Day Eight: The Riviera ($109 a night)
I am, dear reader, a man of my word. When I say I'll do something, I will -- barring hell or high-water -- do it.
This month the thing that I have said I will do is to stay a single night in every hotel on the Las Vegas strip, starting with the cheapest and working my way to the most expensive. And true to my word, I'm writing these words from room 2627 of the Riviera Hotel Casino.
Frankly, I'd prefer hell or high-water.
Before I get going, let me be clear that my room is delightful; a one-bedroom suite, complete with its own (fortunately unstocked) bar, and a balcony looking out over some aspect of Las Vegas. I mean, yes, I did book a nonsmoking room, as opposed to this one which smells more pungent than Philip Morris' tongue. And, yes, the furnishings -- including, I fear, the bedding -- haven't been updated in the past 40 years; but I just keep telling myself that I've been upgraded to the status of a 1970s millionaire. A phone next to the toilet! Such opulence!
No, the problem with the Riviera is not the rooms, but rather the service. It's awful. Not sloppy, not surly: awful. Rudely, angrily, terrifyingly awful.
I shared the elevator to registration with a classically-attired (red coat, shiny pants) bellman, who couldn't have been a lick under 70-years-old. "We'll be here for a while," he muttered as the doors closed, "half of the elevators here are busted, and the ones that aren't are slow." The car began to creep upwards. "We're lucky: we picked a slow one." At first, I was charmed: this place has character! Unfortunately, as any real estate agent will tell you, character is a euphemism that swings both ways.
Moments later, I was ready to kill someone; possibly myself. The Riviera, I was both surprised and delighted to discover, has installed a row of automated check-in terminals to make guest registration a breeze. Having spent the best part of a year and a half waiting to check-in at Circus Circus, it was with some swagger that I swiped my credit card and tapped in my preferences - no smoking, two keys, charge this credit card... oh! a free upgrade to a suite!
"Sir, check-in doesn't begin until noon..."
An angry woman wearing Sarah Palin glasses had appeared behind the terminal. I looked at my watch. It was 11:55am.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry I said. The terminal said I could check in, and it's just given me two keys..."
"Well, I'm going to go ahead and cancel those," she replied, through the same forced smile that Governor Palin used when Katie Couric had the gall to ask her about newspapers, "I've just told you -- sir -- check-in is at noon. So I'm going to cancel your keys and you can come back at noon, ok?"
"But noon is in five minutes," I half-clarified-half-pleaded, "and your machine has just charged my credit card and given me keys."
"And we'll fix that at noon, won't we?"
And then she walked off.
Amazing. And worse, while Dienstsleiter Palin and I had been chatting, a sad little line of tired and huddled travelers had built up at the check-in line, behind a black plastic rope, and guarded by another elderly gentleman in red. "You people are always so keen to check in right on noon," he said to no one, and everyone. Yeah, screw us guys.
Twenty minutes later, I was back with Oberleutnant Palin. Apparently the check-in terminals were just for show, because she was now checking everyone in manually. "We're having those things removed," she told the guest in front of me, "most guests aren't smart enough to use them." Deep breath, Paul, deep fucking breath.
I slid my room keys across the desk and summoned the cheeriest voice I could. "Hello! Just hoping you could reactivate my keys."
She looked at me blankly. Then, with a half-smile of recognition, took my keys and then -- immediately -- slid them back across the desk. "You're all set. Thank you for waiting, sir."
At the Riviera, the staff doesn't seem to be having a bad day, so much as a bad decade. When I related my experience on Twitter, a few people replied to suggest that they're either grossly underpaid, or are so un-fire-ably unionized that they don't have to worry about their jobs.
Whatever the cause, the anger, and bitterness and frustration drips from the walls; the front desk snaps at the guests, the housekeepers snap at the front desk (in the hallway outside my room, I heard a maid apologizing to a guest for his unmade room -- "it's the front desk's fault, they always send people up before we're ready" and the bartenders and bellhops snap at everyone. I tipped two dollars to leave my bag for half an hour and -- I swear this is true -- the bellman looked at the bills in his hand and walked away muttering "he screwed me."
In any other situation, I'd have walked out of the hotel and checked in somewhere else: there are roughly a hundred billion hotel rooms in Las Vegas and life is just too short to put up with that kind of nonsense. But as I say, I'm a man of my word and no matter how surly the service, or how smelly the room (refer to this video of my Saturday night at the Imperial Palace), I'm staying the night.
And -- you know what -- it could have been far worse. I could have been forced to stay at Trump.
Just a block off the strip -- so, thankfully, outside my zone of obligation -- lies the glittering monstrosity that is the Trump Hotel Las Vegas; a 64-story, 24-carat-gold-plated monument to American capitalism, emblazoned with its founder's name in obscenely high letters (the same name that can be found on those hideous shirts, ties and other overpriced products for the undiscerning jerk). At dinner last night, a Vegas local explained to me that when the main tower was being completed, Trump personally decreed that the letters be erected left to right, lest the tower be temporary labeled "RUMP".
Good thinking, Donald, but your hotel still screams "ass".
When I first wrote about my trip, I explained that, for me, Las Vegas represents all that is good and bad about the American dream. It is beyond appropriate, then, that Donald Trump should own at least small chunk of the town's real-estate. After all, until recently, Trump was the ultimate representative of a wonderful -- if slightly brash -- aspect of American life: unashamed, balls-out capitalism. Trump's wealth, his preposterous power-dressing, his TV show -- "YOU'RE FIRED!" -- if you loved America, you had to love Donald Trump.
Today though, Trump has "matured" into a very different, far more ugly kind of American cliche: the birther. Which, for those of you living under a rock in Kenya, is the name claimed by those who "think" that President Obama was not born in America.
Of course, I don't believe for a second that Trump has legitimate doubts about the President's citizenship. After all, when even Glenn Beck is calling you out on your disingenuous bullshit, it's pretty certain that you're full of it. But it's that fact: that Trump does know better, and is simply posing as a birther -- and a serious presidential candidate -- in order to promote himself, his TV show and his preposterous ties and shirts, that makes his rhetoric so utterly vile.
If the election of Barack Obama reminded foreigners like me why we fell in love with America in the first place, then the reinvention of Trump-as-pseudo-birther reminds us of another amazing thing about the land of the free: if you have enough money, you can spout whatever crap you like -- and people will put you on television. Hell, if you spout it loudly and convincingly enough, people might actually vote for you.
Fortunately, as with those real estate euphemisms, freedom cuts both ways. Thanks to the First (and to my mind, best) Amendment, Trump is free to lie and insinuate about the President in order to promote his personal agenda, while applying a spray-tan-like sheen of legitimacy to the grubby racism of the birther movement.
Likewise, thanks to that same Amendment, I'm free to encourage you -- and the millions of other people who visit Vegas every year -- to join me in boycotting anything associated with the man; starting with avoiding his landscape-blotting hotel.
After all, if Mr Trump wants to align himself with the worst kind of disingenuous, and dangerous, bullshit in order to pack his own wallet, it's only right that the rest of us -- Americans and foreign visitors alike -- use our hard-earned dollars to show him how we feel about his baseless rhetoric and the conspiracy nuts it panders to.
Actually, it's more than right: it's the American way.