AG 2004—Observations

I was at first going to make this a series of absolutely, positively objective observations. But okay. Observations and opinions, to tell you the truth, sort of blog style.

Wed. 6/30—The internet connection. In a recent posting to M-Salon, I offered my experience with Internet connections in various hotels I've stayed in, which was, in the main, broadband aside, you just plug in telephone line, dial a local ISP, and away you go. Local calls are usually either free or at a small charge. I will note, however, that these have been hotels or motels whose clients are usually either travelers or businessmen, not casinos, whose aim is to suck every possible nickel out of your pocket.

At Bally's, the cost of a local call is $1.35 for the first 30 minutes, and $0.20/minute for each minute thereafter. An intelligent person who wanted to be connected to the Internet for some period of time would therefore terminate and reconnect every 29 minutes, 59 seconds, for a cost of $2.70/hour.

But Bally's also offers a broadband connection at $9.99/24 hours (literally, from the first moment you connect). On a 24-hour basis, broadband costs $0.41/hour. I suppose the intelligent person calculates his or her own breakpoint. I opted for broadband as a cost of general entertainment for the extended weekend. It must be T-1—that sucker is hot.

Wed. 6/30-Thu. 7/1—No place to sit. Neither the Paris nor Bally's has a lobby as such. What might otherwise be considered a lobby area in the space connecting the two hotels is a casino. There is no central gathering place, nowhere to sit and rendezvous with friends, nowhere just to sit and take five.

In fact, there is little in Bally's except the casino, and, apparently, a few restaurants, which I haven't looked at yet. (Another Mensan said that some of them are closed for repair/renovation. According to our cabbie on the way in from the airport, the summer months are Las Vegas's lull season, and during this time, the hotels typically do their maintenance work. The airport baggage area was under renovation, streets from the airport into town were being worked on, and, when I checked in at Bally's, I could scarcely hear the desk clerk over a jackhammer clattering somewhere down the restaurant hall.).

The Paris, is, ostensibly, a representation of Paris streets. The floors are cobblestone paving, the ceiling is an always sunset sky, and the halls (streets) are lined with shops and restaurants. But there are no benches, sofas, or anything else on the streets. Nowhere to sit except in a bar, restaurant, or casino.

The hub of Mensa activity is in the Paris's Le Centre des Conventions (that's Convention Center, for you non-French speakers.) In the convention center, there are, or were, little backless benches—and ashtrays—lining the halls. In the Las Vegas casinos, smoking is permitted in all the common areas, and it was in one of these halls that the Smoker's SIG had carved out a space for itself. I'd heard that the nonsmokers were complaining loudly about smoke in the hallways, and when I passed through that area this morning, I observed that all the benches and ashtrays had been removed from that main hall. There are still benches in the hallways to the side, but no ashtrays. Thus, in the Mensa central area, the only place to sit is in the hospitality room—and it may be long walk from wherever you are.

Thu. 7/1—The coffee situation. I am, at least during the first hour of the day, a simple man. All I want is a cup of coffee and a quiet place where I can sit and smoke a cigaret and drink my coffee and do the mental Tai-Chi exercises that are a part of my mornings.

The rooms at Bally's and the Paris do not include the little coffee pots that are common in most hotels and motels nowadays. If you want coffee (and have not brought makings with you), you have to either order from room service or forage out for it. I reasoned that the Mensa hospitality would surely be offering coffee during the morning hours.

Wrong. At 10:30, I could have got a glass of wine in hospitality, but I could not get a cup of coffee. So I took to the streets of Paris. Now, you'd think that this would be prime territory for a concern like Starbucks to charge inflated prices to a captive clientele. Apparently not, or, at least, I haven't found it yet. The only place to get a cup of coffee is in one of the restaurants.

Wandering into Le Boulangerie, I bumped into Dan Wilterding, current RVC6, who was perishing of hunger. I decided to join him and make a brunch of it, since time had rolled on to 11:30. And so I got two cups of coffee for $12.48, with a chicken salad sandwich tossed in for free.

I'll confess to you right here and now that I'm a caffeine junkie. Normally, I have a cup of coffee near to hand all day long. This is going to be coffee hell, and expensive, too. It's enough to drive a man back to drinking; I mean, what the hell, the booze is free, and available from early morning until late at night.

Coffee addendum late night 7/1-early morning 7/2: I'm a happier camper. Damon showed me a coffee shop Bally's lobby.

Thu. 7/2—Rumbles. Everyone knew going in that this was going to be a different kind of AG, and some rumbles are beginning to take shape.

Most of the sounds about the program are good. It's a very full one, with a lot of something for everyone, and everyone seems to be finding plenty of presentations of interest.

The sounds about the layout are not so good—kind of an amplification of my observation about no place to sit. A fellow who remembered me from my chairman days and waylaid me dans la rue last night probably expressed it the most succinctly: at past AGs, we've more or less taken over a hotel and been the big fish in a modest pond, but here we're minnows darting about in a very large ocean. Whereas in the past we've represented the majority of guests in our hotel and frequently got stopped by other guests who would inquire about Mensa, here everyone is focused on the casino activities they came for and don't notice us at all. In the past, AGs have been by us, about us, and for us; our focus was internal, providing for us a sense of group identity and, if you will, group bonding. With no place to sit—no lobby or central gathering area in which to catch people walking by or just to sit and see who else shows up—we are diffuse. The sense of us is diminished.

Another expression of the lack of focus is that we haven't come here for an AG. Rather, we've been presented with a tour package; Mensa does Las Vegas, sort of in the way business conferences are planned in attractive locations as a way of luring participants. They will get up in the morning and take care of business of today, but then they'll have plenty to keep them amused and entertained until tomorrow's meetings. That's been expanded into wondering whether next year it will be Mensa does New Orleans, and the year after that, Mensa does Disney World. If this is the case, then the course and nature of AGs and Mensa will have been forever changed.

To my surprise, I haven't heard any rumbles about hospitality; in particular, the nature and quantity of the food. Via email, Meredy remarked to me that this is a far cry from the Great Potato Chip Inquisition at the 1992 AG in San Francisco, when I was called before the AMC to explain why there wasn't enough food in hospitality. Personally, I'm still waiting for a hospitality shoe to drop.

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