If you didn't know better, you might think Gary Bates was simply a one-man complaint department with beleaguered government operators on speed dial.
He polices his neighborhood near Maryland Parkway and St. Louis Avenue with eyes that miss nothing.
Not a broken bottle. Not a sleeping wino. Not a dawdling Dumpster left too long on the street.
But he doesn't just see the things that are wrong in his neighborhood. He does something about it.
He calls city and county officials, 911 when needed and 311 when appropriate. Then he goes to work, often with wife Carmen Bates by his side.
Neither roadkill nor gang graffiti get past Bates as he patrols streets with addresses that were once the envy of many. But that was years ago, back when Bishop Gorman High was located there, and now the urban core of Las Vegas battles the ravages of time against increasingly long odds.
Bates, 67, knows something about the underdog's heart. He moved with his family to Nevada from Colorado in 1949 and slept in their car at Boulder Beach all summer until his hard-drinking father found work and landed a space at Victory Village, a government apartment project in Henderson.
"You didn't want your peers to know the truth - what goes on behind closed doors - of how poor you were," he says of his childhood. "It was pretty much a life of deception."
Like other sons of alcoholics, Bates grew up with a hunger that no meal could satisfy. He found mentors in a young Harry Reid and a Basic High government teacher and boxing coach named Mike O'Callaghan. Future Senate Majority Leader Reid helped get him off the street and into the gym, and future Nevada Gov. O'Callaghan practically ordered Bates to enlist the U.S. Marine Corps. He was fighting when he entered the military and continued fighting when he left.
As a heavyweight prizefighter, Bates split three dozen bouts from 1966-1978 and was known for his toughness and for taking any fight on short notice, including those against rising powerhouses Ken Norton, Ron Lyle and Gerry Cooney. For five of those years, he was Sonny Liston's sparring partner. The Ring Record Book doesn't tally street fights and bar brawls, or Bates' boxing biography might fill three pages.
Like some of your neighbors, Bates gives blood. As he does nothing in a half-hearted way, he has donated blood regularly for many years. Running total: more than 25 gallons.
He also has donated bone marrow and watched it help prolong the life of a total stranger. Speaking of strangers, he once pulled one from a burning car.
All that's well and good, but it doesn't keep Gary Bates' neighborhood clean. That requires a pickup, endless garbage bags, rakes, shovels, a pair of Weed Eaters - and a life partner with a sense of humor and a strong work ethic.
He has picked up so many dead animals his wife calls him "The Reaper." But what was he supposed to do, pretend he didn't see it?
"When I see a bottle on the street, I would appreciate it if somebody would have picked it up before I ran over it," Bates says. "The same is true for a dead animal. I don't wait until it's been run over two, three, or four times. I remove the animals because this is not Tijuana West. This is Las Vegas. This is a destination city. Everybody that lives in this city depends on tourism, and everybody in this city should work to keep it clean. This is our home. It's a place I want to be proud of."
When Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani saw Bates and his wife toiling away, she stopped and asked whether there was anything they needed. Red paint to freshen the curbs, Bates replied.
The next morning, the paint arrived and was applied in short order.
Sure, he could have waited for the appropriate government entity to get around to doing the job, but Southern Nevada's older, care worn neighborhoods don't need to be cleaned up next week, next month, or next year. Instead of waiting, he went to work.
Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin saw to it that the efforts of Gary and Carmen Bates were recognized and nominated them for Citizens of the Month for September. Coffin and Bates have teamed up to clean litter-clogged lots in the area.
Like the neighborhood he lives in, struggling Las Vegas has seen better days. But it also possesses an under-rated commodity: Legions of hard-working people who are willing to fight to preserve their neighborhoods and nurture this community.
"I think there are a lot of faith-oriented people who every day pray that we recover," Bates says. "There's got to be hope for the future."
Bates, who knows about being considered a lost cause, lives on St. Jude Circle.
He and his wife earn their livings in the casino business. They feed their spirits at a local Catholic Church. Their devotion to their neighborhood and city is the glistening sweat on their brows.
Those government operators might get tired of hearing from Gary Bates, but by now they should know he doesn't just call.
This old street fighter also hears the call, and answers the bell every time.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith