LAS VEGAS – In Las Vegas for the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, I am finally realizing that no matter how glamorous, exciting, clean and entertaining this place can be, it's not called Sin City for nothing.
Here, everyone is a mark. An opportunity to make a buck.
The cabbies want to drop you off at clubs — the kind known as "Gentlemen's," mostly — so that they get their kickback at the door. Anywhere from $25 to $70 a head, depending on the time of day.
Once inside it's another 10 percent if one uses a credit card, and forget the ATM. You'll pay up to $30 just to withdraw $100.
In the casinos, your host will comp you a meal at the buffet — as long as you keep playing those table games. The longer you play, the more you'll lose.
The other night, a colleague of mine struck up a conversation with a beautiful blonde at the bar. I played the wing man (being that I'm married, that's exactly all I am willing to play), and during a lull in their conversation I naively asked her what she did for a living.
"You don't know?" she asked, with a worldly look I immediately recognized.
"I do now," I said, and walked away (she's a prostitute).
At the fancy restaurants in town, especially this week with some 140,000 people attending CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center, every table is filled to capacity, and the expense accounts are flowing.
But even there, everyone's a mark. Everyone's a potential sale. When someone asks for your card, you give it out at your own risk.
Attending one such dinner at a fancy steak house, I ordered a water at the bar while waiting for my party. You wouldn't believe the look I got from the bartender. I might have understood his disdain if he was so busy as to be in the weeds. Except that his bar was empty.
Just to show him I was a good guy, I left him a $5 tip. For water. I'm an idiot. What the hell should I care if this guy is upset with my order? Oh well. I'm a mark. Ready, willing and able. I'm an idiot.
Last time I was here I kept thinking of that "Pretty Vegas" tune by INXS, about how no matter how dazzling, "It Ain't Pretty."
But this time around, especially as Paris Hilton — a Vegas staple — is set to be arraigned on DUI charges stemming from her September arrest in Los Angeles, I can't help but to think of the lyrics to the Johnny Cash tune, "God's gonna cut you down."
"You can run on for a long time, Run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God'll cut you down. Sooner or later, God'll cut you down."
As I walk by the blackjack tables, the lounges, the clubs and the slots, the lyrics ring in my head.
"Tell the rambler, The gambler, The back biter. Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down."
Johnny knew. Johnny knew.