x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

He called, but that doesn't mean he wants to talk to you

The plague of ultra-smart hotel mini-bars; and a reflection on what it means when a Hollywood tycoon supposedly wants to speak to you.

Not too long ago, I spent a few days in Las Vegas.

I was there for business reasons, if you must know - I'm not much of a gambler, and I tend to get sleepy around 10pm - but the weather was perfect and the swimming pool was inviting, and my hotel, the over-the-top Wynn Resort, was top notch.

Until I tangled with the minibar.

It's a pretty clever minibar - well, any machine that manages to charge you $6 (Dh22) for a Diet Coke is clever - but this one has a twist. It charges you when you remove the item. High-tech sensors instantly detect that an item has been taken.

No more disruptive knocks on the door from some grim hotel operative with a clipboard and the ability to look into your soul and see that you ate the Jumbo Fun Sized Snickers ($8) in 93 seconds, or got through the entire festively-decorated jar of cashews ($11) while scrolling through the adult movie offerings without ever pressing "order" or that there's only one glass next to the empty $36 bottle of Cabernet.

I mean, as a hypothetical.

The point is, the minibar has a brain of its own, and if you so much as jostle an item in it, the charge is instantly posted to your bill.

I found this to be perhaps a bit too efficient, and when I described it to a friend of mine who edits the Los Angeles Times, he asked me to write a short and humorous piece about it for his feature section.

It was a complimentary essay. Look, I like the Wynn hotel a lot; it's fun and elegant and has a great pool area - with one pool that allows what they call, with restrained and mysterious suggestion, "European style bathing." (If you've ever been to a European beach, you can figure out what this means) and the whole place has a wonderful glamour to it.

The morning that the piece appears in the local newspaper, my agent calls me. Steve Wynn, the owner and impresario of the Wynn Resort, has called him. Steve Wynn wants to talk to me, about the article.

Let me put it another way: a casino operator I've written about wants to have a few words with me.

Suddenly I'm rereading my article in my mind, sifting through it for possible remarks that, taken out of context, might possibly lead to some misunderstanding. Instantly I'm in one of those early Woody Allen movies in my mind, "no, you see, it wasn't, that was not my meaning, it was the newspaper that, with my, total admiration, sir, fellas, what's with the bats? I would never say such a, with the European style bathing, hey! That hurt! Fellas, that's my pinkie …"

But I'm not a coward - or at least, I don't want to appear to be a coward - so I take a deep breath and call him back.

He's not available. I speak to his assistant - a collected and soft-spoken guy who seemed to have been expecting my call. I play it cool. "Just, you know, giving Mr Wynn a shout back," I say, adding a jaunty "Catch you later, bro," to show that I'm unfazed.

I leave him my cell number, and wait for his call. It doesn't come.

So the next day, all cool, I call the number again and pretend like, you know, I'm so crazy busy that I can't remember who owes whom a call. Is it me? Is it Mr Wynn?

He'll call you, is the reply. It's chillier this time, if possible.

"OK then, I'll wait," I say.

That was about two years ago.

Recently I told this story to a friend who travels in high circles, and he explained it all: "He didn't want to talk to you," my friend said. "Why would anyone want to talk to you? He just wanted to know where you were, and how quickly he could get you if he needed to. Guys like him are smart and prepared businessmen. They don't think about the next move, they think about the moves after the next moves. Unlike you. You're probably thinking only about European-style bathing."

He was right. In Hollywood, when someone calls you it's almost always good news. If it were bad news, they just wouldn't call you. In Hollywood, bad news is lazy. It just waits for you to figure it out by yourself. You sit by the door with your hair all done and in a poufy evening dress, and it's only later, at 10pm, that you realise that no date is coming to take you, that your show is cancelled, your pitch is passed on, your script is dead, your movie is not going to get made, your parking pass is revoked, and your picture is not running in the trades. And if you want European-style bathing, you have to drag yourself to Europe.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood.