Fear and Loathing at Winter Meetings: Part 2

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A look inside an enticing Las Vegas Casino. Photo by Nadavspi via Wikimedia Commons.

By: Max Wolpoff

100 USB DRIVES

BOSTON — In. In. Copy. Paste. Paste. Wait ten to fifteen seconds. Out. Out. Repeat.

That was the process it took to move three audio samples of play-by-play and my resume in approved formatting to 100 USB drives customized with my Twitter handle (also my name) and my phone number. Sitting in an airport lounge doing this process over and over again drew a few sideways glances and eye rolls from travelers bound for whatever cities Delta services this week.

The sun rose through a haze of clouds at around 7:00 a.m. this morning. I had been awake for a full hour by then, accustomed to rising early for any sort of travel day.

A half-eaten egg-and-cheese sandwich rests on the seat next to me, to be consumed between paragraphs of wisdom and “passion” prior to boarding for the Pacific Standard Time Zone.

News came this morning of “skeletal remains” found at a stop sign near my home neighborhood in Maryland. Police are not releasing much information about the victim, other than the person was wearing size 11 men’s basketball shoes and had a San Antonio Spurs hat with the body. It had been there for about a week according to the reports I read.

The desert carries a certain mystery to it. Las Vegas and other cities in that region of the United States have a cinematic representation of “the old days” as a time when people could find themselves sleeping in the desert moonlight if they crossed the wrong person. Even as recent a Vegas movie as The Hangover brought up this possibility when the three misfits exchanged their night of card-counting winnings for someone who turned out not to be their friend.

The USB drives cost a few dollars each from a wholesaler in Vegas. The demo reel cost a weekend to finalize. I sent the samples to a few friends and wanted input before I made my selections for “my best work” to show potential employers. Only a few got back, but the input was valuable.

The sandwich is now gone. I am typing on my phone, and a few of the passengers off to Vegas for the normal reasons probably think I represent the caricature of my generation stuck on the phone and unable to raise the eyes to see the world beyond.

“Is this your first time in Vegas?,” a woman asks me. Well, for work, yes.

My last time in Vegas came off the heels of WrestleMania 26. I had watched both the big night at University of Phoenix Stadium and Monday Night RAW the next night at the American Airlines Center. Vegas was a short flight away.

maxraiderIt was a long time ago. I was young and could not enjoy just about anything the strip had to offer in the way of entertainment. The NHL was at least a decade away from being an idea in the gambling capital, and “Blue Man Group” did not have nearly the presence it has now in city advertisements. And do not get me started on the ever-present rumors of the Oakland Raiders moving East.

On the walk to board the flight, the cabin crew member tasked with reading the stand-by and upgrade announcements asked for a “Nicholas Cafardo” to approach the desk. Guess he will be the main correspondent for The Boston Globe this weekend tasked with reading the tea leaves and rock splinters on where Bryce Harper ends up.

Early travel is nothing new. It just means another cup of tea when I land on the other side of the clouds.

The flight attendants are closing the not full overhead compartments in preparation of takeoff. My friends will be landing in Vegas at various times throughout the day. The job fair opens tomorrow.

Passion is a funny word. It remains a buzz word among the job-seekers of the world, both the employers who seek people and the employees who seek companies.

My second LSAT score came right before takeoff. Up three points from the first time I took it. Just fine. It makes me slightly more competitive for those applications to be completed after the last exams.

What exactly is “passion” as the employers seek in workers and workers seek in their work? I have a line in my Twitter bio that “a little passion goes a long way,” but I barely know what “passion” means. The way I have come to interpret it goes the way of the things that make me want to do something. Vague, I know, but the gates are closed and bad pre-flight music is playing before the legally required safety announcements. I need my playlist and podcasts to carry me across the mountains and valleys.

220 nautical miles is the distance the captain announces as we prepare to leave Boston with a New York-based crew. A break from writing allows for more ideas, better lines, more inspiration. I will need all of it.

