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Leaving Las Vegas (and not a moment too soon)

Meanwhile, Gates's right-hand man, Steve "Bad Trip" Ballmer, was holding court after his boss's Sunday evening keynote.

"Circus Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war." --Hunter S. Thompson

Vive la différence! As my rumormeister rivals were no doubt prepping for Comdex with mundanities such as setting up interviews, doing research, and buying doses of Alka-Seltzer, Beano, and St. John's Wort, I--taking the road less traveled--was reliving my battered copy of Dr. Thompson's 1971 classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. After all, just as Thompson's protagonist, Raoul Duke, was sent to Vegas to cover the Mint 400 race for a chic New York sports magazine, I was being sent there to cover the Comdex rat race for a chic San Francisco online publisher.

As fate would have it, I stayed at the Circus Circus, the same hotel where Mr. Duke and his 300-pound Samoan attorney had stayed on their excursion. Then, as now, the place was a 24-hour mise-en-scène of venality, kitsch, and polyesterphilia, performed as Noh theater by a crowd a bit glamorous but mostly gauche. Not exactly the place you'd expect to see the likes of Bill Gates, but a Skinnysource reports that the Circus doorwoman swore she saw Bill emerge from the purple-and-orange carpeting. "I got him a cab the other night!" she said. Then, sensing my source's disbelief, she realized the credibility of her place d'emploi was in question. "Hey, Michael Jackson came here to play with the Monkees!" she fumed.

Too flabbergasted to ask whether she meant the primates or the band, my tightrope-walking spy wondered aloud if Gates was a good tipper--to which the doorwoman replied, "He gave me $20." Not exactly a million a day, but it's a good start.

Meanwhile, Gates's right-hand man, Steve "Bad Trip" Ballmer, was holding court after his boss's Sunday evening keynote. A dense knot of eager reporters, hanging like wet laundry on his every word, moved with him from one buffet table to another. The moving, noshing mediamoeba created an undulating, pulsating tableau reminiscent of a similar scene in Brazil, no doubt one of Hunter S.'s favorite flicks. (No coincidence that Brazil's director, ex-Monty Pythonian Terry Gilliam, is putting Fear and Loathing on film.) Based on Ballmer's handling of this group, I have no doubt that were he to encounter the bloodthirsty bats, manta rays, wolverines, pterodactyls, and lizards that constantly swoop through the Thompsonesque Vegas landscape, he would herd them into a corner and force them to adopt NT 5.0.

HST would probably scoff at the notion of AdultDex, which you might have read about in the ComdeX Files. The trade-booth banality of porn--as if porn in Vegas weren't banal enough already--would have sent the good Doctor screaming from the hall straight into the arms of a mescaline screwdriver. But take heart, seekers of True Gonzo: the day after the ComdeX Files coverage, the conference was raided by Las Vegas's Finest due to the nudity and--gasp!--sexual behavior going, uh, down on the conference floor. This crackdown contrasted sharply with the enthusiastic reception for two supertall, superthin model-types on the main Comdex floor, dressed in (what seemed to be) aluminum foil, mini-miniskirts, and Bono-style wraparound glasses. From what I saw, none of the entranced geeks crowding around them seemed intent on using their cell phones to call the police.

My fellow tech press journalists aren't exactly the Gonzo types, but God bless their pointy little heads, they tried their best to follow in Raoul Duke's staggering shoes. I can't name names, but one hack, after ordering yet another drink at a casino on The Strip, was instead given a hot cup of black coffee. Returning the next night, he tried again--only to hear the waitress say she'd been "instructed" not to serve him. Cut off in Vegas--what a coup! Going for the hat trick, he rudely critiqued Circus Circus's service, policies, aesthetics, etc., blissfully unaware that he was, in fact, not even in Circus Circus--nor even in a hotel, at that moment. The saddest tale? Another so-called scribe happily accepted beer after free beer from a pair of possibly interested--hmm, hey, all right!--cute young women, only to realize upon sobering up that they were, in fact, PR flunkies with an eye toward future favorable media coverage. Makes you wanna throw a grapefruit in a bathtub. As everyone gets back to work, I'm sure you'll hear tons of mind-blowing rumors in the ensuing weeks. Save me a trip and send in your tips on the back of a blotter.