Not too long ago, I bought a late 1970s model Hoover vacuum for $19 at the Broad Acres swap meet. It was bulky, but simple, and all I was asking it to do was pluck the short white dog hair from my burgundy area rug.
My friends urged me to invest in a $400 machine with a zillion attachments, echoing the ridiculous advertising claim that that was the only vacuum capable of inhaling pesky dog fur.
Much to my amazement -- and to the chagrin of my free-spending friends -- the old Hoover did a far better job. They actually slinked over to my house to borrow the old Hoover, sadly acknowledging swap meets and 40-year-old vacuums aren't all bad.
So, what's the point?
It reminded me that new and expensive doesn't always outdo old and less expensive. You know, kind of like the $650 million beast of a monorail on the east side of the Las Vegas Strip compared to the baby rubber-wheeled trams on the west side.
On a recent weekday, I took a spin on both.
The sleek monorail, pushed over on the public by the valley's elite transportation officials and politicians, ran its route nearly empty. The lone passenger who boarded at the Las Vegas Convention Center stared quietly out the window at weedy vacant lots and parking structures.
Across the Strip, the tram chugging between Mandalay Bay and the Luxor was nearly full of giddy tourists pointing to various attractions. It was the same between the Mirage and Treasure Island and from the Bellagio through City Center to the Monte Carlo. The old rubber-wheeled tram put into place by a bunch of casino executives who probably knew little about transportation technology was far more popular.
I bumped into Jim and Elysse Rossi from Indianapolis on the short jaunt between the Bellagio and Crystals at CityCenter. They visit Las Vegas every few years and are not picky about where they stay. Typically, they search for the best deal.
Have you ever used the monorail?
"A monorail?" Jim repeated. "I didn't know there was one."
"No, we saw a sign, but we never saw a train," Elysse said, correcting her husband.
That's the problem. Tourists see the signs, but no train. That is because the signs are misleadingly placed along the Strip, as if you can duck into a casino and hop on the rail. Not so. Anyone who is remotely familiar with the system knows you have to walk a quarter-mile through a casino to reach a station. Chances are, tourists will be sidetracked by an "American Idol" slot machine and forget about the monorail altogether.
And it is not getting any brighter for our multi-multimillion-dollar train. On Wednesday, the only humans at the north terminus of the line, the Sahara hotel-casino, were employees slipping through the fences to pick up their final paychecks. When the Sahara closed, so did the parking garage and the pedestrian bridge leading to the monorail station.
A security guard told me I could access the station from the east side of Paradise Road, but it looked dark and scary. The only pathway was against a cyclone fence guarding another empty lot. I opted to jump on at the next stop, the Las Vegas Convention Center. The station is monstrous, but it is not easy to figure out where to park to get to the station. With the amount of driving and walking necessary, why not just drive to your chosen destination?
The monorail is billed as a mass transit system, but in reality there are no masses. The guy riding the train Wednesday wasn't even large enough to be considered a single mass.
Robert and Lauren Betlinski, visiting from Connecticut, also rode the Bellagio tram on Wednesday. This is the third time they have visited Las Vegas. They never have taken the monorail, not even for entertainment. Their choice of transportation is typically the tram, the bus or their feet.
"It seems out of the way," Robert said of the monorail. "They're behind all the casinos. If it was down the Strip or something I could see us using it. They should extend it downtown or to the airport; otherwise its kind of useless."
Years ago, there was talk of putting a light-rail system in the median of Las Vegas Boulevard, but transportation officials decided it would be far too expensive. They also decided that the direction of transportation they were headed was the bus rapid transit, like the Deuce and the new Strip express line, both of which, by the way, were far more crowded than the monorail.
"You need a train that goes to the airport," said another passenger.
Yes, we know that. What else keeps one from riding the monorail?
"I heard it's really expensive; it seems out of the way, too," he said, before slipping out the tram doors into the Crystals shops.
Even though the trams are rubber-wheeled older cars, they seem more convenient. A visitor sees a sign pointing to the station and typically is at the station within minutes. Where there is a sign, there typically is a tram nearby. They are more entertaining; even though you are traveling, you still feel a part of the resort atmosphere. It's cool to ride a monorail, but you feel isolated, sort of, because you are.
The monorail really is pricey. Five bucks for one trip. The trams are, well, free.
For the money spent on the monorail, we could probably have had a dozen more mini-tram lines connecting casinos on both sides of the Strip.
Obviously it doesn't matter if its older and cheaper; the attraction to tourists is they feel like they are getting an entertaining trip without being taken for a ride.
If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.