Editor’s note: Gaming Today welcomes noted writer and author Jack Sheehan to its staff. Jack, a longtime resident of Las Vegas will write a weekly column about the city and the history of the casino industry.
Flying back to Las Vegas recently, I was seated next to a woman who asked me a basic question all of us locals have been asked: Which hotel are you staying at?
When I told my seatmate that I had been in Las Vegas for 43 years, she said, “Oh, you’re a real Las Vegan.”
I thought about telling her that I was actually impersonating one, like all our beloved Elvi who can be spotted on nearly every Strip corner these days. But for once, my inner smart-ass contained itself.
However, her comment got me thinking: Exactly what, other than the length of my duration in Southern Nevada, actually qualified me to be considered a real Las Vegan?
I came up with five reasons:
1. I taught at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and became immersed for a while in the throbbing heart of the community. For five years in the late ‘70s I was an English instructor at our esteemed local university. The administration at UNLV determined that instructors like myself should receive a grand sum of $900 per semester for each class we taught. This penciled out to about $1.50 an hour. The change girl at the Golden Goose casino downtown made quadruple that amount.
The experience gave me the conviction that we need to place far more emphasis on education at all levels in our community and pay our teachers at least at the level of off-Strip valet parkers. While I resented the meager income, I treasure the friendships I made with my students, many of whom have gone on to various levels of notoriety. One of them became our district attorney; another a porn star. For what it’s worth, they earned the same grade in my class.
2. I have had to explain to my children why a lineup of seven bare butts was mooning us from a billboard overlooking the freeway. My then seven-year-old son couldn’t stop giggling. Of course it was the Crazy Girls sign, a show that played for years on the Strip. Rather than giving my kid the birds and the bees talk at that age, I just laughed along with him and said that someone was making a joke.
3. I actually saw a person request an autograph from a celebrity as he stood at a urinal. The celeb was Larry Bird, whom I’d played golf with earlier that day. When the fan reached a Sharpie and notepad over the urinal and asked Larry to sign. The Hall of Famer said, “Tell you what, Pal. You hold this thing I’m holding, and I’d be happy to.”
4. I played golf at Shadow Creek without having a $100,000 credit line at The Mirage. The year was 1989, and the day marked the official opening at a course that had been whispered about for years. I played with singer Vic Damone that day, and our team won the event. That may not pack as much karma as “looping for the Dalai Lama,” as Carl the Greenskeeper claims to have done in “Caddy Shack, but it’s damn close.
5. I got hitched in a famous local wedding chapel. Carol and I were married in the Little Church of the West on St. Paddy’s Day, 1995. All sorts of famous people have tied the knot there, but I promise not to drop their names if they won’t drop ours.
The only downside of the evening was when we were leaving the chapel, and I asked my blushing bride whether all the expenses had been covered. She said, “Everything but the chaplain.
At that point the faux holy man turned to me and said, “I normally get $75.” Having no small bills on me, I handed him a Benjamin, feeling that our wedding day was no time to be tight-fisted.
Our ceremony lasted less than 15 minutes, and I was told later that the dude had officiated 25 ceremonies that day. Let’s figure on average that he received a $75 tip for every couple he blessed. That equates to $1,875 in gratuities for an eight-hour shift, very little of which would be seen by Uncle Sam.
It could be that holding that Bible and acting pious is the best gig on the Strip. And he didn’t even have to take his clothes off.