The Battle of Las Vegas

May 21, 2007, 4:53 AM UTC
Fortune

Call me a dork, but I don’t like Las Vegas. I’ve seen people arrive here thinking, breathing, effective corporate players and leave three days later trembling membranes who have disgraced themselves in front of their superiors. I’ve seen bosses who arrived with the admiration and affection of their team turn into objects of derision whose demented escapades live on decades after they were finally escorted to the beach. I’ve always felt in jeopardy here. And a combination of confusion, excitation and boredom.

The problem is probably that I’m always here for a convention. The mixture of bogus work and enforced fun are virtually lethal to the organizational mind, and after all the time I’ve spent doing whatever this is we do, I’ve got one of those. Once you’ve got one, how do you get rid of it?

I can only stay here three days. After that, I turn into Frank, an advertising sales person from Topeka. I can claim no responsibility for what he does, but I don’t really like him very much. To avoid this unpleasant transformation, I’m going to need to fight the battle of Las Vegas once again the only way I know how: by employing a warrior strategy. I may win. I may lose. But at least I have a chance to reject the role of a passive victim of this crazy city and leave here with some vestige of my authentic, non-Vegas self.

It starts before I come here. I make sure my meeting schedule is rational, and requires no walking outside. I remove five hundred dollars from my bank account and leave my credit cards at home, if I can.

Next, I make sure I’m going to be hanging with the right posse. I believe a successful trip to Vegas requires an army of five, myself in the most senior position. I may then peel off at will and not be forced to go to some unsavory place with a group of senior officers unless I really want to.

Next, while I am here, I make sure to run my army hard throughout the day and into the evening. Up early. Lots of floor time at the convention center. Big, big dinner with tons of wine. And then into action into the casino, where things inevitably transpire in brief and nasty fashion. Then, bleeding but essentially whole, I head upstairs and leave them to their pain, because they are younger than I am and capable of sustaining more abuse. This may leave me open to the charge of being a short hitter, or worse than that, a pussy, so the next morning I call a meeting for 8 AM and run them over hill and dale a few times, make them hurt. Who’s their daddy now?

And so the days meld, one into the next, the outcome never clear until the last trumpet sounds and we are permitted to depart from this stinking war zone. Throughout it all, as the fight shifts this way and that, ebbing and flowing all over our shoes, I try to be acutely aware of my enemies in this war against the forces of personal deconstruction.

My first enemy, of course, is myself. I know myself. If myself is allowed to run the show, I will suffer. That is not the warrior’s way. Others must suffer. I must stick around to exercise my options four years from now. After that, myself can do whatever he wants and the hell with him.

My next enemy is the casino. I know the casino. It’s pretty. It dings a lot. Ding ding ding goes the casino. And then it eats my money. When I was younger, I didn’t mind it eating my money quite so much. Now, ironically, that I have more of it, I really can’t stand to lose any of it. Facing that enemy is one of the greatest challenges, so I have developed a strategy particular to that enemy.

If I have been foolish enough to bring any plastic at all to this lethal town, I lock it in the room safe. I bring an amount of cash to the floor proportionate to my projected stay here. I attempt to lose it as quickly as possible. When it is lost, I feel that I have achieved a great, great victory. I reward myself with a cocktail and then am free to roam the floor with whatever portion of my army is at my side, watching other people lose their money. I feel… marvelous.

The practice of zen teaches us that where there is hope, there is suffering. So as part of my casino strategy, I leave hope at the door. I am rewarded by a surprising peace of mind that comes from having expected no great victories, no great happiness. And no great food here, by the way, except at Prime, which may be found in the ground floor of the Bellagio. Take a legitimate guest if you go. It’s way expensive, particularly the wine list, which has many terrific choices for those who are not spending their own money.

Be careful, though. A few years ago, some idiots went out on their company someplace in Europe, I believe, and put, like $25,000 worth of wine on the company. They had to pay it back, and some of them might have even been fired, I’m not sure. I think they might have been lawyers, which explains a lot. Lawyers always think they can get around the rules. Even if they were lawyers, it’s still such a sad story I hesitate to repeat it, but a word to wise… or, for that matter, the stupid, should suffice, right? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the bills always come to your office address or, worse, your home. I know a few guys who went out to a strip joint in Vegas a few years ago and actually visited the ATM to restock their wallets between lap dances. ATM withdrawals show up on your bank statements, FYI.

At any rate, I digress. We were talking about enemies. My final enemy – and yours – is the fifth drink. I have met the fifth drink on the field of battle many times. It is the enemy you and I must face alone, the one against which no army can help us. The one we must beat hand to hand.

I am not the only warrior I know who has faced this terrifying foe and emerged with his or her head beneath his arm. A few years ago at a convention just like the one I am attending at this moment, a group of Sales warriors I know met the fifth drink on the field of battle. The legends are unclear about what they did, precisely, but I believe the story goes that, under the weight of the fifth drink, they became confused about certain boundaries and actually touched the strippers that were sitting on their laps. This is not permissible in any respectable strip joint, and bouncers quickly moved in. Chaos ensued.

They each awoke in their own private cell in the local penal establishment. As the sun rose high in the sky, they were unable to attend to their duties at the booth on the convention floor. When their senior officers strode into that crucial region of the battlefield, the miscreants were not at their posts… and were immediately relieved of their duties. Worse, when their spouses called them to say good morning, those calls went unanswered. This created serious issues on what is perhaps the most important and certainly most expensive battlefield of all.

That brave team of morons lost their corporate lives in Las Vegas that day because they did not understand and defeat the fifth drink.

For me, the strategy against such a dark and powerful enemy is clear: Run Away. There are forces that are themselves so inherently dangerous they cannot be defeated. They can simply be avoided.

And they can’t kill you if you’re not there.

Now that I know my enemies and have an approach to each, I move on to my next phase of the battle of Las Vegas, which I must fight at least four times a year, and sometimes five. Ah, how I long for a different venue for this titanic struggle! Is there not a Chicago? A San Francisco? Doesn’t New Orleans still need our business? Does not Sanibel beckon? Scottsdale? Houston, even? But no, it is the fate of our generation to fight the battle here, in the crossroads of America. So it is here we must join the struggle.

My next moves are swift and sure, and not surprisingly, they center around that which we often forget as we are slogging through the smoke and booze and fleshpots and pirate ships and white tigers and blue men that the enemy throws in our path to bring us low. The answer lies in doing our jobs. Once again, as it has been so often, the boredom of business is our salvation.

I position myself against the true business task at hand. Sales must be made, perhaps, a gigantic client from a far-flung portion of the globe must be schmoozed, a speech must be given by my commander, one he may walk away from without his entrails spilling out all over his hands, or mine. Whatever the true reason I am here may be – and there almost always is one, or else I would not be here, God knows – must be fought and won with glory. I make sure my men and women are ready.

Then we hit the beach. Here in Vegas, the great battles are short and swift. The speech is given. The vendor is met and pacified. The cocktail party for sales reps is history for another year. We have done it! Because we understood the terrain, ignored the crass distractions and entered the fray frosty and prepared, we have fought the proper fight and we have emerged victorious!

Now at last it is time to share that sweetest of all moments in this business life – the booty call. What were we fighting for? Glory? Money? The humiliation of our competitors both inside and outside the corporation? All of the above? We take the time to join hands, celebrate that moment of victory and share the spoils.

Then, before three days are fully expired, we hop on our plane and head out of this steaming and seductive swamp to fight another day. We have won the battle of Las Vegas… this time. But Vegas still stands, and we will have to fight here again. Just not today… or even tomorrow. Whenever it comes, one thing is for sure, though.

We’ll be ready.