Posts Tagged With: Las Vegas

POINTS OF INTEREST

Las week the wife and I flew to the east coast to spend Thanksgiving with our daughters and their families. The daughter whose house we stayed at in Northern Virginia, always serves a sumptuous feast, with each course prepared from scratch. No store-bought prepared dishes like stuffing or sweet-potatoes for her. And being the especially good-hearted person that she is, she likes to invite as many people over for this feast as her house will hold. And then some. A cast of thousands I used to call it. This year, however, because she has had to contend with certain health issues, it was only a cast of hundreds. Much quieter that way. In any event, I was able to discern a number of items affecting the human condition during this journey that I believe are interesting enough to comment on.

Point I.  Self-Loading Freight. No business or company would last more than a month if it treated its patrons as shabbily as the airlines industry treats its customers. From ever-shrinking seat and aisle-room, to the lack of anything resembling edible food, to the often lack of on-time performance, to grossly over-priced tickets  etc., airline customers have to contend with a whole lot of crap to get from here to there. If you fly coach-class, which about 99% of the flying public does, airline crews will refer to you, derisively, as self-loading freight. Behind your back, of course. And why shouldn’t they. You’re herded onto the aircraft down the narrowest of aisleways, until you’re shoved into a tiny cubicle, laughingly referred to as a seat. The leg room is so minuscule that if you’re any taller than a dwarf, your knees are often pressed up against your throat. You have to practically arm wrestle with the person sitting next to you, to obtain a quarter inch of arm rest space. If you’re broadly built, and sitting in an aisle-seat, be prepared for the flight attendants to continually bang into the shoulder that’s resting on the aisle side, as they hurry up and down. If you’re not in an aisle seat, be prepared to hold it in for 4-5 hours, since your opportunity to make it to a bathroom ranges from slim to none. I’m old enough to remember when the airlines actually served meals on their flights. Now you’re lucky if they throw a small bag of pretzels your way, and tell you to gorge yourself on that.

We flew from Las Vegas to the east coast via Southworst Airlines…..uh, I guess they call themselves Southwest. In addition to all the discomfiture on the plane, there’s the endless monotony of hanging around the airport when they so capriciously decide not to arrive on schedule. On our return flight, the airline decided how delightful it would be for the flight to show up 55 minutes behind schedule. There was no bad weather anywhere, or any real excuse for the delay. If there is bad weather, forget about it. It would be faster to travel by mule-train. I guess Southwest felt that their passengers were having too much fun. Can’t have all that frivolity going on. Meanwhile, the price of an airline ticket keeps going up, even though the price of jet fuel has been plunging. Oil prices haven’t been this low since 2010, but none of those savings, god-forbid, are being passed on to the consumer.

Yet virtually every flight on every airline is almost always jammed packed. So why are people willing to put up with all this crap. I guess the answer lies in speediness. If your plane leaves early enough on Thursday morning, you can fly coast-to-coast, and still have Thanksgiving dinner with your family that evening. As for me, I think I might like  to leave a fews days early, and give the mule train option an opportunity.

Point II. The Free Lunch Syndrome. As we all know, the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday, has become almost as big a deal as Thanksgiving itself. Some people, after they’re finished gorging on turkey and stuffing, will head for the nearest mall or department or electronics store, and camp out on the sidewalk overnight, if that’s what it takes to be among the first ones that get into the store on Friday morning. After all, who can pass up such huge bargains on the latest I-Phones, TVs, mattresses etc. being offered at deep discounts. Not one person will stop to think that none of this consumer frenzy will ever radically alter their life-style, which is usually pretty crummy to begin with. And that all the merchandizers’ are doing is reducing the already over-inflated profit margins on these goods, to more reasonable levels. And that what they think they may be saving on certain items, they will likely spend on other items in the store that are not discounted. I mean, as long as you’re in the store to begin with, why not shop til you drop.

