Tuesday, November 6, 2012

C'mon and step right up

I've been to a lot of tourist destinations: Niagara Falls, Graceland, Cooperstown, both American Disney theme parks, Hollywood, Atlantic City. All of these places, as expected, have their share of kitschy attractions and kitschier souvenir shops. There is a reason that they stock their shelves with snow globes and giant pencils and magnets to adorn your refrigerator. Because people buy them. I don't know why, but tourists seem to love useless plastic tchotchkes that remind them of happier times. I'm okay with that, because these places aren't forcing you to buy.

My wife and I just returned from Las Vegas. As a tourist attraction, Las Vegas is a weird city. As a city, Las Vegas is a weird city. Sure, there are casinos and shows and buffets and lights and fountains and everything over the top. Of course, Las Vegas Boulevard — The Strip, as it is more popularly known — is lined with an array of the flashiest of souvenir stores offering more T-shirts, key rings and other "must-haves" emblazoned with the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" in every conceivable configuration.

But, Las Vegas is also home to a phenomena that is unique among tourist spots. I have never seen more people shoving shit in your face anywhere in my life. You can't take two steps onto The Strip without being accosted by a horde of hands waving everything from CDs and ticket vouchers to coupons and perfume just inches from your nose. The already crowded sidewalks are unnecessarily jammed with loitering men and women cajoling travelers with promises of "free this" and "discounted that" and waving some tangible representation of that promise. The air is polluted by the cacaphonic calls of "Hey, where you from?" and "How long you folks in town?" and bunches of hands sticking every which way, each offering some guarantee of a better time than you are having now.

One evening, Mrs. Pincus and I set out on a one block trek for dinner at the Planet Hollywood resort. Within seconds, we were confronted by a thicket of hands brandishing tickets and flyers with offers to clean our glasses, shine our shoes and tour the Grand Canyon.

Most noticeable by first-time and veteran tourists alike is the overabundance of thumb-snapping distributors of "adult entertainment" cards. These ubiquitous staples of The Strip, whose vaguely described but obvious services are listed on colorful cards, are most likely the originators of the "in your face" practice of marketing that has become as well-known in Sin City as the casinos themselves. The current crop of Vegas street hustler owes quite a debt to these innovators.

I suppose that's an honor. I suppose.


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