Show, down in Vegas

By now those who went to Comdex last week have recovered, while those who wanted to go have gotten over it and those who managed to avoid the annual computer-industry trade show are relaxing for another year.

I just hope the good people of Las Vegas have already forgiven us.

Every year, Comdex's 250,000 attendees square off against the 25 percent of Vegas folk employed by the hotel, gaming, and recreation industries in a ritual described by one former casino worker (now with the Chamber of Commerce) as "the one time of year we hated." Wearing a Comdex badge is a guarantee of local contempt so solid and plentiful you could build another whole casino from it.

I'm personally not a big Vegas-goer, but I come from a long line of women who make the pilgrimage to the desert at every opportunity. And so it was this year that I declared myself Comdex's goodwill ambassador. I would smile big. I would tip big. I would find out what we were doing to make them hate us. (Note: All incidents were observed by me or gathered from first-hand reports.)

First, we're cheap. A lot of local Comdex-haters talk about how chintzy geeks are; Vegas is a delightfully frank town in this respect. Comdexees don't gamble; the rows of slot machines are all but silent, and even the tables are inhabited by people who understand the laws of probability all too well—and in any case are just hoping for free booze. Comdexees sit eight to a booth for four hours, talking about nothing but software and the girlie shows and leaving a whopping $1 tip. They complain to cabdrivers about the high cost of hookers. They give cabbies $5 on a $4.80 fare and magnanimously suggest they "keep the change."

Second, Comdexees are gross. They stand over the all-you-can-eat buffets chewing, talking, spraying, and holding up the line of other cheap, unhygenic bastards. They push in and out of elevators. They make sounds and perform personal-grooming gestures that really don't belong in public. They wear clothes that are not only tacky—Vegas is fine with tacky—but dirty and decorated with computer advertising. They leer.

Waitresses and cabdrivers have the most direct exposure (I should have talked to some hookers to get their perspective; maybe next year), but don't think the boorishness of Comdexees stops there. A clerk in a cosmetics store tells me about men who accuse her of trying to scam them when she asks if they'd like gift-wrap. (I told her I'd personally like to go around the show floor slapping heads, and for a second I almost had a volunteer militia on my hands.) A barista has a moment of near-breakdown and threatens to fling a credit card at someone's head; as he tells me this, a flabby badge-wearer pushes between me and the counter demanding "low-fat milk—can't anyone get me some low-fat milk? What are you doing standing around?" (Answer: pulling a shot for my espresso, you moo-cow; go milk yourself.)

Some say the Vegas folk have nothing to complain about: The hotels compensate for the week of lost gambling revenue by raising hotel rates, in some cases to nearly $300 a night. Many of the cabbies are on salary, not relying heavily on tips. And one industry thrives during Comdex week: The strip clubs are jammed.

Big deal. Worst of all, this really is behavior specific to Comdex; even Comdexees who patronize other Vegas high-tech shows (CES, for instance) are appalled. And my straw poll was unanimous: Of the nearly 4,000 shows and conventions hosted by Sin City yearly, we are the most loathed; our 250,000 are the most wretched refuse of the 3.3 million souls who teem these desert shores yearly. And in an era when civilians imagine everyone in the computer industry to be sitting on a fat pile of stock options, cheap, rude behavior casts a pall over even your smilingest, tippingest reporter.

And there is no end to the suffering. Vegas is the only place in America with the infrastructure—hotels, convention halls—to handle this enormous trade show. In other words, the only hope for Vegas is for the computer industry to take such a dive that we'll fit elsewhere. Walking through the casinos with their chirping chip-driven machines, networked behind-the-scenes infrastructure, and computer-designed fantastic architectural conceits assures me that the industry is doing far too well at inflicting itself on Las Vegas to ever stop inflicting itself on Las Vegas.

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