I call this type of mentality the free-lunch syndrome, and you see it in abundance where I live, here in Las Vegas. I truly believe that there is no human passion stronger than the quest to obtain a freebie, even though almost everyone will admit there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The local casinos in Las Vegas, (those that are off “The Strip”) readily understand this human lust, however, and are ready to profit from it. So they will often issue to local residents, two-for-one coupons for their buffets, which generally cost in the $15-$20 range per dinner. Residents, and sometimes tourists, will often stand on line for over an hour at these buffets, just to save 20 bucks, and then knock down the slop that’s usually being served up. Then, after dinner, most will wander onto the casino floor, and drop maybe $200 or more without blinking an eye. After all, the important thing is that they got their free lunch, or dinner as the case may be.  Human nature is so immensely fascinating, especially in its predictability.

Well, I had intended to explore other human foibles, (outside of the political follies ever on-going in Washington), but I feel fatigue beginning to set in. I believe it to be that senior-thing, again. So I’ll have carry these thoughts over for the next chapter in trying to categorize the human condition.

 

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UNDER THE RADAR

Life in Las Vegas is highly indicative of how people prioritize their major concerns. Indicative of the psychology of how people tend to focus on matters of little temporary consequence, while failing to address events that can have huge impacts on their very existences in the long run. For example, the local rag that passes for a newspaper in Las Vegas has been running front-page headline stories for over a week, about how a nearby cattle rancher has defied the federal government by letting his cattle graze on government-owned land. Which is okay as long as the rancher is willing to pay the grazing fees owed to the government for allowing his cattle to trespass. Which the rancher and his rather extensive family has refused to do for over 10 years so that he now owes the government over $1 million. This, in turn, led to the government attempting to round up the rancher’s cattle and repossess them, so to speak. Not a very smart move, since repossessing cows is not quite as simple as repossessing furniture.

In any event, the story made national headlines, prompting a horde of government haters calling themselves militiamen, armed to the teeth, to rush to the aid of the cattle rancher from supposedly every state of the union, including Alaska. They came for an armed confrontation with those nasty feds who were trying to take everyone’s rights away. Never mind that the rancher was under a court order to pay the all those grazing fees going back 10 years. It suddenly became the patriotic thing to do, i.e. defying the tyrannical federal government. Sort of like not paying your income taxes because everyone knows what a despised agency IRS is. The feds finally came to their senses and realized that this ensuing confrontation, which could have led to loss of life, was just not worth it. Even though they were legally justified in their actions. So the feds stood down, released the rounded up cattle back to the rancher, and left the scene. The entire kerfuffle was supposedly over. Except that every right-wing whacko radio talk show host, as well as Fox News, lionized the scofflaw rancher for defying the federal government and getting away with it. Including our local paper who, as I’ve said, is still running with the story although the confrontation in now long over.

After all, why examine real and entrenched problems that Las Vegas faces when you can sensationalize meaningless drivel like the cattle story. For example, the Las Vegas economy is still one of the worst in the country, with the unemployment rate being well above the national average. The LV public school system is continually, year-after-year, rated in the bottom worst 5 among the 50 states. Now it’s true that good chunk of the LV population is comprised of seniors who have retired here, and whose kids have long been well past public school age. But there are also a lot of young families living here who are employed in the hotel/casino or construction industries, and who have a lot at stake in the quality of the LV public education system. And lastly, there is the most intractable problem of all; the severity of the on-going drought in LV which has led to plunging water reserves for 2 million people living in the LV valley.

While this morning’s local newspaper was still carrying on about the cattle rancher, it took the Los Angles Times to publish a front page story about how critical the water shortage is here in Las Vegas. As the Times put it, Lake Mead from whence LV obtains 90% of its water supply, has shrunk to its lowest level in generations. “The reservoir…is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain,” as the Times put it. Readers of this blog know that I’ve written many times about the criticality of the LV water situation. Las Vegas is one of the driest places on this planet, getting less than 4 inches of rain in a good year. It has been in a prolonged 15 year drought, with no end in sight. As I’ve said, it gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn, gets its water from the Colorado River, which runs from Northern Nevada all the way to Mexico. Only now, it should more properly be called the Colorado Streamlet, since the river is also drying up. Seems that the Colorado water level is heavily dependent on the snow accumulations in the northern Nevada mountains. The melting snow in the Spring is what replenishes the river every year. Only snow accumulations have also been decreasing each year, thereby adversely affecting the river’s flow.

