a sometimes educational consultant, I am on occasion invited to distant
locations to provide -- with a team of several others -- educational opportunities
for a unique clientele of individuals desirous of our particular educational
speciality. It was on such a trip that I spent a week in Las Vegas and
other places in Nevada.
I flew from Tennessee to
Nevada on Southwest Airlines. The flight attendants wore tennis shoes
with red, white, and blue dots on them; white T-shirts with a large
flight patch guarding their hearts; and tacky, brown shorts. The orange
juice they passed to customers contained a small napkin that read, "FLY
SOUTHWEST JUST SAY WHEN."
Before the plane
took off, the crew did a rap-dance -- reminiscence of Indians on the
warpath -- and they sang a loud, boisterous song, describing the proper
way to wear seat belts. I sub-consciously found myself tightening mine
after the song.
I noticed that several people were nervously working crossword puzzles.
I remembered a phrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald written during the 1920s:
"Just before the (stock market) crash, everyone spent their time working
crossword puzzles." It was a nervous thought from the my past.
"Its time to rap some more
baby," said the male flight attendant as he continued preparing us for
take-off. "Today's your lucky day. You are riding the 737 Shumu." Then,
he quickly passed out coffee, along with a napkin that read on one side,
"Fly Shamu," and on the other side, "Southwest: Official Airline, Sea
World of Texas and California." A few moments later we received a beautiful
bumper sticker that read, "I flew Shamu! 2nd Anniversary."
A quick look to my left
convinced me I was ready for La La Land. The plane was painted like
a black killer whale with large black splotches around the ears, edited
with irregular white elements surrounding the wings.
I once read that Robert
Crandall, chairman of American Airlines, asked Herb Kelleher, president
of Southwest Airlines, what he planned to do with the whale droppings
from the Shamu. "I'm going to turn it into chocolate mousse and spoon-feed
it to Yankees from Rhode Island," he responded. A few days later, Crandall
found a tub of chocolate mousse and a Shamu spoon waiting in his office.
Kelleher is known as the
clown prince of the airline industry. He is the chief goof ball and
has been compared favorably to John Belushi, Norm Peterson, and Huck
Another strange thing I
noted about this airplane was that the overhead luggage bins were covered
with pictures of penguins. Somehow, the whole company seemed to be disarrayed:
flight attendants in bermuda shorts; a plane painted like a whale; and
penguins everywhere. In my mind, I could picture their public relations
personnel wearing a button that said, "Save the Whales," and a hat with
a penguin perched on it. One of his employees summed it up best: "It's
a blast to work here."
Tugging my belt tighter,
I thought, maybe the whole world is going crazy. It was September of
1990, the month after Saddam Hussiem invaded Kuwait. The world was being
held hostage to Iraq's demands. Gas prices skyrocketed, exploding from
99 cents a gallon upward to $1.29 a gallon. When I arrived in Las Vegas,
regular unleaded gas was $1.42 a gallon.
A nervousness not experienced
since World War II engulfed everyone. A fizzling fear was paralyzing
America. The stock market fell 300 points. Signs of a recession were
signaled by a rising unemployment rate. People's lives were placed on
hold while waiting for the war to begin, and I was riding an airline
dressed like a whale to the gambling capital of the world.
At the Las Vegas airport,
I rented a mini-van and drove toward the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino
on West Flamingo. "You are on the Road to Rome," read a Caesar Palace
billboard that loomed above the curved ramp. Leaving the airport, I
thought for a minute of gladiators fighting to the finish and Christians
being thrown to lions. I could picture my head in a lion's mouth.
Times haven't changed much
from ancient days in Rome. There are still gladiators, just the names
have been changed: Tyson, Ali, Hearns, Foreman, and Holyfield. And the
lions, with hungry mouths stretched open, still rush angrily into king-sized
stadiums filled with shouting customers, only now their meat is a plastic
form of pleasure -- a VISA card. For some reason, I did not find the
Rome analogy comforting.
