When Randy, our boss, first approached us with the prospect of going to Vegas on business, Matt and I jumped for joy. Vegas? For free? You bet! Randy asked us to draw up a budget and get his approval before we went. Matt went to the library and got some cost of living indices and travel guides. He figured it would cost about $4,381 for the two of us to spend four days and nights in Las Vegas, including lodging, food, transportation, gambling, and a generous souvenir glass budget.

We presented Matt's budget to Randy, who quickly made us a counter-proposal. "Forty bucks each, take it or leave it." We left it and Randy came groveling back, telling us what hard bargains we drive. He sweetened his offer to forty bucks each -- and a promotion.

It was a quick trip from the outhouse to the executive washroom for us. We were now vice-presidents. Vice-presidents in charge of hand-towels in the executive washroom.

That was an offer too good to refuse. Vice-presidents get all kinds of free stuff, so we would hardly even need the ten bucks apiece each day. In fact, as freshly minted "Preferred Customers" at the Westward Ho Executive Desert Resort, we already had free rooms for our entire stay. We said yes to Randy.

Thursday - The Trials of the Modern Business Traveler

I almost developed an ulcer worrying about getting out of New York and on to Las Vegas, thanks to the weirdest storm I've seen since moving here. There was snow falling on and off, and all the forecasters furrowed up their little brows and spoke seriously about "The Winter Crisis." I absolutely had to be in Las Vegas before Friday morning, because this was no mere vacation. Matt and I were on our way to the City of Sin and burned-out light bulbs for real, honest-to-goodness work. We had been charged with the task of detailing the fine points of free shuttle travel around town. Had I showed up late, people would forever be forced to pay taxi fare, and for that I would not stand.

Luckily for me, I remembered all the way back to last June, when I had missed my plane because I tried to get to the airport on the subway. This time, I hedged my bets and hired a car to take me out to Newark. In case you think I've gone all fancy-pants on you; rest easy. Randy Shandis Enterprises happens to be a big enough company that it wouldn't notice an extra taxi voucher among the expenses, especially if it is filled out by a vice-president.

I arrived at the airport so early that I managed to get on an earlier TWA flight to St. Louis. The gate agent told me to just get the hell out of Newark, as if locusts were coming, and not just a little bit of sleet.

Unfortunately, these desperate measures forced me into a middle spot on an MD80 that TWA had packed it with so many seats that they had to take out the tray tables, because there was no room for them to come down without resting on peoples' stomachs. This ended up being no problem, because they didn't bother serving any food other than a little bag of stale pretzels.

With my early boarding, I had bought about an extra hour and a half. I figured I was pretty much guaranteed an early arrival in St. Louis. There was no way I could miss my connection to Vegas now. Even with the hour plus spent on the tarmac, de-icing and so forth, we still took off almost half an hour before I would have on my originally scheduled flight. And we didn't crash in a fiery ball of flames, either.

Since this was a business trip, I figured I had better fit in with my fellow business travelers. I asked the guy sitting next to me what he did. He told me he worked for Union Pacific and was on his way back from a business trip to New York. I told him I worked for a web site and maybe there was some potential for synergy. "What does this Union Pacific do?" I asked. He said trains, and I asked if they ever though about running their trains on the Internet. I gave him my card and told him to give me call if they ever want to.

This train guy seemed impressed with New York and noted that the people could be brusque. Even though I'm a pretty nice guy, I didn't want to ruin it for other New Yorkers and called him a big fat tub of Okie goo. That fit pretty well with his world view, so he didn't mind.

In St. Louis, I stopped in the Burger King for a heavily mayonnaised Midwest-style hamburger. My plane to Las Vegas left without much fanfare. It was an hour late taking off, but only because TWA did not want to mess up their record of never doing anything right.

I had arranged for a ride from McCarran airport to the Strip with my friend Dave, but he never made it out from New York, due to his being a "dunderhead" (his words, not mine) and going to the wrong airport. So, I hopped on the Gray Line shuttle to the North strip and told the driver, in my most executive sounding voice, to take me to the Westward Ho, where the elite movers and shakers rest their heads. Along with me on the shuttle were a couple from Chicago, some annoying guy who bragged about a new computer he had just bought, and two girls from Ohio who giggled at anything anybody said. One of the girls had just turned 21, so the driver asked if they were going to drink. This was hilarious to the girls, so he kept at it the whole ride, asking them progressively more inane questions about how drunk they would get. "Will you get so drunk you'll pee your pants? Will you get so drunk you'll pee my pants?" They got a big kick out of the giant McDonald's sign on the Strip. Then again, they got a kick out of the stoplights.

At the Ho, I walked to the counter and announced that I was a vice-president and would need an executive-style room. I explained that I had it coming to me thanks to the "Puttin' on the Ritz" package. The guy at the counter seemed plenty impressed.

"Mr. Sinclair," he said, "You have a message from Matt. He said he was a vice-president, also." He gave me the phone number. Then he offered the desk phone for my disposal. I bet the jerks at the Bellagio would not have been so accommodating. He even dialed for me. When I told him it was a number in Reno, where Matt was busy having his anger managed, he got a little nervous at the thought of unauthorized long-distance charges.

I enjoyed the executive privilege of chatting long distance with Matt for a minute, making arrangements to meet the next morning. Then, since the Ho was paying, we talked about how mean Erica has been on "All My Children" lately.

When the counter guy finished checking in the girls from Ohio, he realized I was still on the phone and started making frantic hanging-up motions. I guess I wasn't as big a shot as it first appeared. After a few minutes trying to get the guy to let me call my mom while I was at it, I went around back to the room for some executive infomercial watching and power sleep, a mere twelve hours after I had left my apartment.

The Ho was room was clean and standard. About the same as any Motel 6 in terms of cleanliness, size and fixtures. There was a normal toilet and tub, with the sink and counter out in the room. The beds were firm, the touch-tone phone had invitingly springy buttons, and the television got a limited menu of cable channels. They were all of the variety likely to bore a man right out of his room and into the casino.

Part 2

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