By the way, central and southern California has also been caught up in this prolonged drought. This area produces a prodigious amount of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, as well as meat from cattle ranches. California farmers and ranchers are already having a very tough time combatting the drought, so it may be more than just the Southwest that will be devastated by this lack of water. Maybe it’s time to start being concerned about real rather than phony issues.

So, 2 million people have decided to settle in LV, one of the driest places on Earth, with little concern about whether there will be enough water to go around. This doesn’t include the millions of tourists that pour in here every year, expecting that when they turn their showers on every morning in their $500 plus per night hotel rooms, water will actually come out. Soon, the summer will be here, with daytime temperatures in the 110-115 degree range, which will further dry out Lake Mead. The city’s water authority knows how critical the water situation is, and has already spent a bundle trying to build lower intake pipes running from Lake Mead to LV. The fear is that by next year, the water level in Lake Mead will have dropped below where the current intake pipes suck it in like a giant straw. But it’s a slow and grueling, and very costly project, and it’s questionable whether the new straw will be ready on time. If it’s not, won’t we have fun then.

I often have said that the only benefit I saw to getting old is that I don’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. But maybe there’s an additional benefit in that I don’t have to be around when LV residents, and tourists in their overpriced hotel rooms, turn on the facets one morning and nothing comes out.

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VULNERABILITY

Whoever said that old age was not for sissies hit the nail right on the head. As one ages, inevitable aches and pains start creeping into one’s muscles, joints, knees, ankles, necks, shoulders and other parts of what’s left of your body. You slowly but surely begin accepting these pains as they become interwoven into into your daily life routines. After awhile, it becomes nearly impossible to imagine life without them. They become your constant companion, almost certainly for the rest of your life. Although I am generally considered to be in good health, unquestionably, I have my share of maladies. Among my list of ailments are asthma, allergies, arthritis, and that’s just the A’s. If I went through the whole alphabet, I would need a blog longer than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along with the physical ailments comes a mental degradation, as you realize you’re no longer strong enough to take on various physical challenges or threats. Thus, as one ages, invariably, a foreboding sense of vulnerability continues to creep into one’s psyche and grows in strength. All part of the fearfulness you often see in seniors’ behavior.

One of my chief physical impairments is a loss of hearing, or as they called it back in the day, deafness. Yes, I have to wear hearing aids, which are not only obscenely expensive, but of marginal effectiveness. People with normal hearing capabilities usually don’t realize that hearing aids come nowhere close to restoring ones hearing capabilities to what they once were before hearing loss began to set in. In a crowded restaurant or other similar environment, they are practically useless. That’s because hearing aids magnify noises indiscriminately. So dishes clattering, conversations of people across the room, and all other sounds are magnified to the same degree as the words being spoken by the person sitting next to you. It’s your demanding job to try to hear the conversations of the people at your table, above the interference from the other sounds emanating in the room, and being picked up by your hearing aids. Often, an impossible task. But like everything else, you muddle through and rationalize. After all, it’s a lot better to have hearing loss than blindness. But, like all other disabilities, it feeds one’s sense of growing vulnerability.

