Some Found a Land of Dust and Disappointment

In Las Vegas, it’s easy to differentiate pensioners who retired from the main industry apart from those who flocked here thinking the city would be golden in their Golden Years. That also goes for locals who spent their lives here making livings in the region’s other professions.

Gray hairs who had spent lives bolstering our nation’s one-time industrial prominence and former service personnel who spent careers in the military predominate the second category.

A third bunch grew up in Las Vegas. They stayed, found careers here outside the neon, the noise, the notoriety. Through everyday satisfactions they were contented.

Yes, there’ve been recent deluges of Californians crossing the Mojave to settle in the Big Mayberry. Most of them seek relief from what’s perceived as onerous California taxes, the state’s mounting regulatory nature. A great number of them at least arrive bearing wherewithal. Others remind of urban Joads. Not so much seeking better economic opportunities as just migrating to Nevada to escape the thoroughly foul circumstances which proscribed their lives on the Coast.

About the last, problems must be confronted and solved. Running isn’t a solution. It’s a delay. Whatever turmoil that had been hoped left behind in California invariably catches up and resume their torments.

In that respect, to them Nevada will not be an improvement. For many of these newcomers the Mojave will worsen their situations.

New arrivals from California, particularly those migrating from the state’s urban precincts, have failed to calculate and make preparations to adjust. Too many have based their relocation decisions on weekends here.

Residing in Las Vegas is an entirely different animal than merrymaking in Las Vegas.

With the latter, there is a budget (often badly managed) and a departure date. The former presents deep and long-term scenarios. Lodging and employment first and foremost. Californians with means have already squared those circles. Using foresight, they’ve prepared and readied themselves to establish presences in the Mojave.

Others, practicing deficient forbearance, come to Las Vegas upon the premise of “things will work out.” Trying to think of the apt cliché here. Is “throwing caution to the wind” or “whistling in the graveyard” it?

At least on the Coast they had connections, whether those be family, close friends, or access to extensive social services. Perhaps the first pair await in Las Vegas. If the move requires the third, this is not the place for public cushions.

The libertarian ethos pervading the Silver State grudges assistance. Nevada expects the able-bodied to make their way. If they don’t, their falling to the wayside as the rest pass along will be noticed but little empathized. Sometimes I wonder is there anywhere else in America which so baldly abandons those on the sides of roads who won’t pull their own weight or fend for themselves.

Coming from the Northeast where indeed social services devour plenty of municipal budgets because they’re so comprehensive, seeing, eventually accepting levels of destitution here that would raise deafening cries there, should jar then question our humanity. But this is Nevada, not New York. “Failure,” such as it seen, is not societal problem but one solely borne upon the individual.

That alone should be enough for unequipped Californians to remain on the Coast. Cocksure as they were in “Cali,” here they’re half-cocked and half-assed on the way to being terribly marooned.

Nevadans have a designation for themselves I hadn’t heard of until moving here. BAR. “Born and raised.” A point of pride for them because relatively few Nevadans bear that label. Especially since an enormous influx of newcomers has swollen the Silver State’s population. Yes, internal American migration has boosted Sun Belt states’ populaces. Yet even native Floridians, Texans, and Arizonans retain predominance over other Americans who’ve been lured away from the Northeast, Midwest, and with increasing occurrence, California.

Not so in Nevada. At least in Southern Nevada. Perhaps the percentage of BARs rises, at least, with distance from Las Vegas.

After nine years, have I met at least 10 BARs? Nope. That said, of the ones encountered each have unique takes on the locale before outsiders started crowding Las Vegas. Then expanding it unimaginably. And don’t group BARs in with retired hotel/casino workers who were discreet presences during the city’s Rat Pack heyday.

Funny. Most of the BARs met toiled beyond the glitz. Or maybe the ones who did continue maintaining habitual muteness about incidents witnessed and people crossed way back when.

Or maybe since that past is good and buried they just prefer leaving it covered in dirt.

Intimidation, fear, works best on those indoctrinated into believing themselves inferior. Small. Easily replaced. Vestiges of that remain in the Big Mayberry. Likely throughout Nevada. In this “right to work” state where employees can be fired “for cause” showing too much backbone could be financially ruinous.

That kind of inoculation will keep hindering anybody who’s been infected by it early on.

BARs from the late 50s through 70s will give nostalgia good runs. Listening to them, one wonders how hard it must be to mentally excise that city’s period of wide-openness. Its unbridled amusements unavailable in the rest of the nation. Instead, they prefer reminiscing about long razed neighborhood haunts. Inside rendered into dust addresses crowded locals where they congregated familiarly. And BARs recall when the desert sat a lot closer. Then, previously undisturbed Mojave beckoned for exploration, adventure, or mischief. To them, the present needs overlays by mental transparencies because what hasn’t insatiable development made unrecognizable through paving over and building upon?

