Gold Coast Hotel and
temperature was 107 degrees when I arrived at the Gold Coast Hotel and
Casino in Las Vegas. It had been a long and weary journey: pampering
whales; counting penguins; eating a continuous chain of Southwest Airlines
peanuts; and watching lengthy lines of fidgeting strangers working crossword
I bought a hamburger and
a soft drink, went to the Cortez Room and listened to Jim Fitzgerald's
trombone lead the Sorta Dixie Jazz Band in many memorable melodies:
"I Wish You Love;" "Angel Eyes;" "Day By Day;" and Neil Hefty's "Girl
are many things I enjoy when I am in the Las Vegas area: Lake Mead;
Hoover Dam; Mount Charleston; cheap meals; an occasional show; and once
-- a wild cab ride to Casear's Palace where Thomas "Hitman" Hearns was
fighting 'Marvelous" Marvin Hagler. The man riding with me, the man
in a hurry, tipped the driver a hundred dollars.
In shock, I walked to the front of Caesar's Palace and spent the entire
fight time talking to a gambler from Boston, flown in for the fight
free because of the immense amount of money he spent gambling. "I don't
care about fights," he said. "They fly me to all of these things, but
I'm just a gambler. I don't go to the shows." I didn't know whether
he was telling the truth or not.
This time I was to meet
several people who were going with me on a consultative teaching expedition
throughout Nevada. I was concerned that we would not jell as a compatible
group. In the past, I have had rather unfortunate experiences with other
team members. Once, the team member driving the car, became agitated
at the traffic: he yelled at the cars in front of us; slammed on his
brakes; and drove the car as if it were a bumper car at an amusement
park. Another experience was with an unattached woman. When alone with
a man on an elevator, she would suddenly burst into tears.
fears of incompatibility were soon dispelled. We soon had appropriate
nicknames for each of us. The "team," as we called it, consisted of:
Miss Kitty, a well-known educator from Tulsa, who taught us to
say "yup" with a smile and with Oklahoma pride.
a cowboy from Georgia, of such wicked intent that he would short sheet
the bedspreads of older women he met.
Sing, a jogger from Tennessee, given to eating pizza, waffles, and
giant buffets at every stop, and with pride after each meal he pointed
to his tummy, patted it with gentleness, and said "yup."
Little Joe, renowned preacher from Reno, a man given to such indulgences
as pointing out to us historical spots of wickedness -- like The Mustang
myself, Diamond Dan, explorer, notetaker, and appointed recorder
for posterity of these otherwise lost occurrences.
On Sunday night, we shared out first meal at the Rio Suite and Casino.
Each of us ordered the $8.95 seafood buffet. Only Miss Kitty abstained.
"Full from the flight," she said. "Yup!" By 9:30 I was in bed.
For lunch on Monday,
we ate at the Excalibur; the world's largest hotel with 4,032 rooms
and built like an English Castle.
It had been opened only three months. "There has been nothing like it
since Camelot," read the signs peppering the horizon, "Knights, sorcerers,
castles, battlements, drawbridges, moats, jugglers, mimes, jousting
and sword fighting. A medieval colossus with a 1000 seat amphitheater,
7 marvelous restaurants, and a 100,000 square foot casino. All rooms
$45 Sun-Thurs.-$55 weekends." An entrance sign read, " 2,630 brand new
For those interested in
marriage, The Canterbury Wedding Chapel was inside the hotel, and
the Camelot III room was available for waiting brides and grooms.
gift shop sold life-sized knight and armour gear for $4,750, For the
financially strapped, a smaller version was available for only $3,100.
The major decision for us
was where to eat. Choices included: The Sherwood Forest Cafe guarded
by a ten foot purple dragon; Lancelotta Pizza; or the Round table Buffet.
We chose the Round table and ate an excellent Bar-B-Q buffet for $4.76.
While eating, I intently listened to a businessman sitting at a neighboring
table. I noted him telling an associate, "I don't feel comfortable with
our product if they don't understand it." I thought to myself, I wish
more salesman thought like that.
intensity of the English theme reminded me of a friend of mine; Robin
P. Hood, a retired banker in Marion, North Carolina. Robin once old
me that he was a 13th generation Hood, that his wife was named Friar
before their marriage, and that they named their son Little John.
