Strange days indeed on the Strip

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The Las Vegas Strip looks like a ghost town in a futuristic movie where Godzilla finally conquered.

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It’s still beautiful, but the cinematic version would have Tom Hardy peering north from the Bellagio and musing about what happened to leave the overbuilt and luxuriated palaces so undamaged, yet void of human traffic. The impression is of a Salvador Dali masterpiece painted on psilocybin.

I’ve seen this view only once before, back in the early months of 1976, when the Strip went dark for 15 days. The cause that time wasn’t an invisible virus that spread through the air like a whisper of doom, but a culinary workers’ union strike precipitated by a Mob-fueled boss named Al Bramlet.

The hotel workers’ payroll had grown from 1,500 to over 20,000 under Bramlet’s rule by the time of his death, and as his power grew, so did his ego. Think of a smaller scale Jimmy Hoffa.

Big Al was seen all over town with his long cigars and ­curvaceous arm candy, paying little to nothing for dinners and shows. He had started his career years before as a bartender in Los Angeles, and as he elevated to a genuine bigwig in a rapidly growing Las Vegas, he became drunk with power.

Counting family members of his union members, Bramlet had roughly 20 percent of the local population under his rule. When his union didn’t get the benefits he was negotiating for, he ordered his minions to go on strike. That led to 12 of the 15 major hotels on or near the Strip going dark. It was as spooky a sight then as it is today.

Before the strike was called, more dramatic means were taken against non-union and resistant establishments. Two restaurants, Alpine Village and David’s Place, had bombs explode on their roofs, and both the Village Pub and Starboard Tack were targeted with bombs that failed to go off.

For these bully tactics, Bramlet 10 months later took the one-way ride to the desert with the father-son hitman team of Tom and Gramby Hanley.

Bramlet’s body was discovered by hikers three weeks later, with an arm protruding from the ground. That was the result of the killers using a compound that preserved human flesh rather than destroying it. He had been shot in each ear, but as Gramby confessed from prison years later, he and his dad let Al swig large gulps of whiskey before he got lead poisoning. Sorta like a final meal, 90-proof style.

None of this grim history lessens the stress we’re all going through today as we wait out the coronavirus pandemic. It is said the stock market hates uncertainty, which has precipitated entire fortunes quickly sliding down a mineshaft. But as is noted daily by the experts, you only lose the money if you sell. Those brave enough to hang on and wait for what we hope is the inevitable rally will be able to wipe the sweat from their brows months from now and brag about dodging another bullet.

This virus has brought us the fourth cataclysmic event in the last 20 years, including 9/11, the Recession of 2008, and the October 1 massacre. When we recover, maybe the Vegas Strong motto should be our marketing logo going forward.

How are our loyal readers coping with this community isolation? I’m taking a lead from a joke that is making the Internet rounds. It goes like this: A guy who constantly watches sports on television leaves his man cave when he realizes there are no games being played. He goes into his living room, where a woman is sitting on a couch.

“She introduced herself as my wife,” he says. “She seemed nice.”

You might smile at this because of the truth behind it. But it can also be a wake-up call that the most important people in our lives are the ones under our roof .

While I’ve never been so obsessed with tube-viewing that I lost track of my family, this latest collective time-out has also convinced me to emphasize the most important bonds in my life.

If that can occur for many of us, it might be the silver lining we’ve all been looking for in this season of anxiety. 

 

About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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