The Singing Monument
Met a fellow staying at El Cortez. He was in his late 20s, just on the cusp of grasping the ways of the world. Or so I incorrectly presumed.
Visitors his age generally filled hotel rooms on Strip properties. The swankier the hotel, the longer the self-stroking. Downtown hotels, of which El Cortez stands as a dowager, either draw those seeking inexpensive accommodations, wish immersing themselves in what little remains of “Old Vegas,” or have been misled into believing these compact blocks retain vestiges of The Rat Pack.
A resident now, El Cortez is one of my favorite haunts. By the way, its ambience predates Frank, Sammy, Dean, Joey, and Peter. Think of El Cortez as having been of the lair of Bugsy, Meyer, and Virginia Hill, not the Rat Pack.
I look forward to nipping at the establishment’s bar and lounge drink specials. Cocktail in hand, seated in these sedate surroundings, confers a height of “knowing cool.”
Moreover, in a city that heedlessly razes its heritage, El Cortez is one of Las Vegas’ few remnants of the past. It’s been honored by inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
While Las Vegas offers plenty of blaring saloons, places where cash erases a lot of meaningful distinctions and papers over vapidity, cocktails inside El Cortez promote “belonging.” An awareness. More than seeing and being seen or sweating the anxiety instilled through arbitrary measures by those on the periphery or in proximity.
A drink inside El Cortez embodies self-certainty. No furtive glances. Just declarative sentences.
El Cortez’ old lux intrigued its guest. He liked the antiquated amenities. The décor and motifs easily suggested the Spanish Colonial structure at Fremont and Sixth facilitated the sort of serious adult mischief difficult to imagine occurring at the modern hotels/casinos.
Had he left the issue there all would’ve been right in the world. But he delivered a fatal critique.
“Too much Frank Sinatra music. They play too many of his songs.”
His was an exaggeration. More than just Old Blue Eyes spins inside El Cortez. Outside as well. Exterior speakers bathe passersby in the same Mid-Century American Pop Standards warming fervid gamblers and cooing guests circulating within.
Until these Covid months, I’d sometimes meander by the hotel simply to linger outside and listen to memorable lyrics and melodies. These sort which John Cheever might’ve written: “From a time when men still wore hats and tipped them to ladies who still wore gloves; and both exhibited confidence in their comfort.”
Irretrievably lost as that era is, its replication may be an aspiration that ought to fuel our present.
Too much Sinatra? Where shouldn’t that be heard as blasphemy?
A Local Reclaims His
Often, I’ve written about transience in the Mojave. There’s a constant population flux here. Even now during our Covid misery, people, they come and they go. They try out Las Vegas, discover it’s either not for them or they simply can’t hack this Big Mayberry.
Well, if they’re smart and understand they’re unsuited for this city, they skedaddle. No matter what drove them here, no matter how desperate the situation they sought escape from, fate will punish them with greater malice in Las Vegas.
An indecent portion don’t obey what should be self-preservation. Instead, they remain. They bind themselves here at their own deepening misfortunes.
Never mistake Nevada for New York. Not in the least.
One falls in Nevada, the plummet to the bottom is short. Unlike back East, there are fewer resources available to break the crash or help rebound after it. Yes, frankly, there is less social cohesion here. See it as the Silver State’s libertarian strain or the fact most residents hail from elsewhere. We have little adhesion to the region. Even less affection for it.
People unfamiliar with civilization are always surprised when I tell them New York has connection, it is inclusive. Television and movies have skewed the Metropolitan Area’s true nature. More so than wide-eyed gawkers from less dynamic America who’ve visited Gotham and have been astounded by its diversity, intelligence, tolerance, crowding, speed, and massive structures.
To them, it’s all so alien. Un-American, even.
So accustomed to these features New Yorkers rarely remark upon them, if ever. Remark, seldom. Aware of, always.
Despite the multitudes adding themselves to the Metropolitan Area, the cast never seemed to change. Stability was such that I spent a lifetime among the same neighbors and associates. Even if they were as recently arrived as several years earlier.
They came as strangers. But Gotham’s nature draws close all but the most reluctant to accept the profusion of invitations to mix. Going on eight years of having relocated to Las Vegas, I just know less than a handful of people barely beyond nodding.
These days, the sole familiar other than our maintenance man and security guard, the one person still in residence from my August 2013 arrival, is a woman two doors down. Las Vegas is her domicile but she spends little time in town. She’s either banking cash working seasonally at an Alaskan fishing cannery or visiting family in the Philippines. Um, well, not so much that second over the last year.
I’ve stopped bothering getting to know my neighbors. Turnover is so frequent I don’t even trouble nodding at them.
So, I was startled when Ross reappeared. One of the very first Nevadans I met, he owns several units in the complex where I reside. These rentals now filled with ex-Californians have plumped his bottom line sweetly.
About Californians, listening to more cave-dwelling Nevadans one might mistake former Golden Staters as a plague. Talk about narrow vision and small thinking. New residents from the Coast have merely invested in Nevada at levels long-time locals couldn’t even imagine on peyote. They’ve created employment, boosted property values, and kept taxes low.
Let’s see. Who does that benefit?
Ross is a rarity. Unlike decades-long residents lured by casino jobs in the late-50s, early 60s from elsewhere, retirees who’ll boast they came to Nevada just after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, thereby cementing their Mojave bona fides, Ross is “BAR.” A born and raised Nevadan.
Contemporaries as we are, a lifetime of Mojave living has worn more on Ross than has Metropolitan life on me.
Before we newcomers deluged this desert, Ross grew up in a compact Las Vegas. The city then so small, it was a town suitable for the “everyone knew everybody else then” cliché. Mention San Francisco Street to him and he’ll utter what it’s been renamed since. He can still see his boyhood Las Vegas, a rural locale, one that’s been continually razed, paved, built upon, and expanded.
It’s not that the mountains are encroaching. It’s that people are pressing closer towards the peaks.
Domestic strife has brought Ross to this address. He and his wife are in a contentious state. Apparently a quite severe one if he must settle here.
He likes what our address has become. Similar to old Las Vegas, one would not recognize the place where I arrived against what it is today. The Great Recession followed by physical improvements, each independent of the other, led to our address’ appreciation. The first permitted property purchases for songs. That let Ross, among other opportunists, a-hem, to snap up well-situated assets.
Drawn by less expensive Las Vegas living, Californians, mostly, migrated across the Mojave. Their bringing bigger stakes along as well as realizing greater earnings than long-settled Nevadans allowed the Rosses to charge higher rents thus speeding returns on investment.
That increased wherewithal funded the second development. It helped owners like Ross just didn’t sit on their fatter accruals. Looking long-term, they boosted complex security, freshened the structures’ exteriors, and shored up their bones.
Oh, and responsible multi-dwelling owners became a lot more selective about to whom they rented. Well, several, not all.
One aspect of Ross’ relocation puzzled me. How had he acquired an apartment in which to reside? After all this complex is at full occupancy. It sits in an advantageous spot. High as turnover is, there’s no shortage of ready replacements. Add that rents are still somehow below market. Yes, doubtlessly some tenants are taking advantage of the eviction moratorium by having rent money handy but claiming “hardship.” Nonetheless, how on earth did he manage availing himself an apartment?
Through his smile I inferred it all. In fact, I’ve watched it performed several times in the going on eight years I’ve lived in Nevada. Usually around 3 o’clock in the morning.
The Silver State apparently shares this trait with New York: reluctance or resistance melts and becomes compliance when several no-necks fill the doorway. There, they insist on the inhabitant’s departure.
Immediately, if not sooner.
And Ross knows what any New Yorker would recognize as “some guys.”