In 1970 he was
selected as one of five Robin Hood's brought to England to visit with
the Sheriff of Nottingham. Twenty years later, he returned and was
once again treated sumptuously, interviewed by numerous papers and radio
stations -- including the BBC -- and just generally had the time of
his life. I have a card in my study with Robin Hood's picture on it.
He is arrayed in green, and in his hand is a large bow and arrow drawn
for action. Robin would have felt at home in the Excaliber.
After lunch, we briefly
watched a puppeteer minstrel show led by Merlin the Magician, stole
"cups" - those big cups that hold quarters - from the casino, and went
outside toward our van. The temperature across the street on the Marina
Hotel and Casino read 111 degrees.
For those interested in
what to do during a visit to Las Vegas, I would suggest a visit to the
home of the Guinness World Record Museum. The museum was designed by
London-based interior designer Denis Brennan and includes a bust of
the longest-necked woman; the smallest ridable bicycle, the world's
"champion slimmer," - William J. "Happy" Humphrey of Cobb, Georgia -
who lost 570 pounds in 32 months, dropping from 802 to 232 pounds, and
the "Most Tattooed Lady," - Krystyne Kolorful, a stripper, represented
in scale in all her variety and detail; and the world's largest animal
world data bank, including the world's largest spider. For a memorable
afternoon of fun and frolic this is the place to go.
Monday night we worked until 9:30 pm, then went to the Mirage and Caesar's
Palace: "A place where your every fantasy can be fulfilled," said a
whispering hidden voice on the elevator. A sense of nostalgia swept
across me. It was my 23rd wedding anniversary, and it was the first
time in over two decades that I had not been with my wife on our anniversary.
Four years earlier, Janet
and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary in this same place --
Caesar's Palace. It was one of the happiest nights of our life. Gerry
Rosenblatt, an electronic salesman, took us out for the evening. He
paid for our supper and the David Copperfield Show. We went with another
couple: Barry Pasternak and his wife, and my boss Joe Denney. I had
so much fun with the Pasternaks, that on a trip to Miami a few years
later, I looked up Pasternak in the phone book to call and reacquaint
myself with them. Sure enough, there it was in bold print in the phone
book: Barry "Bail Bonds" Pasternak. For some reason, I didn't have the
nerve to call. We had our picture taken that night at Copperfield's
Show. It still sits on our mantle as a reminder of one of the happiest
nights of our lives.
Going on any trip with
Rosenblatt is an experience, but celebrating one's anniversary with
him rates a magnitude of 10. On an earlier trip to Vegas, Rosenblatt
was trying to sell Joe Denney and I a 10 meter satellite uplink. We
met at the National Association of Broadcasters annual meeting, and
he arranged for us to eat supper and go to a show together.
Noting that we
were a rather religious group, he arranged for himself, three of us,
and his friend Ed Pietras, to go to a "clean show" -- The Englebert
Humperdink show at the MGM Grand. Relaying
the excitement of that evening would only be a minuscule of what really
happened. Suffice it to say, we had front row seats. "The best seat
in the house for my friends," said Gerry. It didn't take us long to
realize that we were the only five men on the front row. The rest of
the patrons were women.
Engelbert came on stage, I have never seen anything like it: women began
screaming, some threw clothing on the stage, and other women wept. And
when Englebert began dancing -- a wave of "gigantic lust" swept through
the room. A frenzy of uncontrollable women leaped at Englebert. One
lady tore at Englebert's pants, another kissed him, others fought to
get closer. We were totally unprepared for the excitement. Then,
Englebert stood in front of our table gyrating and oohing. We turned
our heads another direction, tried to look anonymous, but there was
no escape. To keep from being killed by a tidal wave of women, we each
began to have the urge to go to the men's room. Without fanfare, we
sneaked into the darkness, walked quickly to the top of the theater,
and bounded into the lobby. To this day, hearing Englebert's name causes
my heart to beat faster. "There's something about that man that needs
to be locked up," I said to Jerry as he wiped the perspiration from
On my 23rd wedding anniversary,
I slept alone, but in periodic spurts I awoke from a fitful sleep and
laughed. "God bless Gerry Rosenblatt, wherever he is. There will never
be another like him."
On Wednesday we moved to Reno, the "Biggest Little
City in the World." Reno was void of the glamour of Las Vegas. The
strip was a quarter of a mile long; many downtown casino's were closed,
and other gaming establishments were scattered miles away from the downtown
Where Vegas was filled
with "successful yuppies" and lights, in Reno I felt like I was returning
to the 1950s. Small homes dotted the dirty streets. Cigarette butts
clumped together in the gutters. Blue-neon-tattoo parlors glared from
small darkened street corner rooms.
The clientele was different.
The trendy outfits and 20-35 year-old youngsters that walked arm in
arm on Las Vegas streets were replaced by older men and women, many
in their 60s, retired, walking in groups, intensely filtering their
energies toward the slots. And there was a class distinction I noted
in the casinos. In Las Vegas the casino girls wore tight-fitting shorts,
flashy high heels, and smiled with lady-like precision. In Reno, the
casino women were fatter, perhaps chunky best describes them. They were
boisterous. Many were Oriental or Hispanic, and the flashy-red shorts
bulged in the wrong spots. There was a seriousness about these women.
Few smiles. A hurried look about their faces, as if they were looking
over their shoulders.
At night, teenagers layered
in black leather jackets clamored together across the street from Circus
Circus. The streets were crowded, horns honked, drivers squealed their
tires, and drunk teenagers leaned precariously from passing convertibles
yelling obscenities at passing strangers. Motorcycles danced noisily
in the center of the streets. A sense of violence hovered near. In the
alleys between casinos, groups of rough necked blacks talked in hurried
voices and exchanged money. Hovering in darkened alleyways were siloutted
people, blurred by fragile light. Broken liquor bottles were everywhere.
We walked quickly through
the streets, huddling close together, desiring not to be alone in this
madness. It was a night we least wanted to remember. Parson Little Joe
was not with us. He retired early; "I can't stand the excitement," he
said, as he disappeared into the hotel where we were staying.
But the rest of us made
our rounds. We hit The Comstock, the Eldorado, and several other hotels.
We continued our souvenir collecting: Our goal was to collect a gambling
cup from each casino as a reminder of the thrill of being in Reno. We
were intent on adding to our collection. With quickness, agility, and
the fine focus of a viscous animal, we quickly gathered a cup from each
casino we entered, then left. By stacking the cups inside one another
we didn't look so out of place. When we were properly weighted down
with cups, we rushed back to our hotel. (When I returned home I used
the cups for such things as holding screws, bolts, batteries, and an
assortment of other useless items. The cups come in handy often.)
John Ascuaga's Nugget
The best meal we ate was
at John Ascuaga's Nugget. It was the second largest casino in the area:
1,000 rooms, 36 suites, 8 restaurants, and 32,000 square feet of meeting
space. Bally's, near the airport, is the largest casino with 2,001 guest
rooms and 225,000 square feet of meeting space, but nothing compares
with the Nugget's Friday Night Seafood Buffet. The Nugget is in Sparks,
Nevada. Two blocks from the casino we noted a small
sign at the corner of 14th and B streets which read, "Elephant Crossing."
Not wanting to get broadsided by an elephant on the way to one of the
world's great buffets, we slowed the car to a crawl, and precariously
searched the horizon for large, trunked animals. With none in sight
we ventured forth.
One afternoon we drove to Lake Tahoe.
A general air of excitement was felt as we entered Incline Village.
The Incline Village Fun and Food Faire was approaching. A special appearance
by Mark Twain was being advertised: there would be a finger painting
exhibit; an egg and balloon toss; and a hula hoop contest. "Don't miss
it," read the advertisement.
Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long,
12 miles wide, and has a circumference of 72 miles. It receives 8.3
inches of rain a year. Lake Tahoe is 40 miles from Reno and includes
magnificent mountain scenery. Mark Twain, when he was there in the 1860s
wrote: "Three months of camp life at Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian
mummy to his pristine vigor and give him an appetite like an alligator.
The air is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious, the same as angels
breathe." At a surface elevation of 6,229 feet, Lake Tahoe is the largest
alpine lake on the North American continent.
The highlight of our Lake Tahoe trip was a visit to the Cartwright Ranch
where Bonanza was filmed. "Take the tour of the Cartwright Ranch house
and learn how they filmed Bonanza. Then explore an entire Western town,
which includes movie sets and props, a saloon, general store, country
church and photo emporium. The kids'll love the Mystery Mine and Pettin'
Zoo," advertised a sign.
NBC's first episode of Bonanza
screened on September 12, 1959, followed by 431 additional one-hour
shows during the next 13 years. The series was seen by 500 million viewers
in 86 countries, with translations into 12 foreign languages. For an
entrance fee of $6.50 we saw an 1896 Liberty Bank, the S. H. Brodie
and Company, Silver Cup Saloon, the Washoe Hotel, and Walker and McClure
got dizzy going through Hoss's Mystery Mine, drank a sasparilla with
Miss Kitty in the Silver Dollar Saloon, and had my picture taken with
Hoss's large white-brimmed hat perched on my head. I noted that the
map, used to introduce each Bonanza episode, has north pointing in the
wrong direction. According to the map used on the television series,
Virginia City was northeast of Reno. In reality, Virginia City is southeast
At the graveyard, a quote from Gonzo journalism's Hunter
S. Thompson, graces the entrance:
Now I'm dead and in my
No more whiskey shall
On my tombstone
it will be wrote
that many a jolts gone
down my throat.
Virginia City, Nevada
Another afternoon we drove
to Virginia City. We arrived the
week following the Virginia City International Camel Races. The
lady at the desk of the Chamber of Commerce office -- located in an
old railway car -- told us, "I sure am glad those camel races are over.
More people come for them than anything else."
According to the Chamber
of Commerce, the camel races originally started as a hoax. Bob Richards,
editor of The Territorial Enterprise, wrote a fictitious article in
1959 about upcoming camel races. The next year, the San Francisco Chronicle
challenged the Phoenix Gazette to enter the race. John Huston, the famous
director, was the camel jockey. They were so successful that they have
continued for 30 years. A sister city of Virginia City --- Alice Springs,
Australia --- holds a similar event every other year, and United States
competitors vie for the winning cup with the Australians.
according to an accredited source, "are not particularly fond of humans
to begin with and have been known to try to disengage a rider in the
middle of the race." For protection, riders wear baseball-knee pads,
wrap their legs in ace bandages, and hide additional padding under colorful
Most of the racing camels
are from Kansas, but the camels are also a reminder of the rich heritage
of big bonanza days on the Comstock, when camels were used to carry
700 pound bags of salt up the mountains to the mines of the Comstock.
When their usefulness ended, they were allowed to run loose and roam
the desert. No camels have been sighted in the area since 1935.
The highlights of the week
included: a camel draw for racing order, a traditional 1880s costume
ball, a camel parade, an official camel race raffle, and the Camel Hump
Ball. An official camel race button, costing six dollars, allows admission
to all of the above mentioned events.
Another event noted by many
is the annual Joe Conforte Appreciation Day. Conforte, owner of the
legendary Mustang Range in northern Storey County, will "bring several
of the ladies from the ranch and provide photo opportunities," reads
an article in The Territorial Guide. The photo session will be followed
by a barbecue and dancing. "A day to show some appreciation from residents
of the area,Ó said Joe's friend Philip Oldani.
Virginia City was once the
richest place on earth. Today, 30,000 people consider it home. Walking
the streets gave me a vivid impression that I was once again living
in the early 1860s.
note over the door of the Silver Dollar Hotel told about Sadie's Place:
"For all cowboys, miners,
and other gentlemen of refined taste and good manners. Sadie and her
girls will show you a good time with song and dance, music and other
activities of a good-time nature. Sadie's is well situated next door
to a Bath house for our guests who wish to bathe first! So come payday,
boys, come up to Sadie's.You'll be glad you did."
