Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Sin City in My Blood

Credit: Thomas Wolfe, www.foto-tw.de
Photo has been cropped.

According to the City of Las Vegas online site, Las Vegas, Nevada is 110 years old today, having been incorporated as a city on June 1, 1911.  I love Vegas and have a long family history with it.

I was born in Los Angeles in April 1962.  I don't believe my maternal grandparents were in Las Vegas yet, because they were defiintely still living in Miami when my parents arrived in Los Angeles (having driven across the country very soon after they were married on October 21, 1961; my mother always complained that it took three whole days to drive through Texas), mostly likely in November.  In fact, when my parents left Florida, my grandmother didn't even know yet that my mother was pregnant with me!  The first person to learn about that was the woman who would become my godmother, Ruthie Cochran, who was my grandmother's oldest friend.  My mother told me that Ruthie was the first person she told about being pregnant.

When they arrived in the Los Angeles area, my parents were broke and my father didn't have a job.  So they did what lots of people in similar circumstances do:  They found a relative or close friend to stay with.  That was Ruthie, who lived in Whittier at the time.  So that's how Ruthie became the first person — besides my father and mother — to learn my mother was pregnant.

I'm pretty sure that very soon after that my grandparents learned about the upcoming happy event.  I suspect that one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, they moved west was because of that announcement.  What I know for certain is that my earliest memory is of taking a train to Las Vegas to visit my grandparents when I was about 2 1/2 years old, so roughly late 1964.  It had to have been after June 16, because my younger sister had been born.  That might even have been the reason for the trip, for my grandmother to see the new baby.

After my grandparents moved to Vegas, we visited them a lot.  My grandmother, Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother), worked in the casinos as a cashier, and I remember as a child walking through the casinos with her and my parents.  Nowadays they have fits if that happens, but it was just normal stuff back in the 1960's.  Somehow I didn't turn into a gambling addict, either.

Something that influenced me later in life was visiting the Tropicana, one of the classic Vegas casinos.  I fell in love with the gorgeous macaws and cockatoos who lined the long corridor that went from the casino in the front of the propety to the hotel rooms at the rear.  And now I have three macaws!

I remember Bubbie telling me when I was very young that you should only gamble what you can afford to lose.  I asked her about that years later, and she swore she didn't say it, but if it wasn't her I don't know who did.  I took the advice to heart, whoever said it to me.

Bubbie wasn't big into gambling herself, but she did like to play the slots occasionally.  She would walk down an aisle and then decide *that* one looked good.  Once she won $40 on a penny slot playing with only 7 cents.  She just had a knack with slots.  Does Vegas even have penny slots anymore?

For some time Bubbie worked at the Thunderbird, which became the Silver Bird when Major Riddle leased it (he liked naming his casinos Silver Something).  Once when we visited I remember we had French toast made with huge, deep slices of Texas toast, behind the scenes in the hotel kitchen.

Later Bubbie worked at the MGM Grand (the *real* MGM casino) on the Strip.  She was there in November 1980 when the MGM had a huge fire.  She and her coworkers made it out fine, but then one young woman went back in because she forgot her brand-new coat.  She didn't make it back out the second time.  Even now I don't like being on high floors in hotels, just in case.

On one visit to Vegas I went with Bubbie and someone else, I think my mother or my godmother?, to the Silver Slipper (owned by Howard Hughes, not by Major Riddle) to see the famous Boylesque female impersonator show.  I thought it was in 1989, when we had a big family reunion in Vegas to celebrate my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, but according to Wikipeida the Silver Slipper closed permanently in 1988, so that timing is a little off.  But I know I saw the show!

Before I started college in 1979 I lived in Las Vegas with my grandparents.  Their apartment building was just behind the Imperial Palace, on the Strip.  During that stay, my grandfather wanted to teach me how to bet on craps.  When I discovered that you make money on craps by betting on the player, not by playing yourself, I lost interest.  I attended a couple of hours of the Jerry Lewis–Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon while I was living there.

Several years later, after I had moved to Oakland, California, I was visiting Las Vegas annually because I regularly attended a trade show held there.  After being at a couple of other hotels, it ended up at The Orleans, about a mile west of the Strip and a very nice hotel.  Not only did I enjoy going to the trade show and seeing Vegas, I also visited my grandaunt Florence every time I was in town.  I think I did that for about ten years or so.  Florence and I would always go out to a buffet, and she would tuck a bread roll or two and some napkins into her purse before we left.

One tradition I built during those trade show years was going to the fantastic sushi restaurant in the San Remo (apparently more properly Hôtel San Rémo), just behind the Tropicana.  An industry colleague and I alternated paying to take the other out, because we both loved great sushi.  I had been told that the casino was marketed heavily to Japanese businessmen, explaining the high quality of the restaurant, and I learned from the Wikipedia page that it was indeed owned by a Japanese hotelier from 1989–2006, which fits with the years I was visiting.

And now that I've done all this reminiscing about Las Vegas, I want to go!  But it doesn't look as though the Oyo (current name for the San Remo property) still has the great sushi restaurant.  Well, foo.

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