“Train of Consequences” by Megadeth is the first song for the flight. This was a big tune of mine prior to my first season with the Big Train. A good sign.

THE CITY THAT NEVER STOPS

LAS VEGAS — Stepping out of the plane at McCarran International Airport, I was greeted by a row of largely unused slot machines, the can’t-miss smell of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, and rows upon rows of Vegas Golden Knights merchandise.

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McCarran International Airport. Photo by Tomas Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

There are slot machines at the gate. There are slot machines at the food court. There are slot machines at baggage claim. The only thing missing seems to be a slot machine in the parking garage. A store still not finished, The Raider Image, is sitting in the middle of pedestrian traffic at the airport. Unfinished, just like their stadium with steel beams and concrete rising into the desert sky.

It was an eight-hour flight from Boston to Las Vegas, but the time zone changes resulted in it being around 2 p.m. when the plane landed. All through player introductions, the coin toss, and the first play from scrimmage of the Army vs. Navy football game, “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall” by Black Sabbath played. I just thought that was funny enough to mention.

The plethora of Stetson hats was expected, but I brushed it off too soon. The rodeo is in town. WWE Smackdown Live is here on Tuesday. Penn and Teller have shows every single night. Cirque Du Soleil does as well.

The lobby at Mandalay Bay has a DJ pumping out light house music to create a lively enough atmosphere to keep things moving. He stands in front of a big window display of Golden Knights shirts on mannequins. The hotel “lifestyle” store has official jerseys for sale and a “buy any 2 cans of beer and get a free shot” special.

The man on the way up the elevator who had what looked like a grilled cheese and fries in a see-through plastic carry-out case said this is “the city that never stops.” He is right.

The party is always on.

A WALK AROUND

LAS VEGAS — I could not have timed meeting up with my friend from work if I tried, so I didn’t try, and walked through the casino toward the convention center to see if I could get my credentials early. Sure enough, there he was with his father.

We were right were we left off from two summers of working together. The speaking pattern and jokes were exactly like we are on the air together.

The convention center is massive. Without a map or signs pointing to escalators, it is so easy to get lost. On the way up, my friend cracked the code on why this year’s meetings are in Vegas: Bryce Harper.

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Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Harper is Vegas born, Vegas proud. He cheered against the Washington Capitals during the Stanley Cup last summer because they were playing the Vegas Golden Knights. He was the disappointed one by the end of it.

This is also his big winter of entering unrestricted free agency. He still lives in the area with his wife. Starting to see the connection? If teams want the chance to pitch to Harper (pun intended), the time to do it is in his hometown.

We could not get our credentials early. The handout starts bright and early at 7 a.m. tomorrow. I will still be on East Coast time, so 10 a.m. sounds great to me.

With the time zones, it is strange. The hockey games start at 4 p.m., the Heisman Trophy is presented an hour later, and SportsCenter’s night edition comes on around time for a late dinner.

Considering the last meal I had was 7 a.m. Eastern in Boston before boarding the plane and while I saved 100 USB drives with all my job-seeking information, the food court looked like a good option for a second meal.

The cowboy hats and boots are a dead giveaway that someone is here for the rodeo. The fancy drink containers and sashes mean personal trip or group party. Tomorrow, suit will mean job seeker.

A young woman no older than 30 with cotton candy pink hair sat in the food court after we were done and just talking. I pointed this out to my friend, he looked, then asked “do you want to eat it?” in his trademark sarcasm. We laughed the way old friends would.

Today was our one day to be tourists and take pictures with the signs indicating our reason for arrival. In walking around Mandalay Bay, the TV studio lights are going into place by a steakhouse, next to another steakhouse, and across from a sushi place. The casino slots all bear logos and blare theme music from classic movies and contemporary TV shows. Any Breaking Bad fans want to play the slot machine with the same name? One is right here waiting for you.

My one glance at a casino employee led me to believe I had been transported back into the 1950s. She wore a low-cut black dress, medium-heeled shoes, and had enough make-up on for a theatrical cast. Such joy to learn that some movies remain in the imagination really long after their heyday.

