What length of time living in Las Vegas qualifies one as an old-timer? Over 10 years? Over 20?
My blind guess is that the average residency of the 2.3 million folks living in the metropolitan area is about a dozen years.
When I limped into town at the end of 1975 with my golf clubs, a manual typewriter, and three changes of clothes in the back of my Ford Granada, the county’s population was 350,000. We are now seven times that size and sprinting forward like Usain Bolt at the tape.
Our one and only sports story of note was Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebel basketball team. The Rebs had a decent football team then as well, but they were clearly a footnote in the minds of most citizens. Beating Cal Fullerton on the gridiron didn’t generate a lot of community fervor or national publicity.
I felt instantly comfortable when I arrived because once I ventured off the Strip, the town felt about the same size as my hometown of Spokane. After about a year here, I could go into my chosen watering hole and recognize a good percentage of the patrons. Nowadays, when my wife and I try out a new restaurant I’m lucky if I recognize a single person. We’re strangers in a strange land.
But I’m not complaining. I settled here precisely because I felt enormous energy percolating beneath the surface of the recently paved roads. I knew that others living in cold climates and sterile business environments would eventually discover what I had found here.
As a scribbler determined to write about any topic that caught my interest, whether politics, business, sports, crime, entertainment, growth or education, and determined to do what I could to avoid working 40 hours at work for a boss that could shoo me out the door on a whim, Las Vegas just felt right to me.
Now, with the perspective of four decades of hindsight, it turns out planting my stake here was the best decision I ever made.
I lucked into a teaching position at UNLV, which then was the thriving heartbeat of the city, both geographically and culturally. I also burned up that old typewriter, sending any story that caught my fancy to both regional and national magazines. While my batting average of acceptance was probably around .300, nearly all editors evaluating my submissions, whether or not they cut me a check, were intrigued with their source. They were all fascinated with Las Vegas. C’mon. Who isn’t intrigued with this place? Even in the mid-70s, I could elaborate the truth slightly and get the hook in an editor’s mouth.
“Really?” a magazine publisher would say once I got him or her on the phone, “that actually happened in Las Vegas?”
“Of course,” I would reply, occasionally with my fingers crossed behind my back. “Las Vegas is just different than anyplace else.”
As the city grew and expanded and got ever weirder and more wonderful, I didn’t have to stretch the truth even a little to sell my stories. I wrote about Virginia Hill and Howard Hughes and Elvis and the mob. I got mileage out of the origins of the construction of Hoover Dam and Nellis Air Force Base and Area 51 and the Loneliest Road in America running across the midsection of our state.
Crime and unsolved mysteries were fertile ground in the 70s and 80s, even into the 90s. Bad guys running from the law often end up getting captured here.
Going back to the 60s, the ‘In Cold Blood’ killers were captured here. Not long ago, pedophile Mormon boss Warren Jeffs’ run ended here. O.J. Simpson beat a murder rap in L.A., but got nailed for robbery here. The notorious mobbed-up ‘Hole in the Wall Gang,’ which had been burglarizing homes and businesses for years, was caught drilling a hole into the ceiling of Bertha’s Home Furnishings. Hilarious. Even better — two of those knuckleheads lived on my block.
On my list of things to be thankful for this holiday season, I have to put the uniqueness and opportunity of Las Vegas at the very top.