Dan Kenneth Phillips
At the Delta Saloon
was a 1875 Suicide Table. It was called this because three previous
owners are reported to have committed suicide because of heavy losses
over this table. The story written over the door tells this brutal tale:
"Originally, it was a Faro
Bank Table brought to Virginia City in the early 1860s. The owner,
supposed to be one Black Jake, lost $70,000 in one evening and shot
himself. The second owner, whose name is lost in history, ran the
table for one nights play. He was unable to pay off his losses. One
report has it that he committed suicide and another report has it
that he was saved the trouble. The table was then stored for some
years because no one would deal on it. It was finally converted into
a 21 Table sometime in the late 90s. Its black reputation seemed to
have been forgotten, until one stormy night a miner, who had been
cleaned out in some other gambling house, stumbled in half drunk.
As the story goes, he gambled a gold ring against a five dollar gold
piece, and won. He played all night long and by morning had won over
$86,000 in cash, a team of horses, and an interest in a gold mine,
everything the owner of table had in the world. That caused the third
Many famous men have gambled
for high stakes, leaning on the green cloth, watching the turn of
a card. Fortunes have been won and lost on it. The Suicide Table is
truly a relic that is replete with memories of the old town, and who
knows, perhaps the ghosts of the old timers are still leaning on their
elbows, watching for the turn of a card."
Another sign at the Delta
Saloon and Cafe read, "Visit the original saloon and see where Faro
was played by the Kings of the Comstock."
The head bartender at the
Delta Saloon in 1863 was Professor Jerry Thomas, most Celebrated Barman
in American History. Coming to Virginia City from the Occidental in
San Francisco, he did much to Elevate the Tastes and Drinking Habits
of the then Uncouth Comstock.
Professor Thomas later became
head Bartender at the Planters House in St. Louis, where he invented
the Cold Weather Drink that to this day bears his name: the Tom & Jerry.
A closing note reads, "Gentleman and Perfectionist, Nevada Does Honor
To His Memory."
Several times during the last several years, I have
found Mark Twain tucked in unexpected places I have visited. In 1973,
on a trip to Canada, I spent the night in Elmira, New York, in the Huck
Finn Motel. Discovering he was buried in the Elmira Cemetery, I visited
his plot the next morning.
Several years later, in
Hartford, Connecticut, I again found Twain. I didn't realize he had
lived there for many years. I went to his homeplace, and I spent considerable
time observing his desk in hope of finding some magical potion to rub
between my fingers that would overnight transpose me into a travel writer
of intense magnitude and purpose like Twain.
In the early 80s -- while
traveling from Rugby, Tennessee -- I discovered a sign near Jamestown,
Tennessee describing the land owned by Mark Twain's father before they
moved to Missouri.
Now, in Virginia City, he
popped up again. I had no idea he had been there, much less that it
was in Virginia City where he used the name Mark Twain for the first
time and became a newspaper writer.
At the Mark Twain Museum
of Memoirs, a sign placed by the University of Nevada Press Club in
1934 speaks of Twain as one, "who greatly enriched the literature of
According to Twain, he went
to Nevada because his brother had been appointed Secretary of Nevada
territory --- an "office of such majesty that it's duties included Treasurer,
Secretary of State, and Acting Governor in the Governor's absence."
Virginia City at the time
was the liveliest town in America. Twain began his career as a writer
in 1862 by joining the editorial staff of the Territorial Enterprise.
His own description of the town was that: "Virginia City was a busy
city of streets and houses above ground. Under it was another busy city,
down in the bowels of the earth, where a great population of men thronged
in and out among an intricate maze of tunnels and drifts, flitting hither
and thither under a winking sparkle of lights, and over their heads
towered a vast web of interlocking timbers that held the walls of the
gutted Comstock apart."
