Wednesday, January 12, 2011

. . . Vegas Stories

If you spend any time at all watching prime time TV you have seen one of the series of commercials paid for by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that feature the tag-line "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" at least several times.

One of the commercials features what appears to be a wealthy man who abuses his chauffeur, having him tattooed, frozen in an ice bar, and thrown from a mechanical bull, only to see that half-way through the evening the pair trade places, implying that here is one more facet of the oddness that comes over us when we visit Las Vegas.

The series presents a typical cross-section of society, and the implication is clear: come to Vegas, get your freak on, and do not worry because nobody at home will ever know about what you did.

The implication is clear, and actually plays into another much older and broader series of tourism advertisements from the 1980's that give an impression of Las Vegas as a place where anything can happen -- that of the "Vegas Story" that everyone who visits is destined to experience.

Some odd or memorable event will take place while you are there, something profound with a unique but colorful impact that will, we are assured, give us a story to tell for the rest of our lives.

A story that we will want to tell.

2011 CES Stories

Yesterday I returned home from Las Vegas, where I was sent to cover the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Often called Geek Mecca, the show is arguably the largest and most important trade show for Consumer Electronics in the world. At CES we get to see the devices and products -- the technology if you will -- that is destined to be in the hands of consumers over the course of the next 12 months.

It was not my first trip to Vegas, and being a Vegas Veteran I fully expected to have some sort of experience there that would qualify as my Vegas Story for this trip -- but the first three days of the show quickly passed in a blur, with nothing even remotely resembling a Vegas Story taking place.

On the 4th and final day of the show I had a brief encounter with a woman who was obviously a man in the elevator at the hotel, but as that consisted only of the man/woman commenting on the crowd of CES attendees making it difficult to get a seat in a popular restaurant, it hardly qualifies as a Vegas Story.

My traveling companion and colleague on this trip was a long-time friend who is like a brother to me -- hey Geofry! -- and between the two of us we have probably been to Vegas two dozen times in the past 20 years, so there are stories to tell, but it seemed that this time, for the first time, we were going to have a trip to Vegas that did not include anything odd at all. Nothing memorable. No story to tell. The clock, you see, was ticking.

Monday morning arrived, we took our bags downstairs -- we stayed at the Sahara for this trip, one of the original nine hotel/casinos on the Strip -- checked out, and stood outside in a relatively balmy 55 degrees waiting for our shuttle bus transports (we somehow ended up taking two different services from the airport so we were not riding back together).

"There is still a chance for something to happen," Geof allows, but then the Bell Tran bus arrives for me and I am loaded up and take off to the airport.

I have time to check in at the counter inside -- I flew Southwest Air this trip -- and I have my bags checked and my boarding pass printed out before Geof even arrives at the rather busy airport. Geof arrives, gets his bags checked, and we then head to the TSA security checkpoint, a common barrier that we all must negotiate in order to fly these days.

"Maybe we will get strip-searched?" I suggest, glancing at the attractive female blond TSA Agent at the checkpoint. Geof follows the direction of my gaze and then laughs out loud.

"Yeah, you wish!" he observes.

We joke about having T-Shirts made that say "I got to Second Base with TSA" but we readily admit that we would not have the guts to actually wear them in the airport. As we are joking about this we reach the head of the line, and for the first time ever we literally breeze through the checkpoint, being given only a cursory examination that largely consisted of a few basic questions. No Vegas Story here.

Inside the secure area where the gates are located we arrive at the hub between the two main wings -- Geof is departing from a gate in the C-Section, while I will leave from a gate in the B-Section, and we intentionally arrived in time to have a leisurely lunch together before boarding our separate flights -- me to head back east to Cape Cod, Geof west to Oregon.

We eat at Chilies Too, and the food is great (but expensive), nothing exciting happens. We do not see or sit next to anyone famous, there are no brawls, no army of transvestites appears, and Wayne Newton does not dance singing down the wide corridor outside.

I go with Geof to his gate, as his plane departs an hour before mine, we say goodbye, and I head towards my gate.

What Happens in Vegas...

I reach the gate with nothing to report other than a crowded corridor and a near-collision when a melon-headed tourist cuts in front of my power wheelchair. At the gate I check in to be sure that they will have someone to come and take my chair below, where it will be loaded into the belly of the plane, but they are already ahead of me on that, having been tipped-off by the counter when I checked in two hours ago.

Knowing that Southwest has no food service on board I had saved some of my lunch, wrapped in tinfoil and tucked into my carry-on bag, to be eaten later. I have a book to read on the flight -- a gift from Geof called Whiskey and Philosophy -- but I need to grab water and gum so I head to the Hudson News Stand in the concourse.

