Business blues in Las Vegas

   My friend Simpson and I were lounging near the pool at the Las Vegas Hilton one afternoon last week. We sat in the shade, where it was only 105 degrees.
   We thought about going swimming, but a quick glance around deterred us. A couple of burning carcasses were smoldering in the sun on the fringes of the pool. A few more steps and they might have survived. We didn’t want to make the same mistake.
   What a lovely town, Las Vegas is. Simpson (who is also in the retail business) and I had come to investigate a trade show for new products and also to take a look at The Forum, a brand new shopping center at Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino.
   It was a little R&D (research and development) business trip that would inevitably be very light on the D.
   We had arrived in the morning, done the trade show in about three hours and hustled to the pool, unaware no one goes outdoors in Las Vegas until after dark.
    After 10 minutes in the heat, our energy level dropped to zero. Simpson nevertheless made a pathetic effort to be responsible. "Go see…Forum," he groaned.
    I rolled my head in the direction of the voice. I perked slightly when I realized the straw that led to my drink was only inches away. I managed to guide it to my parched and cracking lips, allowing me to (after draining all available liquid) get a word out.
    This was obviously not your typical high-powered whirlwind business trip. There is a time for business and a time to relax. With both of us having young children at home, the only time Simpson and I can really relax is on a business trip.
    Confusing, but if you think about it, very true.
    We finally made it to The Forum once the sun went down and we could move. Simpson was especially anxious to see this new center because one of his retail stores carries movie memorabilia. And in the center was a new Warner Bros. store, which Simpson had been told did $500,000 in its first three days.
    "No way," I said. "Impossible."
    Spoken like a true small business person. Warner Bros., with its billions in backing, lived in another world that we had trouble comprehending.
    "8,200 square feet," said Simpson, glassy-eyed. ‘They’re projecting $14 million for the first year."
    We were so happy for the Time Warner conglomerate. We couldn’t wait to get to the new store and share in the celebration of their success.
    We entered The Forum shopping complex from the street. As we got on a moving walkway that took us to the entrance, we noted there was no moving walkway heading back to the street.
    We were trapped. Like bad little sheep, we were being shepherded into The Forum, and the only way to exit was through the Caesar’s Palace casino.
    "Baaah, baaah," we bleated as we marveled at the lavish surroundings, reminding me once again of my father’s simple wisdom about gambling – "Where do you think they get the money to build these palatial casinos?"
    Once inside, we were mesmerized by the shopping center that I helped finance with the $60 I gambled away later that night. (Who listens to their parents?)
    Built to emulate ancient Rome, it comes complete with the most realistic fake sky I’ve ever seen. Tacky? Yes, but never has tackiness looked so good.
    The Warner Bros. store was near the entrance to the casino. One glance inside at the frenzied shoppers rifling through the Batman (understandable), Bugs Bunny (questionable) and Tweety Bird (unbelievable) racks of merchandise convinced us the three-day $500,000 figure was genuine.
    Simpson tried to take pictures but was stopped three separate times by store security. It was embarrassing. They would have been wise to post a sign stating "No Jealous Small Business Owners Allowed."
    "I’m so depressed," Simpson said later that evening over dinner. "$500,000 in three days. I remember when it took me three years to gross that much."
    "Cheer up," I replied. "Whatever they’re making they’ll probably lose on their next big box office movie flop."
    That helped his spirits, but not much. We finished dinner and went back to the Warner Bros. store for one last look. It was still jammed at 10 p.m.
    This time, Simpson finished his roll of film before they threw him out. A small victory, but he’ll take it.


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