Passing the Flamingo Casino,
the familiar red flume land marked an early memory of this town. A short
period after World War II, a mobster named Bugsy Siegel opened The Flamingo.
It was the first gaming resort in Las Vegas.
Jimmy Durante, the early
television performer who closed his show each week with a wave saying,
"Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are," was the headliner at
its opening in December of 1946.
Siegel didn't live to see
his dream materialize. Six months later, Siegel's Southern California
colleagues terminated his partnership in a hail of gunfire, allegedly
for massive cost over-runs.
Dan Kenneth Phillips
notable resident of the Desert Inn was Howard Hughes. He rented a wing
of the Las Vegas Desert Inn Hotel and stayed there with an entourage
of Mormons who met Hughes high moral standards: they didn't drink; carouse;
Howard Hughes was a man
of giant natural talent, ability, and intelligence. Hughes had four
main objectives in life: to be the world's richest man; the world's
greatest aviator; the most famous movie producer; and the world's greatest
golfer. He succeeded in accomplishing three of his goals: he became
the richest man, his movie productions stand as a lasting testimony
to his persistence as a producer and director, and some of his aviation
records remain unbroken. Only his golf endeavors failed. He did not
have enough time to practice.
One of his records is
fascinating. He holds the record for flying the largest plane ever to
leave the ground, the legendary Spruce Goose. Once, during a trip to
Long Beach, California, I spent a considerable amount of time viewing
the Spruce Goose. The Goose, made of wood, with a wing span of 319 feet
and a tail fin 79 feet high, is the largest plane ever built. Its capacity
for 750 persons more than doubles the capacity of the C5A.
A light to this day peers
from the cockpit of the Spruce Goose, a flicker that reveals a Howard
Hughes mannequin, with familiar mustache and brown fedora hat. It is
as if the eerie eccentric is still there, waiting to fly around the
world at a moments notice.
legion of stories that accompany his name often flair with an unbelievable
air about them:
Once, tired of the publicity
he was receiving, he grew a beard, assumed the name of Carlos Gomez,
acted like a pseudo-Mexican, and wore rumpled suits and tennis shoes
into Manhattan's most fashionable night clubs;
known as "a nocturnal
varmint type" for the late hours he kept, he went outside during the
early morning hours for milk and crackers and was thrown in jail for
being a bum;
took a job for two
months as a co-pilot for American Airlines using the assumed name
of Charles Howard;
never owned an office
and always made his business calls from pay telephone booths;
filled one of his planes
with thousands and thousands of tennis balls so it would float if
it crash landed in water;
normally, it took his
personal barber five hours to cut his hair; adjusted margins on typewriters
of his secretaries and ordered secretaries to wear surgical gloves
more than once crash
landed new planes on their first flight;
disappeared for months
while recuperating from nervous exhaustion and various unexplainable
ran over a dog on his
way to his first date with Katherine Hepburn and spent the night at
a vet's being sure the dog would live;
swapped several thousand
worthless acres of land in Northern Nevada for 30,000 acres around
the small desert town of Las Vegas;
spent his last years
watching the movie Ice Station Zebra hundreds of times;
and near the end of
his life, "looked exactly like Moses," said acquaintances.
Hughes nicknames included:
"The Spook of American Capitalism," to
"an enormously rich Huckleberry Finn."
And, he always
wore a lucky brown Fedora. It was the Fedora that
caught my attention. In my reading of travel literature, I have
noticed that "the hat" worn by famous persons has enormous appeal and
adds a certain suspense quota to the person wearing it.
Receiving a 10 gallon hat
from a friend was a life changing experience for Max Perkins; the editor
credited with discovering F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest
Hemingway. "There seemed to be a fortunous air surrounding the hat,"
he wrote to the sender of the hat. "I happened to be walking in it (the
hat) with a portrait painter and he begged me to let him paint me in
it, and that never happened before I got this hat." Later, he bought
a size seven soft gray-felt fedora and was rarely seen without it, whether
indoors or out.
