Planning for the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for NAB has begun. Why this show? It's the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, which sounds kind of dry but is actually a great place to see all the latest equipment and software for digital video. Although much of it is targeted towards TV stations and large production houses, enough of the new ideas eventually trickle down to my group's level to make a visit worthwhile. Real-time editing in Final Cut, solid-state audio recording, specialized USB input devices, and Canon's XL1/GL1 line of cameras are all examples of technologies I saw first at NAB before they hit magazines or showrooms.
(If you'd like to skip the long narrative, and just see the images from my first trip to NAB, click here.)
An undeniable part of the fun is the city itself, given my background and interests. I first went in 1999, with a bunch of tech and video folks from the professional school where I worked. Back then, the hot topic was how to build realtime video editing stations out of off-the-shelf components and expensive add-in boards, but what you couldn't avoid noticing, in between the product demonstrations and waits for the shuttle bus, was the multitude of new hotels just opening or still being built.
The Aladdin was but a proposal, Paris was still under construction, and the Venetian was just a dusty lot. Bellagio had just opened a few months ago, and Mandalay Bay was opening while still under construction. The last seemed to be the largest and most interesting of the new casinos (even though the Bellagio was clearly higher-end) and we spent some time exploring a hotel so new they were pumping in petrochemical-derivate coconut scent to mask the odor of fresh paint and new carpeting.
Parrots and other tropical birds were squawking loudly at their newfound captivity in cages across from the reception desks. We wandered down staircases and escalators to the ground floor, at the back of the resort, away from the strip. The artificial lagoon and wave machine were still being installed, and sand was being trucked in to complete the artificial beach. The security gates weren't functioning yet, so a few of us slipped into the resort area late at night, when the sun had gone down and the only light was from the gleaming golden casino towering above and a few gas-powered tiki lights which were burning near an elephant fountain. I felt like an extra on the set of an Indiana Jones film.
It looked like we had come in after some sort of launch party: promotional flyers were blowing around in the wind, caught in the vortex of air created by the casino's wings which surrounded the artificial lagoon in an embrace. The wave machine was rhythmically pushing water against the "beach," which looked like it still needed a good metric ton of sand for the illusion to be complete. Dozens and dozens of beige chaise lounges were stacked in piles, shrink-wrapped by industrial-strength saran wrap. After walking up and down the shore, we exited through another gate and came upon the Wedding Chapel, also unlocked and being readied for use. Everything was brand-new: metal primed but not painted, carpets so pristine you felt bad tracking construction dust across them. There was no furniture of any kind in the chapel, but one could imagine the space as it one day would become: the site for hundreds of unions: short and long, happy and otherwise.
Elsewhere, Mandalay's incredible collection of restaurants beckoned, lining a corridor in what was probably a boring warehouse-style building when seen from the outside, but which was transformed into an adult DisneyLand within. Gas jets flickered behind iron plates seemingly suspended in the air in front of Rumjungle. A statue of Lenin, recently decamped from Moscow, stood guard in front of Red Square. Light shone through metal-encased fibreooptic plants in a pool outside China Grill. Aureole's glass-enclosed wine tower was attended to by sommeliers suspended from belaying harnesses in an alcoholic fantasy reenactment of Mission: Impossible.
We stayed at the Luxor, which ever since has been a favorite due to the sweet spot of extensive themeing and relatively low prices. Our rooms were in the outboard towers rather than the pyramid itself, but in compensation they were much more egyptian in theme than the original rooms (at least until a recent remodel). Many people will recognize the lobby from a Will Smith rap video on MTV. OK, just those who like Will Smith. Sigh. Every morning we'd meet up at the McDonalds in the food court to plan the day.
The last day of the show we cut out early and rented a Ford Explorer from Avis. We drove out to Hoover (neÃ© Boulder) Dam, a monumental piece of engineering built by the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1930's. I was fresh from having read Mark Reisner's 800-page epic Cadillac Desert, and seeing this icon of westerners' attempts to control and manipulate water was a powerful experience. After reading of the labor which went into the building of the dam, done at an unprecedented pace, seeing the memorial to those who lost their lives on the job was pretty affecting. Winged Victory, indeed.
While wandering through the shopping mall at Cæsar's Palace my traveling companions were seized by a sudden urge to go to Bath & Body Works and buy skincare products. Not wanting to think about their desire for bubblebath too deeply, I browsed around and found Cucumber-scented hand sanitizer gel, that kind of rapidly-evaporation napalm which simultaneously disinfects your hands while also rendering us just that much closer to total antibiotic resistance. Being at a trade show in Vegas, you're always shaking hands with people, trying out gear, or pulling the lever of a one-armed bandit, and that little green bottle became my boon companion in my quest to survive the trip healthy, if neither wealthy nor wise.
To this day, the scent of artificial cucumber takes me back to April 1999 and the Nevada desert.