Terri Mayes is doing end-of-Friday-night cleaning at King Putt Indoor Mini Golf. It opened in a shopping center on Lake Mead Boulevard in January, while the rest of the world was trying to stay in business.
Church groups come here. Singles groups. Kids groups. Birthday parties.
“There’s just not enough (other) stuff for kids to do. And it’s safe, and parents feel good about it,” she says.
Inside, black lights make everything glow: golf balls, golf clubs, airbrushed illustrations of forests on the walls, and climbable statues of gorillas.
“I get to play every day!” Terri says.
Terri’s 42 but looks younger. She wears her gold hair up. Her husband of 23 years, John, was in the military, so they moved a lot. Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, on and on. They have four daughters (21, 20, 16 and 9).
Tonight, their oldest daughter is playing mini golf: “She was born at Fort Knox. She was our gold nugget.”
Of all the things Terri loves about Vegas, she loves the people most. In places such as Kentucky, people were polite on the outside but closed off on the inside. Vegas people are friendly and diverse. She loves that her pharmacist speaks in “clicks.”
“A place like this, you put all the energy out, and it comes right back at you,” she says. “Good, positive energy.”
She doesn’t gamble often. If she does, she knows the secret: Cash out while you’re ahead, or lose everything.
“The casinos don’t get pretty by giving me money,” she says.
She looks up and sees her Fort Knox Gold Nugget daughter, who has finished a round of 18 with a guy and a girl, then smiles so real and grateful, Terri’s eyes don’t blink when she gazes.
“So you guys gonna play again?” Terri asks.
They do, they pay, and they head back into the glowing wonder of blacklighted shadows, as Terri, wearing the smile she beamed when I walked in, collects golf balls from the bucket under the 18th hole.
Jeff Jordan ends his Friday evening on a cushy chair at a bar inside Steiner’s. He’s feeding $20 bills into a blackjack machine. He’s up, he’s down. He stands out for his firm handshake and big laugh, like there isn’t enough air in the room to take it.
“You should put me in the paper,” he says.
Jeff’s a broad guy, gray beard, eyeglasses hanging on his shirt, sunglasses on top of his head. He’s 50. He points to all the people around him and counts at least six as friends.
“I don’t know the bartender,” because she’s new, he says.
She hears and offers a handshake: “I’m Marie!”
“Hi, Marie. Now, we’re buddies.”
Jeff does data communications and telephony. He makes wires work for banks and ATMs. That $2.50 service fee you pay at ATMs? “That’s how I get paid.”
Jeff came from California. His brother died at 17, when Jeff was 21. It changed his life. He worked for a water bottling company in San Diego. Then a friend got him into this field in Vegas. For two years, his company put him up in a Motel 6.
Back then, he’d check out the Tropicana (“they had a bikini contest down there; hey, you gotta have fun”), and he had a favorite strip joint.
“I met a girl in there. She was a bartender. …” He thinks about her. “She’s gotta guy who’s her sugar daddy. … But this guy, I shook his hand. He treats her right. I don’t make that much money, not for what she looks like.”
“I’d like one more Budweiser,” he appeals to Marie the bartender.
Jeff has no kids. Listen to that hearty laugh. Look at all these people he knows. A friend named Ken (“He’s an Irishman”) walks up and orders Miller Genuine Draft. Jeff laughs. MGD? Why order that? It’s two-for-one, Ken says.
Jeff: “Two for one?! Are things that bad right now?”
Jeff chuckles and focuses on video blackjack again, $10 a hand.
“The one thing you need if you’re gonna play this game — you need more money,” he says. “Most of my life, all I wanted to do was work and make money. Just provide for myself. And you gotta have fun in the middle.”
Saturday night is softball league night at Sunset Park. The team that calls itself 10 Right Fielders has finished playing badly once again, according to their own appraisal. But losing and being defeated are not the same thing.
The 10 Right Fielders huddle by a tree, wives and kids nestled close, under the park’s bright lights. Everyone’s smiling. This is a precarious 2009, but it is hard to imagine they could look happier.
I ask if I can interview them. Alfredo Castillo, 34, shakes my hand and asks if I would declare him in the newspaper as “the most handsomest man in Henderson.” Sure.
Most of the guys out here drive trucks for Pepsi. If you drink a Pepsi product, it’s quite possible it has been handled by one of the 10 Right Fielders.
Alfredo and his wife, Tina, raise three kids (ages 11, 9 and 6).
“I wanted more, but after the third one, she sent me to the vet to get neutered,” Alfredo says.
Alfredo moved here in 1999 to be with Tina, who was raised here. He came from South Central L.A., always on the defensive from gangs, police helicopters, “being shot at,” “guns, knives, pipes.”
“When I married my wife and had kids, my whole mentality changed. You’re not living for yourself anymore.” He means this as a good thing.
Tina, who does case management in health care, loves that Vegas is still intimate enough that when she journeys, her destination always seems clear: “You can see where you want to go.”
Alfredo is an optimist. But he does hope people don’t start buying generic cola, because that could hurt Pepsi and maybe his family. But if that were to happen, he would not let it beat him.
“If I have to scrub floors at 7-Eleven, I will not let my family starve.”
Contentedly, these families among the 10 Right Fielders stay away from the Strip as much as they can, says Tamara Andrade, 25, a Vegas native whose husband, Henry, is a Pepsi Right Fielder.
“Bingo, grocery store, softball; we’re living the life,” Tamara says and everyone laughs.
“The simplest things in life will make you happy,” Alfredo says.
Doug Elfman’s column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 702-383-0391 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.