Vegas pt. 1 - The Culture Shock
I went to Vegas to see Defcon 25. This post will sidetrack from my usual programming & IT stuff to talk about the Vegas (and US) experience as a European tourist.
The Tipping and the Taxes
Not so much a culture shock since I knew about both these things beforehand, but it's definitely a much bigger annoyance than I thought it would be. I'm decent at math, I never minded doing some math in my head. But doing the math is not at all the biggest problem. How is a tourist supposed to know the state's taxes for groceries, for papers, for alcohol? Besides, some prices are written with taxes calculated in, others without?
And tipping is pretty similar. Who do I tip? Do I tip at the fast food joints? Do I tip only the waitresses? Do I tip the Lyft/Uber/cab driver? Do I tip the AirBNB host? Do I tip the dealer at the poker table? Maybe I should tip the Defcon goons as well?
And as a general rule of thumb the Americans really like and support the tipping culture. Most of the opinions I heard on it were something along the lines of "Of course you should tip if they go out of the way to do good service". And I agree with that, but to be honest I think that's how we tip in (at least our part of) Europe. You tip as a way to show the service was really good and as a way of saying "keep up the good work". In US it seems more like no matter the quality of service (and it really isn't always amazing) you're expected to tip that 15% - and you're the shithead if you don't. Regardless of the quality of service.
So - whether it was for tipping or for taxes I just prepared roughly 20% extra money wherever I was. Starbucks coffee says $5? I'll be ready with $6. Uber for $30? I'll have at least $35 ready (although I later realized you can tip from app as well). Grocery shopping for $20? I'll have $25 ready for sure.
If Some is Good, More is Better
Everything in Vegas is huge. Whether it's the casinos 100x the size of our casinos or the main street, with 3x the lanes that our capitol streets have, or just the cars - people in my country often prefer smaller beetle-like, mini cars - it's quite the opposite in Vegas where it's all bout the limos and ungodly big pick-ups.
Vegas is casinos and casinos are Vegas. So it's not really a surprise that casinos are huge. 100x the size of casinos in my country. I was at Caesar's Palace pretty much every day and still last day when I was looking for an exit closest to where I needed to go it took me at least 15 minutes to find my way out.
There are poker, crabs, roulette and blackjack tables running 24/7. There And all types of slot machines everywhere. From Game of Thrones themed slot machines to Britney Spears slot machines, to your classic generic why-would-anyone-find-this-fun slot machines. You'll find it all in Vegas.
Despite that I was surprised that the poker games, which is the only gambling I kinda care about, aren't as popular as I thought they would be. Sure you had few games running in most casinos. But all of them were either Texas Holdem no-limit (by far most popular) cash games or tournaments or Texas Holdem limit cash games. I was hoping to run into an Omaha game but nope, no luck. Every now and then they have a mixed game running and that's about it.
Like tipping, that's a classic wtf for most Europeans. With most fast food places you'll have at least 2 different sizes, small and big. The price difference is usually rather small (read: the extra weight you get from ordering bigger version is much cheaper than original price) so of course I ordered the big versions of everything. Well turns out that that big, errr I mean venti, Mocha I ordered at Starbucks is just too damn big. That amount of sugar-with-coffee is not what my 60 something Kg body is ready to take in. Or who would've thought that ordering a big box of Panda Express is going to last me whole day.
Well you soon learn that sometimes it just doesn't make sense to go big on everything. Especially since the small sizes are mostly comparable to big sizes in our country and that's usually enough to get me full for a meal.
Beers are funny though. They either come in 12 oz (~0,35l) - which I found really quite small - or 24 oz - which is larger than what you'd find around my country, but definitely nothing wrong with that size.
Well it's Vegas, so to nobody's surprise there are a lot of huge limos. But even discounting limos, people love their big ass pick-up trucks, preferably with custom made elevated wheels. Or maybe just some generic Chrysler. Even the brands that are widely popular in my country as well, Vegas has a thing for picking their bigger models. Every Uber driver I drove with had a pretty spacey (and nice too!) car, whether it was Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla they seemed a level bigger than your average eastern European car.
The Pedestrian Experience
I don't have a driving license and it's never been a problem where I live. The public transportation is good (even though confusing for foreigners) and the whole city I live in is very very pedestrian friendly. In fact they banned personal vehicles from the center of the city some years ago. Vegas is different, if you don't have a car it's expected that you'll cab around the city. There is some public transportation, but I didn't really use it.
It really doesn't help that after just 15 minutes of walking outside on the sun you will be bathing in your own sweat, while 15 minutes of being in a well ACd casino will make you shiver in that same sweat. So yeah, makes sense that the general population is not too big on walking around. However I had my airbnb roughly 20 minutes walking away from Caesar's Palace, where Defcon was held this year and I walked there and back every day.
It felt really safe at all times. Whether I was walking around at 5.30am to register as quickly as possible, 3.30am pretty damn drunk getting from the Defcon subconference Balconycon or in the middle of the day at 12.30pm I felt safe. One time in the middle of the day I passed by a homeless couple that was pretty obviously on drugs with a crackpipe in their hands. They asked me for a cigarette, I gave one to them and they were really nice afterwards (in the 1 minute conversation that followed). Who would've thought! Other than that most of the people I met on my walk home were just drunk people (it's Vegas!) or tourist couples.
Now I imagine not whole Vegas is like that. But as a young guy walking around alone with tourist written on my forehead I was pleasantly surprised by the safety in that area.
The streets were pretty damn clean. Around my country you see cigarette burns and chewing gum spits everywhere - even though there's a thrash can every 10 meters just about everywhere. Vegas is different in both of these. When you go outside the strip you can walk around for half an hour and you won't find a public thrash can. But still somehow you won't see a lot of thrash anywhere. Not even cigarettes. Not sure how, do they have someone clean everything all the time? Or more likely people just don't walk around because they're not crazy (the majority at least). But still the lack of thrash cans and general cleanliness was a surprise for sure.
The lack of shadows as soon as you get off the strip was a the biggest annoyance. For example I had to cross a highway and there was a nice-ish (well that part wasn't that clean) path made for pedestrians. And it had a pretty high protection net on the sides so that people wouldn't fall off. Why nobody thought about covering that net with some cloth or better yet make it a solid "railing" without wholes in - so that it would cast shadow during day - is beyond me.
If you could get consistent shadows it really wouldn't be that bad.
You don't need to go far from Strip to realize that the whole glitter of the casinos is just a front for people to enjoy the Strip and walk into their specific glittery casino. While trying to find some shortcuts you get to see the other side of the very same casinos and it's just meh. Water from ACs (I guess) running into some ugly canals. Huge electric something somethings, that probably power the casinos, are absolutely not a sight you'd tell your grandchildren about. And it's just a matter of walking 5 minutes around any casino to see the ugly side.