Since we have lived in a seniors community, we have seen much disease and death over the years. Just a couple of days ago, the obits in our local paper carried the news that one of our residents had just died of lung cancer. He was 10 years my junior; so I figure that as long as I’m looking at the green side of the lawn every day, I’m ahead of the game. A few years back, a man we knew quite well, developed liver cancer in his early 60s. He was a really good guy, well-liked by everyone, and had a strong thirst for life. Hence he decided to fight the cancer tooth and nail. This meant heavy doses of chemo, with all its debilitating effects, being in and out of the hospital almost every week, and an array of non-ending surgical procedures. It did extend his life by a few months, but at an enormous cost as to the quality of that life. In the end, the inevitable occurred. I think if I were put in similar circumstances, at my age, I would opt not to undergo the chemo or any other therapy, and just let nature take its course.

This man, after he was diagnosed, told me that no one in his family had ever made it past 60. Bad genes, apparently. The fact that he had made it into his early 60s, was for him, something of a triumph. But as I get older, I see more clearly the role that genetic inheritance plays in determining one’s longevity. We know people well into their 80s, who seem to plow through life with little physical difficulty. Others have aged well before their time. It’s all in the genes. As for myself, I feel that I have a lousy genetic inheritance, (to say nothing of an even worse financial inheritance) since everyone in my family history died young, save for my father. I try to compensate by going to the gym every day and working out like a dog, but I think, in the end, poor genes will trump exercise. In the meantime, I just take it one day at a time, and continue to look for the green side of the grass.

The fact that seniors instinctively know they have far more mileage behind them than in front of them, is often what makes them so fearful and oblivious to all but their own needs. Many spend most of their remaining lives going from the doctors offices (they usually see a multitude of doctors) to the dentist office. Most cling to life with every ounce of their remaining strength. In Las Vegas, It’s not uncommon to see seniors dragging along oxygen tanks as the come to play the slots in smoke filled casinos. Some are in wheel chairs, or can only get around with walkers or canes. But they come because it gives them some form of entertainment, to say nothing of the casino noises and hordes of people throwing their money away on the machines or the craps tables. At least it gives them a chance to get out of the house.

I believe the fear of death is mostly rooted in the fear of the unknown. What is on the other side, if anything. Anecdotal evidence from those that have undergone near-death- experiences would indicate that the soul does enter a different dimension, one usually described as being  paradise. But there is obviously no sex, no food, no drink, no TV. So I’m thinking-how much of a paradise can it be? You would think that by now, some sort of a skype-like arrangement would have been set up between us and the departed, so we could know exactly what to expect. And your mother could continue to nag you from beyond the grave. In the meantime, I, along with a bunch of other seniors, will continue to value the time we have left above ground in this dimension.

 

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THE SUMMER SUN

Huddie William Ledbetter was a black musician in the early part of the 20th century. He came to be known as Leadbelly, and he wrote gospel, blues, folk songs, and other types of music, all of which have a haunting and distinct style. But Leadbelly was perhaps best known for his chain-gang songs, since he often displayed an angry temper which frequently landed him in trouble with the law. As a result he did some serious jail time in Southern prisons during which he usually had to work on chain-gangs throughout the year. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment which is supposedly banned by the 8th amendment to the Constitution. In any event his experiences in doing hard labor led to some great folk music. The opening lines of perhaps his best chain-gang song goes as follows: “Look over yonder, hot sun turning over. Look over yonder, hot sun turning over. And it won’t go down, Lord, it won’t go down.” Which is kind of a long way around of getting to the point of discussion, namely the hot sun during the summer months here in Las Vegas.

For 9 months out of the year Las Vegas weather is usually mild and pleasant. But from about mid-June thru mid-September, the temperatures sizzle, the sun blazes down with unyielding intensity, and if you have to spend any considerable amount of time out-doors, especially in the afternoons, you’ll like feel a lot like Leadbelly working on the chain-gang. Because it’s a dry heat, when temperatures are still in the low 90s, one can usually get by without using air-conditioning. But once temperatures reach the upper 90s and then plunge directly into the 100s, the a/c is cranking away for the rest of the summer. July and August heat usually settles in at temperatures of between 105-110degrees, but can, and often does, reach heights of 112-115 degrees, sometimes for extended periods. Very unhealthy levels. If you go to the store or a restaurant during the day, and have to leave your car parked in the sun, you’ll be entering an oven once you get back in the car. Over the years, there’s been more than a few cases where parents have forgotten that they left their infants in the car when going shopping, only to return and find the most tragic of consequences. Other acts of stupidity resulted when people brought their pets with them, and left them in the car, broiling in the sun, with the same deadly results.

