It was on this very day 45 years ago, January 6, 1976, that I rolled out of an apartment driveway in Spokane, Washington, heading to: I had no idea where.
A month before, I had quit my job as a sportswriter at The Spokesman Review morning newspaper. It wasn’t an impulsive decision, nor one that came without regret. I had learned the fundamentals of journalism at the paper in my two years of employment, been treated well by all the staff, and had been allowed to write dozens of feature stories.
I had been surprised to be hired in the first place. I had never taken a journalism class, only literature classes, but the paper’s publisher said I could pick up the other stuff on the job. As the months went on, the editors approved about 75 percent of my story suggestions, which was generous of them.
It was on this very day 45 years ago, January 6, 1976, that I rolled out of an apartment driveway in Spokane, Washington, heading to: I had no idea where.Gone but not forgotten… The pool area at the Riviera Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip pic.twitter.com/KckGjsbFPd
— Sport & Betting History (@CDCHistory) August 23, 2019
The main takeaway from my time there was that while I enjoyed covering sports, I had an appetite for subjects well beyond the sporting world. I longed to write about a wide scope of human interests: crime, business, politics, travel, stories of triumph and failure, anything that caught my interest. I used to hang around the hard news desk at the paper when I wasn’t on a game deadline, and I felt pangs of jealousy that the reporters could go out and cover a breaking story on something other than athletics.
When we are young and single with a few bucks in our pockets and a world of hopes and dreams out there, we can take chances that later life responsibilities render impossible. That was my situation at the time, although I often look back in surprise at the decision I made. It could have horribly backfired.
I was leaving a solid job with good income and the promise that if I stuck it out for maybe another decade, I could become sports editor of my hometown paper. And although I felt confined by writing about only sports, at least I was gainfully using the six years of education I had accrued in college and graduate school. There were many practical reasons, as my parents several times pointed out, that I shouldn’t depart that comfort zone. But I was stubborn and bolted into the unknown. Thank God I did.
Las Vegas was nowhere on my radar on the day of departure. My first stop heading south was Eugene, Oregon, where I had loved my four years of study and serious competitive golf. I partied in Duckville for three days with college friends, and then headed for the Bay Area. It was a thought that San Francisco would be a wonderful place to pursue the next chapter of my career. It had been the base of Steinbeck, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Kesey, and other writers I’d come to love, and I hoped maybe some of that literary angel-dust would fall on my shoulders.
I kicked the tires at a few bookstores and writing nooks, but nothing felt right. Then, for a reason I can’t recall, I decided to phone a friend from north Idaho who had moved to Las Vegas. He was employed as a blackjack dealer at the Riviera.
Hugh explained that the desert weather was in the low 70s and that we could make some serious folding money hustling golf at his home course, then known as Paradise Valley Country Club. I won barely more than I lost gambling on the links, and by April of that year, while renting a room in my friend’s house and sending unsolicited articles to national magazines which were uniformly returned unopened with a note that the stories would only be considered if submitted by an agent, I found myself dead broke.
My former newspaper offered to take me back on the sports desk, and I prayed that I would make the right decision. My gut told me to stay in Vegas. That fall, I got hired to teach writing and literature classes at UNLV, I started a small city magazine, and I became further enamored with the town and its eclectic range of residents, who had nearly all, like me, come from someplace else to take a second shot at life.
I look back on my initial decision to come here, and later decision to stay, as two of the most important decisions of my life. I still don’t fully understand why I did what I did, but I couldn’t be more grateful.