Vegas is $100/day (plus parking, insurance, etc.).  Vegas is no longer the cheap, fun destination.  Like a friend said who works "up north", "They turn you upside down and shake you until your pockets are empty!" 

  A second cab driver also admitted this, and he said that the people who come here now are stupid.  He says the men come thinking they'll get lucky and go to the clubs, which charge $100 to get in.  It's so loud now that no one can hear anything.  Much louder than the Rush concert I went to a few days previously at 120db.  They spend thousands on drinks for a girl, as the club now "has you" inside and you're stuck there lest you pay another $100 to get in so you stay and buy their double-overpriced drinks (at $30 for a rum and Coke) for the girl, then it's not a sure-fire thing.  By the end of the night (he says) you spend several thousand dollars to get lucky (maybe).  The women, he says, are just as bad, thinking they'll find "Mr. Right" but they'll only find kids who got their parents' money and are just looking for a little boom-boom.  Honestly (he says) it'd be better for the guys to go to the Bunny Ranches out of town, as they're clean (and safer) and cheaper.  The women shouldn't even bother.  They're all suckers and they all leave disappointed.  Hm.


  We get to check-in at 10am and they won't let us do so at reception at The Rio until noon.  There's nowhere to sit (cleverly) except at the slot machines.  No bar or restaurant is open at 10am.  This is a bit frustrating.  We ask if there's somewhere to wait (with our luggage) and reception says there isn't (this, it turns out, is a lie).  I go to the concierge and ask if they would hold our bags but they would not, though recommended a bellhop to hold them (for a price).  For a few minutes I'm skeptical as the bellhops are outside and I'm none too keen leaving my luggage outside, but after about 10 minutes I concede, spot him a 20 (at least my luggage will be safe) and Becky and I wander the unexpectedly immense casino. 



  I've never been to such a large casino hotel in all my days, and I've been to all of them in Las Vegas over the years, and some in different countries as well.  The Rio goes on forever as it's more a convention building than anything else, it's gambling area is rather small, about as large as Cripple Creek's Double Eagle or Black Hawk's Ameristar.  A good size gambling arena broken into two parts but none too amazing in-size.  What astounds is the "everything else"edness of it.  I would say it's about as large as The Mall of America in size in Minnesota, and there's no short-cuts to the horseshoe shape.  We end up at a convenience store and buy a few sundries and sit near one of many Starbucks littered about the place, it's line consisting (as usual worldwide) of women drinking the corn-syrup'ed burnt-for-homogenization-coffee and low-grade industrial-chemical'ed-for-preservation "pastries".  No men buy from this store, few accept a free one if thier girl is going then later lament.  Men know it sucks, hard.  Starbucks creates the worst coffee in the world, then syrups it up so it tastes like a failed Christmas.  Starbucks is the Tyler Perry of coffee shops: a demographic keeps going to it for some reason.  Stop it.  Stop going and better stuff will arise.  New, better coffee shops will take its place!  Go somewhere else, people.  Go somewhere else, ladies.  Please.  STOP.  GOING.  NOW.


 
  Anyway, there's an interesting Best Buy vending machine, so as a bit of a joke, I take a photo of that with my Dell Mini10 laptop on another one we spot at the Vegas airport later, as if I purchased it there.  Some odd items in the vending machine, definitely high-dollar things, and a few cheap earbuds.  Most earbud headphones without internal drivers are cheap and worthless.  Apple is notorious of not putting the specs on them, as well as Skull Candy and Dr.Dre brand (he makes more with those than his music now).  You want about a frequency spread of 3-4Hz to 40kHz (the closer to that the better).  Cheap buds will bring 20-30Hz to 15kHz that should cost about a dollar at WalMart.  Most stock Apple buds run around this level once researched, and most Apple audio devices run 16-bit (very late 1990's quality).  There are some reasonable consumer-level audio daughter-cards running 32-bit now.  24-bit is the norm.

Liberacce, when Vegas was all about glitz
  We're authorized our room after a bit, and I snub the bellhop for the return luggage tip-wise.  No one offers us transport of them to the room itself.  The room ran about $70 the first two days, and $110 the second two (it being the weekend).  About average Denver prices for a Marriott.  I'd say the room quality was similar as a Marriott suite.  One thing I've noticed about Vegas is that the "themes" are all gone.  Externally, they're there, but internally, aside from the carpet from the 1980's from when they were built (or '70s) all the d├ęcor and theme is gone.  We walked past a singer who was belting it out (rather mediocrely) who was wearing nothing special with her band.  I was expecting The Rio to flaunt things from Brazil, but it did not.  There was no Brazilian steak places, or any "Carnivale" girls in odd costumes.  Cocktail waitresses were wearing standard skimpy spangles not themed with anything except, well, skimpy, and not in a Brazilian thong kind of way.  Music was non-South American but generic top-40 with an overemphasis of "thump" bass unnecessarily so.  This is everywhere.  In The Excalibur, the theme was gaudy, the rooms were gaudy with medieval theme but alas, no more.  Vegas no longer has this.  The building exteriors themselves, sure.  Interiorly, not at all.  All themes are generic and the same.  Homogenized and lifeless without character or soul.  I was disappointed.  The room was a standard, average, rather large-sized suite with a decaying bathroom but we made the best of it enough and ignored the mold and hair from the previous resident in the drain.  Shrug.  Generic but nice enough.  Man, I miss those themes.  No flower girls.  No parrots?  No themes whatsoever.  Vegas is all the same now.  Take your pick, the flavors are all vanilla.  I had made mention to this with another cab driver later-on and again, he said that most of the failing (?) hotels (all of them he admits) were bought-out by a few banks and all that was backed-off quite a bit, and then started nickel-and-diming everyone for any convenience.  Shame.



