Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks. It says “Goodbye”.
I have an acquaintance who recently visited Las Vegas. He had an enjoyable time there and made out all right. His trip got me thinking about the many times I traveled to that gambling mecca out west. I’ve probably been to Vegas a dozen times or more, even though I’m too cheap to be much of a gambler. However, like many other people who go, I enjoy the sights and sounds of the town, the action and the scenery.
The first time I went was in 1971 and it was quite a thrill for me. At that time, Vegas was only about one fifth the size of what it is today, but it was still a site to be seen for us “rubes” from the hinterlands. I was still in the U.S. Air Force stationed at March Air Force Base near Riverside, California. Having recently returned from Vietnam, I was now stepping out and living life to the fullest.
Seven of us made the trip, mostly other Airmen from the base, one sailor from the San Diego Naval base and a couple of civilians from town. We originally planned on a four day stay, it being the first visit for everyone except one guy who had been there once before, so he naturally filled in as our travel guide. (His position being unceremoniously revoked half way through the trip)
We left early in the morning, wanting to get through the desert before the intense mid-day heat. Normally a four-hour trip, we carried extra gallons of water with us, which as it turns out was a wise decision as the old clunker we were riding in overheated twice on the way out there.
Redd Foxx was one of the highlighters in Vegas during those days, and a “See Redd Foxx in Vegas” billboard seemingly appeared every ten miles along the way. One of the times we overheated, we pulled over near one of the giant billboards, to get out of the sun. We laughed at Redd’s mug looking down on us while we waited for the vehicle to cool down.
When we finally got to Vegas, half the group checked in while the other half took in the sights. Our designated tour guide told us it was common practice for large parties to share a room and sleep in shifts, in order to save money. Naturally, the lodging proprietor did not hold to this activity, but we went along with it, based upon our man’s advice. Thankfully, I was scheduled to sleep in the evenings.
Some in our group were focused on various shows (Redd Foxx?) and had made arrangements before hand to see them. The real gamblers in our bunch, however, got right down to business, and we didn’t see them much. I had always wanted to see Caesar’s Palace, and along with a few others we walked along “the strip” touring the various casinos as we went. Circus Circus was really cool so we spent a few hours there. We also hit the Flamingo and one or two other casinos before we got to Caesar’s which at the time, was the last casino on the strip.
Naturally, we indulged in many beverages along the way, and were primed up by the time we hit Caesars. We spent a few hours there, before we had to leave, due to an unfortunate incident.
At Caesar’s full champagne glasses were available in rows and rows, stacked on pallets, complimentary for guests. One member of our crew, became quite inebriated and managed to tip over a whole pallet of full champagne glasses, earning us scrutiny from some very “serious” looking Caesar employees. Rumor had it that Vegas was still controlled by the mob during those days, and Caesar’s fell prominently under their umbrella. Shortly after the champagne spilling incident, we were escorted to the main door and advised not to return until the next day.
We arrived back at our hotel room with our incapacitated associate, who we left passed out on a bed, before we headed out for more adventure. Fortunately, though it was not our designated shift, no one else was there so he was able to crash undisturbed. We then made another foray through town, hitting some of the smaller casinos downtown.
We had a nice buffet dinner before heading back to our hotel, where we found our friend still sound asleep, along with a few others who were now crashed, some in violation of our once sacred shift sleeping policy. And that’s the way we rocked for the rest of the trip, sleeping time first come first serve, and if you left the bed for any length of time, you could expect to find someone else in it before you returned.
Moreover, the front desk, no doubt having seen this act before, was on to our little ruse and attempted to flush us out and force us to get an additional room. We managed to hold them off for our remaining time in Vegas, but did so by sleeping in casino halls, our vehicle and in some cases behind landscaping shrubbery. We were quite stealthy.
Uh oh…We’re Broke!
I don’t recall exactly how much money I brought with me on the trip, but I do remember it wasn’t nearly enough…and the same can be said for everyone in our party. By the end of the first day, most of us had burned through three quarters of the funds that we came with. On day two, our plan to win back our money worked out about as well as you might expect…so we were pretty much tapped out by midday. And with two full days left of our scheduled visit, just what the heck do we do?
Those who had show tickets sold them on the street for about a quarter of their value. The sailor and I washed some cars at one of the more upscale hotels, bringing in some bucks. Our designated “tour guide” tried to negotiate a lower room rate which ended in disaster when the staff determined that we did indeed have too many occupants in the room. (This is when our “tour guide” got a swift and painful demotion)
The end of day two saw us eating at the cheaper buffets downtown, and bringing all the leftovers, including crackers and bread back to the room. We also filled the gas tank, to insure we’d be able to make it back to March Air Force Base, when it was time to leave.
The Best Laid Plans of Men and Mice
We were “uninvited” from some buffets
Now this is where the train really left the tracks, so to speak. As the evening wore on, we stayed out of our hotel, so as not to further aggravate our lodging hosts. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, one of the males in our group brought a “working girl” back to the hotel. In his exuberance, he paid the girl with all of our money, which we had stashed in a suitcase to keep safe. To add insult to injury, he gave the young lady, who had apparently worked up quite an appetite, most of the food we had hoarded.
The next morning, when challenged, the scofflaw confessed to what had happened, and after a short dust up, he was thrown out and left to find his own way back to March Air Force Base.
So now we were broke, and without food. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, and we were fairly desperate. Dividing into three small groups, we each went into a different restaurant. After being seated and served bread, we gathered all of the bread, any crackers, carrots, celery or other edible items…..and left. By the end the afternoon, we had enough food to fend off starvation.
So Long, Redd!
The next morning, we checked out of our hotel, gathered up all of our trappings, ill begotten vittles…..and left Las Vegas. With a lightened load, our vehicle performed admirably on the return trip, and though running on fumes, we made it all the way back to Riverside, California on one tank.
While heading back, some of us waived at the Redd Foxx billboards as we passed them, however being broke, hungry and irritable, not all were gestures of goodwill. 😉
I love the pictures of old Vegas and that was a heck of a go broke in Vegas story.
Thanks Mike, glad you enjoyed the story.