There has always been a fascination about the western part of our magnificent country— even with its troubled constitu ency—that brings about an emotional stimulation that excites and mesmerizes.
Flying over the Grand Canyon into “Sin City,” has an enrapturing effect on your emotions—to see from above this expanse of rugged landscape, which the Colorado River took six million years to carve—makes you appreciate this natural wonder with encroaching respect that a higher authority does oversee our world.
In the past, there have been a couple of opportunities to fly up from Phoenix via a private air charter. I’ll never forget the genial pilot’s name, Ralph Gonzalez, who appeared to be flying his single engine Cessna over the mesa no morethantenfeetofftheground. He whispered into my headset, “look below.” Underneath our plane, seemingly within arms-length, there was a pack of wild mustangs sprinting along at a speed that would have overwhelmed a western movie director.
Today those wild horses are overpopulating the West to the extent that it is becoming a serious problem. Like wild hogs on the southern border, armadillos Everywhere USA and extremists in politics.
A few minutes later, our plane shot out over the rim of the Grand Canyon into the great expanse of wonder that took your breath away. A photographer friend, who had joined the charter, handed over his camera, and I took a prized photo of the Canyon that will be a keepsake forever.
Those recollections took precedent in my mind’s eye as our Delta Airbus touched down onto the tarmac of McCarran International Airport, where you can find almost as many slot machines as people, in unincorporated Paradise, Arizona.
The Uber ride into Las Vegas strip took us by a Baptist Church, which, believe it or not, is not the “eighth wonder of the world” out here. In my grandchildren’s lifetime, they likely can come here and find slot machine’s in the vestibules of those churches. For sure the slotsareeverywhereelse. Icanhappily confirm that none of my family grocery money was gobbled up by the onearmed bandits or gaming tables.
With Las Vegas, I like the rocks, the cactus and the neon lights; the continued from page
mega hotels, the solitary ranches out into the desert and the fact that there are hamburgers on the menus but not any rattlesnake filets.
Also, I like to venture into old downtown Las Vegas, which is Spanish for “the meadows,” none of which I have seen yet—on this trip or on any previous excursions to Vegas. You remember the old neon-lit statue of the cowboy, who appeared to be signaling for a “first down?” Vic, his nickname, is still at it and to be politically correct Las Vegas has a statue of “Vicki” across the street. To date, there is no confirmation that they have children. Don’t bet that they won’t someday, the way our world is going.
A great place to enjoy a steak in this part of the world is “Oscar’s” on Main Street, old downtown Vegas. You might get lucky and have Arlene Machucha, the mother of three “amazing” boys, wait your table. A pretty brunette of Salvadorian descent, she and her husband Alex are happily ensconced in the food business. A young couple raising their kids, wanting the best opportunity for them, just like the rest of us—it just happens to be in the gambling capital of the world. You can take something called the “scenic loop,” a tour around the city which includes a stop at the Hoover Dam, if you choose. You can also helicopter into the Grand Canyon, and you can lose the title to your house here if you are foolish enough. The history of Vegas is compelling—from Bugsy Siegel, the gangster who helped get major development here under way with the Flamingo Hotel, to the eccentric Howard Hughes to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rat pack. They have all gone to that Great Casino in the sky.
Las Vegas once attracted visitors who came here to witness atomic bomb explosions and now to bet on the hometown football franchise, the Raiders. “You can take it or leave it,” says Chris Byrd, a highly successful lawyer, says of the gambling option. A native of Buffalo with two degrees from Notre Dame, Chris hated the snow and came here for the weather and golf.
Walking by the gift shop the Aria Hotel, I saw a prominent, “Hangover Kit,” for $20.00. Thankfully, I don’t have a need for such anymore, making me the exception among the 50 million visitors who come here each year. I don’t gamble and I only drink one glass of wine with dinner. If I book a trip back this way, there will likely be a posse at the arrival gate informing me that I am not welcome here anymore.
And how did this desert town make it big. Believe it or not, it was the Morman bankers who financed the development of “Sin City.”