Flying back to Las Vegas recently, I was seated next to a woman who asked me a basic question we've all been asked: Which hotel are you staying at?
I told her I'd found a bargain rate at my own home, and as usually happens, she expressed surprise that I actually lived here. When I told my seatmate that I had been in Las Vegas for 37 years, she said, "Oh, you're a real Las Vegan."
I thought about telling her that I was actually just 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 seven reasons:
1) I taught at 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 determined that instructors should receive a grand sum of $900 per semester for each class we taught. This penciled out to about $1.37 an hour. The change girl at the Golden Goose 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 certain 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 is mooning us from a billboard overlooking the freeway. My son, 7 at the time, started laughing from the backseat when I noticed what he was looking at, which was, of course, the Crazy Girls sign. Fortunately, my 4-year-old daughter wasn't paying attention. Seeing as J.P. wasn't ready for the birds 'n bees talk just yet, I laughed and said, "Isn't that funny, pal? That must be someone's idea of a joke." (Where was Ward Cleaver when I needed him?)
3) I ran in the Las Vegas Marathon before it was cool: I completed the 1979 LV Marathon in four hours and six minutes, about the same time as failed vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, when he finally fessed up and added an hour to his original claim. Immediately after crossing the finish line at Sunset Park, I reenacted the Linda Blair scene from "The Exorcist." There was no prize money in our local 26-miler back then, only about 150 participants, and we didn't run up and down the Strip to the adulation of cheering throngs, as they do in the present-day Rock 'N Roll Marathon. We were pure-spirited runners some 30 years ago, by golly, not glory hogs.
4) I actually saw a person request an interview from a celebrity as he stood at a urinal. The celeb was basketball great Larry Bird; the location the upstairs men's room at Piero's restaurant; and Larry actually predicted it would happen. After a fun round of golf, a group of us were dining at the local hot spot, once known as a favorite hangout of Good Fellas. When Larry pardoned himself from our table, and I informed him that the restroom was upstairs, he said, "Oh, man, I'm gonna get hassled. You watch." Sure enough, a few Bird-watchers immediately rose from their tables and gave pursuit. I had to go as well, so I was an eyewitness to the intrusion. Larry had no more unzipped and gotten busy before a man's hand holding a Sharpie and notepad reached over the divider and asked the legend to sign. "Tell you what, pal," Larry said, his eyes aiming down, "You hold this thing here, and I'll be happy to."
5) I played golf at Shadow Creek without having a $100,000 credit line at The Mirage. The year was 1989 and it was the official opening day at a course that had been whispered about for years. Could Shadow Creek possibly be as good as everyone said? Turned out it was even better. The Tom Fazio design was an instant smash with golf critics for its miraculous reshaping of an ugly slab of raw caliche in North Las Vegas into a majestic arboretum. In no time, the place became home to black swans, Chinese pheasants, wallabies, and golfers like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. I played with singer Vic Damone on opening day, and our team won the event. That may not pack as much karma as "looping for the Dali Lama," as Carl the Greenskeeper claims to have done in Caddy Shack, but it's damn close.
6) I have housed no fewer than 100 friends who used the lame excuse that all the good hotels on the Strip were booked. Of course, my cronies really just wanted to hang onto their vacation money so they could either feed it to a video poker machine or see a hot show. I understand this, and I truly appreciate my friends' generous offers to reciprocate when my wife and I come to their hometown. But I don't foresee the day anytime soon when I'll need to crash at their crib in Walla Walla or Twin Falls or Bozeman. The fact is, those of us who live in Las Vegas have a moral obligation to provide free board and room to our friends and loved ones as a way of keeping our economy vibrant. If we would all pledge to house just 10 people a year, for three days each, the gaming drop will increase geometrically and speed our city's recovery from this recession.
7) 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 negative in an otherwise totally positive experience occurred as we were leaving the chapel, and I asked my blushing bride whether all the expenses had been covered. She said, "Everyone but the chaplain." I turned to see the faux holy man with his cupped hand out like one of our showroom maître d's of old. He had been eavesdropping our exchange and quickly said, "I normally get $75." Having no small bills on me, I handed him a Benjamin, impulsively determining that our wedding day was no time to be tight-fisted. Later on, I realized that the ceremony had lasted less than 15 minutes, and I was told that the dude had officiated at about 25 ceremonies that day. Let's figure on average that he received a $75 tip for every couple. 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.
Longtime Las Vegas resident and author Jack Sheehan's column appears monthly. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (702) 277-0660