In A. Scott Berg's book
on Perkins he wrote: "His habit of hat-wearing became Perkin's most
famous eccentricity and the subject of much speculation. Why the hat?
people kept wondering. The answer seems to be that he found it useful
as well as ornamental. It gave the impression to unexpected office visitors
that he was leaving his office, and this kept them from button-holing
him into idle conversation. The hat also thrust his ears forward, which
helped his hearing." (Author's note: Howard Hughes, too, was also afflicted
with hearing difficulties.)
Miss Wyckoff, a personal
acquaintance of Perkins, suggested that Perkins wore his hat to keep
customers in the Scribners bookstore from mistaking him for a clerk
as he made his afternoon promenade. Perkins himself revealed something
of his attitude on the matter in a column he wrote for the Plainfield
newspaper. The slouch hat, he apotheosized, was "the hat of independence
and individuality, the American hat."
Calvin Trillan, in his book Travels With Alice, has his picture -- along
with his wife Alice -- on the back page of his book. He is wearing a
hat, but it seems staged. The hat looks almost new. There is a warped
look about his face, as if the hat was the idea of his editor. Alice,
on the other hand, seems about to chuckle, as if seeing her husband
in this condition brings a hint of hilarity in her life. I would almost
bet that Trillan's editor is a hat person, an admirer of the late Max
Jonathan Raban's books always
picture him with a hat of enormous magnitude. His hats are large warped-floppy
disks, used as protective covering to prevent the sun from frying his
brain on his many unusual journeyings. He wears the hat well. It belongs
to his head and is, with a degree of certainty, one of the reasons his
writings have appeal to other travelers. I have looked futilely for
a hat like Rabans for years without results.
My favorite hat adventure
I found in Richard Holmes book Footsteps. In the first episode he is
tracing the steps of one of Robert Louis Stevenson's travel journeys
in The Cevennes, when he feels the need to describe his hat. A hat story
of the highest magnitude I might add.
"I also wore a hat, a brown
battered felt object, somewhat like an old fedora, with a wide brim,
a curious leather band round the crown which gave it a backwoods character.
I have had many hats since, but except for a certain cap from Dublin
none of them ever quite achieved such talismanic properties and powers.
This hat, Le Brun, had several magical virtues. One was deflecting lightning.
Another was helping me see in the dark. A third was giving me the most
vivid dreams about Stevenson whenever I slept with it tipped over my
But most important of all,
perhaps, was Le Brun's power to make other people laugh. It is a vital
point. A stranger with a bag, when he appears at your door, perhaps
at dusk; or knocks at your cafe window before the bread and milk have
been delivered; and when he clumsily enquires about his friend "who
came here a hundred years ago, with a donkey," often causes hysterical
laughter when greeted by young ladies seeing it for the first time."
Let it be noted that during a visit to Long Beach, California, in the
ninth decade of the twentieth century, in a small souvenir shop near
the Spruce Goose, that one -Dan Kenneth Phillips - purchased a small,
100 per-cent wool, gray fedora, size 7, made in the USA by the Golden
Gate Hat Company in Los Angeles. The hat came from the International
Collection Established in 1923, and the inside band has this impressive
statement, "Replica of a Howard Hughes Fedora." The cost was $36 dollars.
in my party were impressed and snapped my picture standing by the original
Herbie the Love Bug in the car museum attached to the Goose. As to those
who question whether there has been "a fortunous air" surrounding my
life since I bought the hat, I can attest to no such manifestations.
I would add that there have been some changes in my life. I have grown
a beard, bought a dog, and discovered I can type faster with surgical
gloves on. I often dream of going to the North Pole for a vacation,
and I recently bought several hundred shares of stock in a mink farm
in Southern Arizona and a thousand acres of land in Siberia. As for
changes in my life, I have noted none.
Dan Kenneth Phillips
Chapter 4: Nevada With Mark Twain ( Nevada )
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Dan Kenneth Phillips
Dan K. Phillips
109 Breckenridge Road
Franklin, TN 37067
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