Leaving Las Vegas
The buffet of earthly delights
CA World 2005 diary Motorcycle daredevilry marked the opening the CA World conference in New Orleans five years ago - in the shape of former chief exec Charles Wang jumping though a paper hoop emblazoned with an IBM logo. New CEO John Swainson was content to simply walk on stage to open last week's CA bean in Las Vegas.
Over the intervening years CA has not only ditched its Computer Associates moniker but has re-focused itself on bringing together fragmented IT infrastructures rather than talking up gee-whiz artificial intelligence technology. Consequently CA World 2005 delegates heard a lot about about aligning IT and business requirements (Enterprise IT Management, as CA calls it) and not much about Neugents and the like. It's also swapped politicians (such as Jimmy Carter) as speakers to close the show for comedians such as this year's guest turn Jerry Seinfeld.
CA World 2005 brought around 6,000 customers, partners, journalists and CA staff to Sin City last week. Even by Vegas standards it's a big show, as a local cabbie was happy to confirm, but smaller than CA World of yore, which was so big it had a measurable mortality rate. With 20,000+ people packed in New Orleans actuarial averages meant that two people were likely to pop their clogs during the week long conference.
Such morbid thoughts didn't stop delegates living it up in the Big Easy and for many (if not all) the party has stepped up a gear with the move into Sin City. Techies are generally not big gamblers - many could be spotted checking on their email or in earnest discussion after conference sessions in the Venetian as late as 8pm - but others hit the tables or the clubs.
The Road to Mandalay
Monday night, for example, saw conference delegates crowding up to enter Mandalay Bay's Foundation: House of Blues club which, true to the contradictions inherent in Vegas, was not located in a basement (it was actually 30 stories high) and played anything but the blues. The club had carpet for wallpaper, an open hearth, chandeliers and seats only the high rollers are allowed to use.
Whilst at Mandalay Bay, one of our party lost her purse. Remarkably it was handed in to the casino's lost and found department, something of a tribute to the honesty of US gamblers. But when she recovered the purse, all the UK pounds therein had been converted to US dollars at an unfavorable exchange rate. "Most people don't come back," casino staff explained. Delighted at being reunited with her purse, she didn't have the heart to complain about getting short changed.
Staff might get suspicious with large amounts of money but this would otherwise seem to be an idle mechanism to launder large amounts of dosh. But we digress.
Europeans are happy to attend a conference anywhere. Dublin may be just as much fun as Vegas, with the bonus of better beer, but Americans prefer to stay on their own soil. Last month's Virus Bulletin conference in Dublin was accompanied by the kind of practical jokes and shenanigans that would disgrace a stag party. By coincidence, but keeping with that theme, celebrity-mullet turned lap dance club owner Peter Stringfellow even dined in the same restaurant as journalists on one night. He was en route to Trinity College where he'd be asked to take part in a debate themed around the motion that "Man remains king in the bedroom".
Compulsive gambling? Please speak to a casino manager
Stringfellow would be right at home in America's capital of vice. Vegas - founded 100 years ago through a land auction organised by the Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad - remains a city of contradictions best illustrated by advice from Caesars Palace guest information booklet:
If you think you have a problem with gambling please stop and get help. Contact the casino shift manager, a casino credit exec, the casino cage or you may call the National Council for Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522 4700. Trained counselors are standing by.
Doubtless casino staff attempt to give better advice than "consolidate all your debts with us" or "it's just a bad run, keep gaming" but you can't help wondering about the potential conflict of interest. Since the American Association of Addictionology and Compulsive Behavior meets in Vegas perhaps this is only to be expected.
After abandoning its attempts to rebrand itself as a family-centric holiday destination - a kind of DisneyLand with Gambling - Vegas has embraced its hedonistic roots. The spirit of Elvis lives on - if only through Big Elvis's afternoon shows at the Barbary Coast. But Vegas has gone beyond that or pale pastiche to reach a comfort zone half-way between Austin Powers and Ocean's Eleven.
The tat of Caesars' Celine Dion shop co-exists with the splendor of the fountain show outside the Bellagio. It's not rock and roll but I like it. ®