Those on the right are continually demonizing illegal aliens. But here in Las Vegas, where almost everyone that owns a house, especially seniors, has a gardner that monthly tends to their landscaping, who do they think is trimming their bushes and blowing the leaves out of their yards. Certainly not native citizens who would rather go on welfare then get out in the sun in 108 degree weather. It’s virtually always illegals, as  all of us know by the fact that they often can’t speak English. In our community, besides individual homeowners having their private gardening service, there’s a landscaper the the development hires to take care of the common areas, and who has people out there working almost every day of the year. The workers are all illegals. Who would do this work if we suddenly shipped 12 million undocumented workers back to Mexico. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the word “hypocrisy” is not in the vocabulary of the denizens of Right-Wing Looney-Tunesville.

When we first moved to Las Vegas, many a-moon ago, we would sometimes get relief from the heat through afternoon or evening thunder storms. At times there would be a heavy deluge, where more than 3 inches of rain would come pouring down in less than an hour. Las Vegas at that time didn’t have a sewer system capable of handling such deluges, so lakes would form at major intersections, bringing traffic to a grinding halt. Waves would form in these lakes, and one could literally go surfing. When more than one motorist drowned during these episodes, the city got serious and went on an expensive binge to build an adequate sewer system. Just about the time that they finally finished, the entrenched drought that we’ve been experiencing clawed its way into our year-round climate. Now there isn’t even the hint of a thunderstorm. Each day  sees clear, blue, cloudless skies with a burning sun and no relief. I literally cannot remember the last time we had a decent rain. It’s as if, once we built the required drainage, the universe decided to give us the middle-finger.

Because of the lack of water, the ground here is like solid rock. I think that one could more easily dig through an 8-inch concrete block, than dig a hole in the yard to plant a bush. Yet, somehow, certain shrubs and trees seem to thrive in this rocky soil. Desert plants they call them. Like the sumac trees we have in our backyard that were shorter than me when planted, but now tower over our roof as well as the roofs of adjoining houses. Olive trees also do extremely well as do cactus shrubs. I don’t know how the roots can spread in such hard soil, but somehow they do. There is also a thriving wildlife, at least in our development. We have a wide variety of avian life such as quail, ducks and geese that like to hang out in the small lakes we have on the golf course or in the common areas. We also have a large contingent of rabbits as well as tiny bunnies that bounce around the development like tennis balls, after the rabbits give birth. And because of that we have our share of predators. Besides snakes there are coyotes and bobcats that feed on the rabbits. With water from the lakes, and plenty of available bunnies to eat, what’s not to like.

And so the summer heat and the broiling sun are upon us once again. For relief, we can always go to restaurants and casinos, where air-conditioning is blasting away at sub-artic levels. This often necessitates taking heavy sweaters with us, especially for the seniors set, to put on when coming from the outside heat into in the in-door frigidity. Don’t think the irony of that goes unnoticed.

 

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BASIC HUMAN INSTINCTS

Go out onto a crowded city street and start gazing up at the sky. Then, after awhile, count how many other people on that street are staring up at the same sky, likely convinced that there is something up there that they just can’t see for some reason. Otherwise, why would all these people be looking up at the sky? There is a basic instinct in all of us that if the crowd is going in one direction and we’re going the opposite way, there must be something wrong with us. Smart politicians and business owners often fully understand this, and often cleverly know how to manipulate these human instincts for power or profit. And there is no better place to observe basic human instincts, and the attempts at their manipulation, than here in Las Vegas where I’m currently residing.

