LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas sucks, in a whole lot of ways. It’s an empty, soulless town dedicated to fleecing Americans out of hard-earned money they can ill-afford, and despite oceans of money from legalized gambling and prostitution, it still trails the nation in per-capita spending on K-12 education, and sub-standard test results are the inevitable outcome.
But this isn’t a story about education — you don’t read me for that. It’s about Las Vegas’ monorail and what’s wrong with it. The system, privately funded and opened in 1995, has seven stations in 3.9 miles of track. If you want to go to a casino on the Strip, you’re golden — it goes to MGM Grand, Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas, Harrah’s/Imperial Palace (but not Wynn’s, which closed its station). Want to visit the quaint downtown that recalls an earlier era? Forget it, you’re on your own.
I’m here in Sin City for the Consumer Electronics Show, which is sharing convention space with the Adult Entertainment Expo and the Miss America Pageant. (You think I’m making that up, but I’m not. The three types of convention attendees are quite distinct.) My expo is the one at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and since the shuttle buses were a complete snafu, I decided to try public transit: the monorail!
I was directed to a station between Bally’s and the Paris Las Vegas casinos, I expected a curbside entrance, but no — remember this is privately funded, and seems designed to serve casino owners rather than transit riders. The entrance is through Bally’s, which means you actually have to walk through the entire casino floor, down long banks of slot machines and three-card poker tables, to get to the station. It requires, literally, half a mile of walking from the strip, and the route is poorly marked — I got lost twice, requiring directions from surly croupiers.
And the ride is no bargain — it’s $5 for a single trip, $12 for a day pass. New York would have riots over rates like that, and the New York subway goes to five boroughs. I had an incredible hassle actually getting on the monorail, since the three conventions (126,000 attendees combined) packed the platform (which was actually outside, meaning it would have been easy to construct a simple walkway from the street — but how would you gamble along the way?)
I waited in a long line just to have the privilege of going through the turnstile, and then found myself on a huge platform with grossly inadequate signage and only two small metal benches for weary travelers. According to this story, they added extra trains, but it sure wasn’t apparent. It took me an hour and a half to go a few miles.
Once on the train, we were treated to announcements about Donny and Marie Osmond’s upcoming appearance — “It’s hard to believe they can pack so much talent on one stage! She’s a little bit country, and he’s a little bit rock and roll!” — and informed that our ticket stubs could be redeemed for $5 worth of slot tokens. (Again, you think I’m making this up.)
We also got smug green messages. In a town that must buy electricity by googawatt, we were informed that we were riding on “one of the nation’s most environmentally friendly public transportation systems”…“running at 99 percent operational efficiency.” And taking people from one casino to another.
I’m going to Detroit after Las Vegas, and that’s another city with a useless monorail. The story goes that then-Mayor Coleman Young angered President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, and that led to big cuts in federal monorail defunding. The People Mover system makes a tiny loop downtown. I need to ride the other system that got funded, Miami’s Metromover, and then my life is complete.
Monorails are a symbol of a more optimistic age. Walt Disney was a big proponent of them for his attractions, and Vegas’ monorail resembles a Disney World ride, complete with high prices and long lines. In fact, Vegas is Disney writ large, with the superficial aura of family friendliness stripped away.
Did you hear that “snap”? It’s the sound of the minimum-wage folks handing out VIP passes to strip clubs right there in front of some of America’s glitziest casinos. Right behind them, million-watt speakers pour out “Born on the Bayou” and giant screens with super resolution pop your eyes out with promos for the Peep Show. It’s Vegas, baby, and what happens here, stays here — but not when I’ve got access to a computer.