  We tried the Rio's "World Buffet".  It was fair, and a good size.  It didn't suck, but it wasn't to-die-for.  It wasn't worth the $39 per person for lunch.  Lines.  Let me tell you about lines.  When we checked in "early, and at a fee" at noon, there was a line for that.  45 minutes to check-in.  I mentioned this to the concierge and she said this was normal.  When we got to the buffet for a 3pm "lunch".  More lines.  One to pay, one to wait to be seated (plenty, plenty of seats, mind-you), and one to get food.  A 40 minute wait for a soda (you can't get one yourself, of course, though it's thankfully included in the meal price somehow, I guess I should have bought a hip-flask for that).  There was a little bar inside serving Pabst and the like (again, nothing Brazilian like Baden-Baden or DaDo) to which only one man sheepishly approached and was charged $15 for a can of Miller Lite.  No line for the bar, btw.  Bars within the hotel are generally (at most) half full, though this was a weekend, with thousands of guests.  At the height of Saturday night at 10pm there was maybe 10 people at a bar that would seat 50 or more.  The cost, I warrant.  A cute girl tried was hawking photographs offering to take a picture of our "experience" while waiting for a buffet which I found cheesy, but I knew she'd charge for it, so I harassed her by insisting I take her photo, and that if she wanted to see it it'd be $20 as I suspected she'd charge us.  She found this amusing.  Becky was disgusted with the sleaze of their effort, and it reminded us of Nassau and so many other Caribbean islanders looking for a buck.  You're harassed like you're in India, and Becky doesn't care for the used-car-salesman grin-approach sucker-slant that is hard-charging and a rip-off.  Snapped cute-girl's photo anyway.  If you're reading this blog, sweetie, that'll be $20 via PayPal to mikecronis@msn.com .

  We explored the massive hotel a bit and noticed the line for Creative Entertainment.  We didn't opt for the $800 "Gold Member" tickets which they were waiting in-line for to get authorized from online purchase (even though you print-out your will-call scan document, you still have to get, apparently, a bracelet).   The "Gold Member" tickets are generally a huge ripoff from what I've heard, though you get to go to The Voodoo Lounge for an all-nighter with some of the stars and hob-nob a bit.  The Rio's Voodoo Lounge is on the top floor and is loud in an unpleasant, Disaster Area kind of way.  We were lucky enough to get to be below that by 40 some-odd floors to avoid the noise of it, though we weren't spared the noise from the pool.  Ah, a relaxing tropical paradise, coupled with a drunken DJ's iPod thudding club music HARD at 120db every day, all the time, constantly, though no one's there.  All Vegas hotels are now doing this, and most people avoid it.  Another failed attempt by the money-grubbers who bought-out the hotels, thinking it's a par-tay time at 5am with one guest, alone!  Nope.  Vegas fails.


  One of the nicer things was a shop that sold autographed, framed mementos of such things as Indiana Jones the original movie with every character's signature, several musicians to include KISS with every signature, Michael Jackson and the like.  Took a few photos of that. Some were in the tens of thousands of dollars.  I don't think it included shipping.  There was a wonderful "Whopper Bar" by Burger King that was fairly inexpensive and had unusual burger configurations such as bleu-cheese and bacon and bourbon burgers.  Fun and decent.  An empty tattoo parlor and a few more convenience stores, and more Starbucks.  We were going to try some of the actual restaurants but the menu costs of $60 a plate were a bit daunting.  There was a "Sports Bar" (again, not Brazilian themed with no soccer or Brazilian flags, etc.) that was offering a $34 "burger".  I saw it.  Frozen patty.. those annoying '90s-pub high chairs where your feet dangle.. um.. no.. and no team affiliation.  Sorry, we have Applebee's here, and no, we don't much like it here either, at half-price.

  Becky won a good amount of cash at penny-slots and we called it a night.




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Star Trek Las Vegas Part 2 of 2

Here are the pics I took.  It's a 95% brute-force download of pics I took, some are blurry, sure.  Next post is the 'explainin'...