Having made my purchase, and with just 10 minutes to go before they call me to board, I roll towards the bathroom back up the corridor, safe and secure in the certainty that there is no longer any time or opportunity for there to be a Vegas Story this trip, and maybe just a little disappointed at the prospect of returning home without a story to tell.

As I approach the bathroom I see that someone has left a mechanical wheelchair partially blocking the entrance, and to get around it I have to cut in sharply around the corner. As I roll around the corner a half-seen body lunges at me, kicking out at my chair...

The heavy smell of alcohol assails my nose as the control display on my power chair begins bleating its alarm -- someone has disengaged the motor on the left side, which causes it to warn me that the automatic braking mechanism is no longer engaged. The man who attacked my chair must have kicked the yellow lever on the left-side motor I realize.

He backs away at this point, and someone with him starts to apologize to me...

"Sorry man, he thought you were trying to hit him with your chair. It's okay -- you aren't hurt are you? Andy, come on!" they say.

"Something is wrong with my chair," I note, leaning down on the left side to reset the lock-out lever on the left motor.

Before I can do that, the drunk makes an unpredictable high-speed approach.

"Lemme help!" he slurs, and then loses control and falls on top of me, then begins to flail around as his sober companion tries to get him off of me. With the assistance of another man who is entering the bathroom they get this drunk off of me, and I finally get a good enough look at him to recognize him. I don't know him personally, but I know who he is.

"Sorry, really sorry man, Andy is a little drunk. Come on Andy!"

I forgive You Andy

The story of my encounter with comedienne Andy Dick did not end here, and in the earlier version of this post I gave the blow-by-blow of the events... But later I realized that the events that took place, though they are my Vegas Story, are also the blueprint for a personal tragedy of a sort that I just cannot wrap my mind around.

I was never a Police Beat reporter, and I never covered the Family Courts. I have not worked for the Social Page and I have never covered the celebrity beat -- my specialty is Business and Technology folks, and the only drunks you encounter on that beat are the reasonable ones who can handle a three-Martini lunch.

There is never loss of control; there is never inebriation to the extreme. There is absolutely never the sort of personal humiliation that this man was subjecting himself to in so public a forum.

Drunk on my beat is really just a warm and pleasant buzz, a fact that leaves me ill-equipped to understand... To comprehend... The enormity of whatever it is that has caused this man to allow his life to run off the rails, and folks it has, clearly it has.

After I arrived in Providence and then home, I spent a few days decompressing from the trip, in fact I spent most of the time either writing, filing copy, or asleep. There was no time to think about anything other than the assignments that I was working on -- but once I managed to catch a breath, once the more pressing deadlines had been met, I had time to actually think about what happened in that bathroom.

My journalistic inclination took over, and I began to dig out the details and to reconstruct the previous 72 hours of the life of Andy Dick -- to obtain a snapshot of that brief moment in his life in order to try to make sense of what happened in that bathroom -- and I did not like what I saw.

In the course of the previous three days -- a weekend in the life of Andy Dick -- he was thrown out of CES, the Adult Video Awards, and two different clubs on the Vegas Strip for being drunk and obnoxious.

He had propositioned a porn star and a transvestite, if reports are accurate, and he may have made a more than indecent proposal to a waitress in a casino, but that report was more official than gossip, and it appears that Mr. Dick will not be welcome back in that casino any time soon.

Perhaps it is true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas when it happens to mortal man, but not when you are a Hollywood star -- or perhaps more accurately not when you have once been a star and are now fading into the distance, which is an accurate description of Dick.

Andy if you are reading this, you need to find the people in your life that actually care about you and surround yourself with them so that you do not find yourself vulnerable to the temptation of drinking and then venturing out in public. I am not going to tell you to get help, because I know from my research on you that you have tried -- and failed -- repeatedly.

At this point your best hope is to manage your problem mate, and that means putting the sort of people around you that care enough about you to prevent you from making this sort of mistake.

I do not grok LA -- I do not know if you even have that sort of support network where you live. Where I come from your neighbors are your friends, and there are a lot of people I know I could count on to help me if I showed so serious a lapse in judgment. You need to find those people in your life and get them to help you, mate.

Like Fate, Vegas will collect what it is owed; nobody gets to leave without a Vegas Story, it seems, and if you try delay it, or God forbid if you try to avoid it, when Vegas notices -- finally notices -- that feckless gesture it delivers a story in spades. Or Dicks, depending upon how you look at it... That is the sum total of my Vegas Story.