Indeed, at one time Las Vegas was a kind of Mayberry. If Otis had been mayor. A compact close-knit community that offered vices galore. Just the sort of licentiousness which amply lured visitors. Just the same sort deviant distractions those flocks would righteously decry in their own necks of woods.

Las Vegas ably demonstrates Americans can hold two opposing thoughts. Astounding.

For a clear number of retirees who’ve settled here from elsewhere, the gleam which lured them to Las Vegas seems to have tarnished. Novelty, excitement, have worn off. With few exceptions, friendships and acquaintances are shallow as well as brief. One, it’s the transient nature of the place. Two, many arrive at advanced ages, often in precarious states of health. What binds people, the cords which create communities, don’t have time to thicken.

Moreover, residing in Las Vegas usually means family and long-time friends have been left behind. Distance does not make hearts fonder or minds sharper.

Although impossible to gauge precisely, it’s common seeing seniors who’ve let the environment transform them into mordant figures – pill poppin’ day drunks. These are the wizened zombies either witnessed achingly navigating from a machine which favored them however many days ago or melded in seats while disconnectedly playing slots.

Earlier, from whence these gamblers migrated, they had purpose. Las Vegas, for them, its unchanging days, must be life as lived through inertia. The declines of many are precipitous. Mental and physical. Other than the numbing clamor offered by casinos, what stimulates them? Surely not daytime cocktails combining hooch and prescriptions, palliatives against loneliness whose effects are abetted by ancient predominately black & white television programing. TV from the good old days. Moored as these seniors have become, infirmities which might’ve been mitigated by immersive human contact are instead deepened by sedentary, at times also isolated, existences.

Retirees who worked in the hospitality industry, especially those who toiled before development of mega-casinos or only spent long enough in them to squeeze out the final years required for pensions, wouldn’t know the aforementioned people. Forget overlapping. They wouldn’t even be peripheral bodies.

Foremost is industry retirees are still alive. Although their membership dwindles, and age has certainly stiffened and slowed them, they exhibit energy for living in Las Vegas. Be they have once been dealers, cocktail waitresses, housekeepers, maintenance men, doormen, “female talent/entertainment/company,” or sparing partners – even a one-time go-fer for “the boys” and a former mob princess – theirs were front row seats to the Sin City its present incarnation desperately seeks to recreate through reinvention.

Cool cannot be manufactured. It can only emerge, baby.

The former industry types are easily discernable from out-of-towners making Las Vegas home. When going out, the former still dress to impress. No matter how casual occasion, garments worn are sharp. And proper. And clean.

Probably figuring it’s “only Las Vegas,” relocated retired residents may be of the opinion how they project immaterial. No. It isn’t. Slovenliness isn’t a style. It’s a negligent surrender.

As do those of us who visited Las Vegas towards the end of mob rule, one needed to as my parents would’ve said “look like something” before entering certain gaming premises. Now, A-shirts, tees with garish designs or vulgar slogans, butt-baring board or booty shorts, and flipflops do not disqualify entry to lose at the tables or mindlessly feed the machines. Years ago, the bare minimum in clothing then might’ve made what’s passable today seem elegant.

Maybe dress codes should be reinstated. People also behaved better then, too. Coincidence? I think not. Of course no-necks were also on casino payrolls at that time. Surely their presence facilitated neater attire and kept conduct in bounds. Another coincidence.

Nonetheless who can’t hear Frank Sinatra crooning “Nice!” through every imaginable iteration possible.

Unlike the BARs, earlier era hospitality retirees possess little reticence chatting about “the boys,” the shenanigans perpetrated by strait-laced visitors who went hog wild throughout that Las Vegas, as well as the favors and advantages gleaned through hustle, attentiveness, and adherence to the most basic of Golden Rules: “Keep your fuckin’ eyes and fuckin’ ears open and your fuckin’ mouth shut!”

Strange thing. Most of the ex-industry workers met who followed the above guideline issued from places where adjusting on the fly was ingrained. The Northeast. The Industrial Midwest. More than a few got the hell out of Dawgpatch. Others sensed their self-preservation acutely threatened in the Los Angeles basin. They scrammed east because then-Police Chief William Parker’s LAPD roamed and ruled with near impunity for the longest.

The constant regarding industry retirees? On the clock, each aware on which side the bread was buttered. More importantly, they knew who buttered the slice. The keener ones calculated how such knowledge could improve their lie. They parlayed accordingly.

Talk about two legs up on the BARs, people who behind steering wheel still rigorously keep making left turns at five miles an hour. Don’t get anywhere fast that way.

Availing themselves thusly, unknown legions of hotel-casino spear carriers and water bearers toiling not only raised their careers’ living standards, but further feathered retirement nests.

Some earlier posts referenced these still nimble seniors. Hopefully future dispatches will feature others. Those individuals tell stories, answer questions, about bygone fun times had by more mature revelers. About what it was to be in accepted proximity to entertainment legends. Not to gloss over anything but notables also included some less than savory actors.

Now, towards the closing of their epochs, they’re gladly taking enjoyment laps. A generous Mojave has awarded them these.