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Change part of Vegas culture

My guess is if you’re the kind of person who hates change, you laid rubber out of Las Vegas years ago.

Over the years, Southern Nevada has undergone more changes than every person and body part in the Kardashian-Jenner families, and that’s a big number. When my Ford Granada puttered into town at the end of 1975, the area population was about 400,000. Today we’re at 2.3 million, nearly sextuple growth in less than half a century. We’re either the first- or second-fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, year after year.

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There were about 10 high schools in Las Vegas 45 years ago. Today there are 72. You can look at every other growth factor in the region and see similar patterns.

Ironically, the one place where growth was stagnant was the Las Vegas Strip. When the original MGM Grand opened in late 1973, it was thought that would spur the rise of other megaresorts. It didn’t happen. It would be another 16 years before Steve Wynn opened The Mirage, to international acclaim. That hotel’s success spurred other gaming companies to try and keep pace.

Over the next 10 years no fewer than a dozen major properties sprouted up, and with the increase in hotel rooms and the luxury they afforded, the number of major conventions choosing Las Vegas grew commensurately. The airport and freeway traffic grew from month to month.

In the late ‘70s, the city of Las Vegas felt small at its core, not much bigger than the eastern Washington town I was raised in. The only sports story that everyone cared about was UNLV basketball. By 1980, after running a local magazine and teaching writing and literature at Runnin’ Rebel U., I couldn’t go into a restaurant or retail store without bumping into two or three people I knew. Now when I venture out, I’m lucky if I see one familiar face. (It doesn’t help that everyone is disguised behind a mask.)

I’m not complaining about Las Vegas being on steroids all these years. As someone who for 35 years has been allergic to traditional employment, I’ve had a blast writing about all the changes and advancements the city has experienced. When I was peddling freelance newspaper and magazine articles around the country and world years ago, I learned that the Las Vegas dateline on a story always caught the attention of editors. I could keep an assignment editor on the phone for longer than the standard five minutes just answering his/her questions:

• Does the mob still run Las Vegas?

• How do you raise children there?

• How do you tolerate the heat?

• Is prostitution legal there?

• Did you ever see Howard Hughes? (No, he split five years before I arrived.)

• How do you control the urge to gamble? (The temptation is minimal when you’re broke.)

• Why is it that noted criminals think they can hide in Las Vegas?

These extended conversations with editors helped break down walls and gave me enough work to feed the family and the assortment of abandoned pets who found their way to our door. I learned that because Las Vegas is viewed as a place like no other, and that even the most outrageous stories emanating from here are believed if told with enough conviction, there was no limit to the subjects I could cover.

In the 1980s and ‘90s I sold stories about bass fishing at Lake Mead, instructions on how to conduct a Jewish wedding (which I’ve never attended), and the most common phobias experienced by the local citizenry. One man had a deathly fear of saliva. (I wonder how he’s doing today?) I even profiled a single mother who was a Brownie den leader and Little League coach for her kids by day, and a $1,000-an-hour call girl by night.

An English professor in grad school who mentored my writing aspirations once told me never to limit my subject matter.

“Be a good researcher and have enough confidence to write about any good story, no matter the subject,” he said. “And ply your craft in a fertile field.”

The first piece of advice was invaluable. The second I had to find on my own.