One of the most annoying things about spending a lot of time in casinos is trying to walk around in them. It's a lot harder than it should be.
The first (and, so far, only) time that I visited New York City, I was constantly astonished--and annoyed--at how New Yorkers paid no heed whatsoever to the simple habit of walking on the right. Walking down the sidewalk was a constant struggle of dodging oncoming pedestrians; a hundred times per block you have to do that stupid visual negotiation/dance of "which way are you going?" Even worse were street crosswalks. There was absolutely no effort to keep more or less to the right, and when opposing groups met in the middle of the street, well, if you'll pardon the language, there's just no better work for the resulting tangled chaos than "clusterfuck." It was insane, when such a simple convention (keeping toward the right side) would have prevented most of the conflict. No other city that I've visited has had such determined and consistent mass pedestrian mayhem.
Until, that is, I moved to Las Vegas, and started spending time in casinos. I used to think that only airports and shopping malls rivaled the idiocy of how pedestrians interact on the streets of New York. I was wrong.
Yeah, I know that casino floor plans are carefully designed to make it hard to move efficiently out of them. This is, I assume, for at least two reasons: to make it psychologically harder for people to leave, and for security reasons--to make it hard to bolt from any particular spot for the exit.
But what makes traversing a casino difficult is, I think, far more one's fellow patrons than the layout of the place. The problem is that such a high percentage of the people walking around are totally oblivious to the fact that they're sharing the space with others. I call such airheads "Oblivioids."
I have noticed many identifiable subspecies of Oblivioid:
There's the Cork in a Bottle. This is a group of Oblivioids that congregate, for no good reason, right in the middle of a high-traffic area, to have a discussion about whatever is on their tiny little minds. They have a predilection for doorways, aisle intersections, etc. Naturally, it never occurs to them that they're in the way of dozens of other people, or that by simply moving a little way over, they could clear the path.
There's the Lovebirds. These are the people who stroll holding hands, usually with quite a bit of space between then, la-di-da, paying no attention to the traffic jam they're creating by hogging the entire width of an aisle or hallway.
There's the Chorus Line. These are like the Lovebirds, but without the hand-holding, and there tend to be more of them. The common feature, though, is that they insist on walking two or three or four abreast, no matter how much space this takes up, or what traffic is coming in the opposite direction. Perhaps there's some sort of egalitarianism at work among them here, such that they're incapable of rearranging themselves into single file, even in the narrowest of passages. Heaven forbid that they have to delay their conversation for a minute, until they're in a place where they can stop and chat without being in everybody else's way.
There's the Random Walker. This is the most dangerous subspecies. This is the moron who will, without notice, suddenly dart right or left, hummingbird-like--or even suddenly decide to head the opposite direction, turn on a dime, and slam right into the person behind. It never, ever even begins to dawn on these people that there might be somebody else in the vicinity, until after the collision. When both parties are picking themselves up off the floor, the Random Walker is stunned at the realization that he wasn't the only person in the casino.
There's the Flailer. Like the other subspecies, these idiots somehow delude themselves into believing they're the only ones around. But they manifest their obliviousness by suddenly making wild gestures or other movements with their hands/arms. When out of nowhere you get poked in the eye by a pointing finger, you've just met a Flailer, who couldn't imagine that another human would materialize at the exact place and time he felt an overwhelming urge to wave his arms frantically, trying to get the attention of a friend at the craps table across the room (often with a drink in hand, which, of course, spills all over you).
There's the Misplaced Eyes Monster. It's easy to mistake this type for the Random Walker, but there's a crucial difference. The MEMs don't have eyes at the front of their skulls--or at least act as if they don't. You typically see them steadily observing something of great significance on their right or left, but they keep walking, turning the head farther and farther around, while they continue walking forward. Their version of obliviousness is to be surprised every time that they fail to notice a person in their path who would have been obvious, and easy to avoid a collision with, if their eyes were in the front, like everybody else's. The other natural habitat of the MEM is in conversation with one of their own, standing still. But then they'll suddenly start walking during the last few words of the discussion ("OK, bye, see you next Tuesday!"), while maintaining focused eye contact with their friend. Of course, the direction in which they set off wandering has no relation to where they are looking at the moment they step out. You have to kind of feel sorry for their handicap, though; it must be hard going through life with your eyes on the side of your head instead of in the front (or with your neck chronically craned 90 degrees to one side)--kind of like trying to drive while looking out the side window instead of the windshield. But, boy, are they ever a menace to the rest of us.
There's the Blind Left Turners: When turning left from one hallway to another, these Oblivioids habitually fail to consider the possibility that another person will simultaneously be making the opposite turn using what is, to him, the right-most space available. Of course, the BLTs save maybe two steps by cutting the corner as sharply as possible, and if they happen, in the process, to slam directly into somebody else, oh well, it was unforeseeable, right? A few high-traffic areas have convex mirrors overhead to help prevent injury in such places, but it matters little, because an Oblivioid could never, ever be bothered to look up at a mirror before selecting a trajectory for the corner.
There's the Elevator Stalkers. These numbskulls wait for the elevator directly in front of the door, and start stepping in the instant it opens. They are always shocked, SHOCKED, to discover that there are people already in the elevator who need to get out. Some of them take it to the extreme that they won't even observe the courtesy of letting people out before getting on, even once they realize that there are people trying to exit.
Notice that I'm not griping one bit about people who are slow because they're in wheelchairs or scooters, hobbling on canes, or just walking slowly because they're on vacation and in no particular hurry. Slowness is not the issue here. Like automobile traffic, pedestrian traffic can easily accommodate people using a wide variety of speeds, if people will just follow a few simple guidelines.
Maybe the thing that perpetually mystifies me is that these rules are the same ones that the great majority of people follow pretty much without fail when driving: keep to the right, don't jam up traffic, be careful when passing, look both ways at intersections, be aware of what's going on around you, try not to make sudden, unpredictable changes in your movement (stops or turns), keep your left-hand turns wide and your right-hand turns sharp.
I can't ever figure out why there is such a huge fraction of the population that never thinks to implement the same kind of conventions when walking among a large mass of their peers as they deploy automatically when driving. Perhaps it's because the consequences tend to be less severe than with the same kinds of violations when driving. Maybe it's because there aren't any written rules, nor pedestrian cops to enforce them. Maybe they're all just really stupid. Or maybe they're just self-centered jerks, and it simply cannot occur to them that they should take even minimal precautions to prevent colliding with, inconveniencing, and annoying their fellow walkers.
Whatever the underlying cause is that turns ordinary people into Oblivioids, the effect seems to be more pronounced in casinos than just about anywhere else. Those of us not so afflicted have to take extra defensive measures accordingly.
Addendum, August 19, 2007:
Strange coincidence. I wrote the above last night. This morning I was at the Venetian, waiting for a table. I had read all the good magazines they had, so I was reduced to perusing the awful "Action!" magazine (Summer, 2007, issue). I was startled to discover an editorial titled "Las Vegas: Litter and Slow Moving People," by a guy who just calls himself "Rude Dude." Here's the relevant excerpt:
I have ranted and raved (just a little) in past issues about tourists who
don't know how to walk in Las Vegas. You know the ones who stop right at the top
of the escalator to look around! Or the slow moving herd of people who decide to
walk side by side on Las Vegas sidewalks and in the casinos. Hellooo there are
people behind you...
I am going to run for Mayor just so I can pass my "Keep Moving" law. It
would be a simple campaign. There would be public service announcements that say, "Keep Moving." If you slow down the person behind you has the right to moo like
a cow so you will get the heck out of the way.