Las Vegas is a strange place of contrasts. It is filled with gaudy casinos geared to suck money away from the average guy who is here for the big weekend of his life. It is also filled with superb restaurants, luxury boutiques with the finest of items and a wide variety of cultural sights to impress even the most jaded of viewers. I just watched a pirate ship sink amid fireworks and flares at Treasure Island across the street. Perhaps what concerns me about Vegas is that most Americans I see out on the street would rather take a gondola ride at The Venetian hotel or listen to a operatic snippet than to experience the real thing. I always prefer the real. I know travel is not easy, but Vegas is no safer than Venice, nor is it cheaper except in the most superficial and obvious ways.
Las Vegas also holds a complete collection of odd ephemera like this rare Hemingway print that shows him with a large marlin and is autographed; a mere $16, 500 for the well-heeled gambler. Maybe that is what the shops are for: to provide bait for the guy who believes that if he could only beat the house, then he could own the signed copy of Farewell to Arms, rent the Ferrari downstairs, rent the chickie poos who come to “direct to your room”, or blow a bit of dough on a killer steak with big reds and a cigar. I do not know for certain. What I do know is that the cigars I have at home are from Havana, I ride a wicked motorcycle, and I would never rent a woman (or ever pretend to own one). Yeah, my values are different than those of Sin City.
I am here for an educational conference; the 102nd NCTE for English teachers. As department head of a progressive Canadian private school I believe that it is necessary to understand the pulse of American education if we are to ensure that our students receive an education that matches up to international standards. Americans innovate and are creative despite limited public resources for education. I always learn a few tricks whenever I attend this conference. This will be my third NCTE in ten years.
Today was a preliminary session with registration, materials and the all-important schedule planner so that I can masterfully ensure I get the most out of the next two days. The walk to the MGM Grand Conference Center is about an hour, but I like to walk, which means that I need to rise by 6am to make the general session with Sir Ken Robinson, which I do not want to miss. I will also be attending a session on the Pecha Kucha presentation style and many more sessions that I will plan tonight. I am most fortunate to work with a school community that fully supports my professional development. I am a fortunate man.
Finally, I gave in to the shopping gods, too. While walking back from the conference, I passed a Rolex boutique window and saw a poster for the John Hardy collection for the Year of the Dragon. In the window, I beheld the most extraordinary ring I have seen in years. It is a Balinese Naga Dragon in silver with 18k gold highlight plating. At $495 I knew that resistance was futile on my part, and once it fit on my pinky finger, then I knew I might as well just wear it home. Fortunately, I was able to resist both the $9000 Rolex Milgaus watch I tried on (just barely) and the $5000 python jacket (the sleeves were bunchy). I made it back to my suite with integrity intact and no desire to try my hand at the slots downstairs to see if that Rolex could be mine. I may spend $5 on my last day to pull a slot machine in Vegas once, but there are no illusions of winning on my part: gambling offers nothing to me.