While in Virginia
City: Twain was robbed at Gold Hill; was attacked
by the Washoe Zephyr --- a wind of such proportions that the capital
of Nevada Territory disappeared from view, and according to Twain, is
the reason "there are so many bald people there;" survived a
midnight rendezvous with a tarantula; was negligent in attending his
coffee pot near Lake Tahoe and burned a significant portion of the forest;
became smitten with the silver fever and spent a week as a miner collecting
claims in the "richest mines on earth;" failed as a bookseller clerk
because the customers bothered him so much he could not read; failed
as a clerk in a drug store because the prescriptions he sold made people
worse; and was dismissed as a printer because he composed too slowly.
When offered the job as
city editor of the Daily Territorial Enterprise, he indicated he would
have declined the offer had he not been broke, but concluded by saying,
"I do not doubt that if, at that time, I had been offered a salary to
translate the Talmud from the original Hebrew, I would have accepted
--- albeit with a diffidence and some misgivings --- and thrown as much
variety into it as I could for the money."
His duties included going
all over the town and asking people all sorts of questions, making notes
of the information gained, and writing them out for publication. When
he ran out of stories, he was known to have exaggerated and made up
In describing the scene
of one hay wagon entering town, Twain said, "I made affluent use of
it. I multiplied it by sixteen, brought it into town from sixteen different
directions, made sixteen separate items out of it, and got up such another
sweat about hay as Virginia City had never seen in the world before."
During another dry spell,
a desperado killed a man in a saloon, and "joy returned once more,"
said Twain. In make believe fashion, Twain supposedly went to the desperado
and said, "Sir, you are a stranger to me, but you have done me a kindness
this day which I can never forget. If whole years of gratitude can be
to you any slight compensation, they shall be yours. I was in trouble,
and you have relieved me nobly, and at a time when all seemed dark and
drear. Count me your friend from this time forth, for I am not a man
to forget a favor."
Twain met characters that
strain the imagination. He interviewed drunks and wrote stories of nabobs
--- careless, easy-going fellows, who were miraculously ignorant.
As a reporter, he was privy
to information on newly discovered mines. The finders would pay him
to print news of the discoveries. "If the rock was moderately promising,
we followed the custom of the country, used strong adjectives and frothed
at the mouth as if a very marvel in silver discoveries had transpired."
This insider information was supposedly the source of easy money and
caused him a further problem, "spending it fast enough," he said.
He was finally run out of
town by the governor for challenging the rival Virginia City newspaper
publisher to a duel.
I cannot say that the rest
of the week was uneventful. I can say it was busy. We worked a hectic
schedule. On Friday night, we finished working at 9:30; ate supper;
got to bed at midnight; left at 5 am Saturday morning for Carlin; passed
through Winnamuchi at breakfast time and read the only sign in town
--- "One traffic jam every decade--" spent the day in Carlin with a
small caucasian with the given Indian name of "Ewowoodoadeu;" drove
back to Reno; hit the sack at midnight; got up Sunday at 5 am to return
Exhausted by the week, I
asked advice from a passing stranger about any tips he might have for
successfully sleeping through the night. His advice has stayed with
me. "Eat plenty of salty peanuts before attempting to sleep," he said.
"Works every time."
On Sunday morning, shortly
after 6 am, I stepped on an airline headed eastward. I pulled my Howard
Hughes hat over my eyes to block out the light, and for a minute found
myself caught in a dream. I have been unable to interpret the dream,
but I do remember portions of it. A whale, with its mouth open, was
chewing on a gigantic bag of peanuts. The whale was being ridden by
a man with a mustache that looked like Mark Twain, and following it
in the water was a floating camel. Crowds stood nearby cheering. And
I could hear a whisper, as if a man's voice had been captured from his
lips, "What ever happened to Sadie?" I awoke suddenly. Looked across
a field of clouds and thought to myself, "I wonder, what ever did happen
When I returned home, I
taped the "I flew Shamu! 2nd Anniversary" sticker over my office door.
Everyone passing said, "You've been to Disney World!" "No, Nevada,"
I replied. They always scratched their head with puzzled wonderment
as I turned, pulled my Howard Hughes fedora tightly over my head, and
went to sleep.
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