For example, there is a strong impulse in all of us to get something for nothing. A freebie, a handout, a free lunch, whatever you want to call it. (By the way, this instinct exists in animals as much as it does in humans.  If you live near a wooded area, and leave food out a couple of days for say a deer, it’s guaranteed that deer will be in your backyard every day thereafter.) Anyway, that unending quest for a freebie is why department stores and other vendors are always having “sales” or markdowns on their merchandise. You know the store is still making a profit on those sales, but the appearance of of getting something for nothing is often too strong to resist. This freebie instinct is what drives up the volume of visitors to Las Vegas, and hotel and casino owners know just how to exploit it.

We usually eat home during the week, but on a recent Thursday night we decided to visit a local hotel (located in the Summerlin suburbs, versus the mega hotels that are located in and around “the Strip”) and have dinner in their buffet where prices are a lot less than the Strip buffets. Of course the food isn’t the same quality as those in the mega resorts, but hey, sacrifices have to be made from time to time. In any event, it being a Thursday night, we expected fairly light hotel attendance and plenty of parking as had always been the case before. Imagine our surprise when we got to the hotel and found that every parking space in sight was taken. They were even parked on the roof. I was about to turn around and head out of there, when someone pulled out of a space and we grabbed it. Upon entering the casino, which as I said, was usually lightly attended, we instead found mobs, or hordes of people everywhere. The buffet, which on Thursday nights usually had more empty tables than customers, now had long waiting lines. We had to wait on line for well over half an hour, whereas previously we would just waltz right in.  What in the world had suddenly caused this out-pouring, we speculated during dinner.

To cut to the chase, it seemed that the hotel had mailed out cards to their favorite customers. (Ours came a day late.) These special cards contained “prizes” or freebies hidden under sealed flaps. But you were not allowed to open these flaps at home, or you would be disqualified from claiming the prize. Instead you had to bring them to the casino on each Thursday night in June, and have them opened by a casino employee at the club card desk. As at the buffet, there were huge lines in front of that desk, as people waited forever for the “prize” that would bring them instant riches.  Except that what they got in virtually every case was something of nominal value, maybe worth a few bucks at best. Of course once inside the casino they were almost sure to gamble, as evidenced by the fact that almost all machines were being played. Another promotion going on at the same time was one, where if you accumulated a certain amount of points playing the slot machines, you might qualify for a free buffet. Hence, if you threw $300-$500 into the machines, you could earn a free $15 meal. Another local casino is giving away free buffets in June just for showing up. Because of this, the lines are about an hour or more long to get into the buffet. Well worth it, wouldn’t you say, to save $15 on a meal.

On the other end of the spectrum, we recently inquired about seeing a show at one of the Strip hotels. Now there are a lot shows in Las Vegas that are either free or of nominal cost. The trouble is, they are usually so bad that you need to bring along  toothpicks to keep your eyelids propped open. The Strip shows, however, are entirely different. They have first-rate entertainment, but usually at a steep price. My wife inquired about getting tickets to see Celine Dion playing at Caesar’s Place. It’s supposed to be one of the  better shows in Las Vegas. But if you want to sit on this side of the Mississippi, the minimum price per ticket is about $250. If you want to sit close enough to where you can actually see the performers on stage, prices can go as high as a mind-boggling $1400 per seat. I think if I were rich, I would still be reluctant to spend that kind of money on a theater ticket. But people do, as evidenced by the fact that her shows sellout at every performance.

But that basic instinct for a free lunch draws millions of visitors here annually.  More than a few hope to get rich in the casinos, and maybe one in a million actually does. Most, of course, drop a considerable amount of money before they leave. Las Vegas also seems to entice a disproportionate amount of smokers, and you can see them puffing away as their money goes up in cigarette smoke at the craps or roulette tables. But casinos are about the last frontier where a smoker can puff away without being hassled. And so they come here, and smoke ever more intensely, as they feed their dwindling cash reserve into ever-stubborn slot machines. All that second hand smoke, though, is another good reason to stay out of the casinos.

 

 

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