The local ABC news affiliate is on in the background while I type this out. How exactly did that story get a live feed of a business’s closed-circuit TV to do a story on a rash of Ford truck thefts in the area?

The suit is laid out for tomorrow. Since the interviews and job postings are not until Monday, I am saving my power suit until then.

Oy, that was a lot. And to think, the convention starts tomorrow.

THE PALACE PRESENCE

LAS VEGAS — The stuff I think of when I hear “Las Vegas” are not in the city limits. The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, the big casinos, the bright lights, the ads for “girls to your room TONIGHT” that adorn every few taxi cabs and billboards, and all the pageantry of “Las Vegas” is not in the city that bears that name.

In Paradise, Nevada is where all those things exist. The sky is bright with neon and tungsten bulbs clamoring for every cent in your wallet and your bank account. This place may be called “Paradise” on a map, but it remains “Las Vegas” to the popular imagination.

The alarm is set for 5:15 a.m. I know that my body does not function well on the first day after time zone changes. It will need the time to physically and mentally awaken.

I thought room service would be a good idea considering the early start time for work until I opened the menu to see $30 for an omelet. If I wanted to be overcharged for a meal, I would have gone to New York City.

Opted to travel to one of the gaudiest places in strip lore: Caesar’s Palace. A limousine with spikes on the front wheels greeted the tiny, smoky cab car. We do not need a Ben-Hur chariot race scene incident today. Why does a limo of any sort need spikes on the wheels?

Painted cloud designs dot the walk-through luxury retailers. There are two fountains, because one apparently was not enough, with replica statues of the real things you can see by going to Italy. There is even a full replica of “David,” complete with full-frontal nudity. At least the benches that are supposed to resemble Roman columns have power outlets, both charger and USB.

There was a sports memorabilia store down one of these alleyways. It had a replica Lombardi trophy from Super Bowl 51 signed by Tom Brady himself. Sticker price: $7,999.00. The store says they will ship anywhere.

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Photo by Max Wolpoff

Vegas may be one of the last places people can smoke indoors. I vaguely remember the whole “going non-smoking” was a story in my childhood, but it has largely been an accepted part of my life. I can enjoy my dinner in peace without the booth next to me stinking up the joint with the latest scented cigar.

And, now that marijuana is legal in Nevada, it adds a new dimension to what can be smoked indoors in this town.

The smoking is so bad, Caesar’s blasts a perfume in the entrance to the casino from the outside. SpongeBob SquarePants was right about avoiding the perfume department unless it is the only way through.

It is set to be a long day for the job fair. I heard no jobs will be posted in the big room tomorrow, but I thought about it and now do not believe what I heard. This conference is four days long in total, with the job fair only scheduled for the first three. Why cut out a day of potential interviews and resume review in a convention with thousands of people seeking the same few jobs?

I will learn no new wisdom if I just type away at my phone keyboard with “Children of the Sun” by Judas Priest roaring in my head and my left ear blocked by something. There doesn’t seem to be a drug store of any sort that would have something to dry out my ear before tomorrow.

The Caesar’s employees redeemed some of that place’s problems. They helped me navigate that maze hall when I asked, and the woman working the convenience store counter let me cut two party bros trying to buy 13 bottles of beer out of the poorly stocked refrigerator. All I needed to buy was a thing of toothpaste.

Arise desert sun, resurrect the day and give light to opportunity.

Author: Max Wolpoff

Max is in his final undergraduate year, and prefers not to be remembered for his now-infamous viral goal call (https://russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2016/12/12/boston-university-hockey-announcer-channels-john-walton-to-deliver-viral-goal-call/). Between classes, applying for law school, and working for the Worcester Blades, he co-hosts “Scarlet and White” and writes the “This Morning in Sports” column. Max is from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Follow Max on Twitter @Max_Wolpoff and on Instagram @maxwolpoff for the latest #MaxWolpoffSuitOfTheGame.

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