Don’t you sometimes wonder what Las Vegas would be like if the original folks who showed up here were French or German, or maybe even Dutch? An Amish Sin City, now there’s a visual…
I live here and not a day goes by that I don’t give that question a passing thought. Pointless, I know. If there was ever a city defined by its history, it is mine.
Excluding the few Mormons who decided the middle of the Mojave was a hospitable place—I will leave any conjecture as to their sanity to another forum—our original settlers were from Buffalo, Chicago and New Jersey. Their last names generally ended in a vowel. As with most settlers, they infused their new home with cultural nuance brought from the homeland. Fluent in Smith and Wesson, they were the first magicians to play Vegas, making people disappear with an alarming regularity. Now more civilized, us Las Vegans stick to elephants and airplanes, but magic is still a big draw.
As is the Mob.
Our mayor, the last of a dying breed—popular politicians—cut his teeth defending well-connected individuals. Appearing everywhere with a showgirl on either arm, he regales fourth-graders with the merits of gin at the end of a long day. He’s term-limited now and I hear there’s an underground movement to anoint him Emperor—he’s already declared himself King. The Mouth of the Mojave—a daily reminder of our past, albeit a delightful one. At The Gun Store on Tropicana, for a fee anyone can throw lead from Tommy Guns and Uzis. CSI would have the world believe Las Vegas has cornered the market on crime scene tape. Writers of every ilk try to convince us Murder, Inc. is still big business in Sin City. And, when someone unearths human bones in the desert it doesn’t cause even a ripple—that is so ‘60s. Everyone already knows there are thousands of souls out there. Yawn.
A relative newcomer, I have yet to find an old-timer who will dispute the widely held view that Vegas was a much better place when the Mob was in control. When pushed as to why they harbor that opinion, most of them will say back then Vegas was free of crime. Pointing out the obvious was futile; irony is a nuance not many Las Vegans fully appreciate. Of course, Vegas really isn’t a nuanced place, is it?
Originally from Dallas, I lived with “Who shot JFK?” for years until it became “Who shot JR?” so it stands to reason I would feel right at home in Las Vegas. Although, I am growing weary of the whole Mob thing. Never much cared for The Godfather (sacrilege in my house), but that was only an interminable, three-hour movie.
Now I live it.
And you can, too. Thanks to the Mayor and other “historians,” Vegas is about to have competing Mob attractions. (See CBS’ story for more details. Mob Experience is now open at the Tropicana and The Mob Museum is scheduled to open in December, 2011.) Between you and me, I’d be happy if they would solve their competition the old-fashioned way—making each other disappear. Testaments to the glory days of bullets and back-stabbing, I can live without. When we adopted the tag line, “Everything that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, I don’t think we meant to invite the world to our door to knock-off an irritating ex-spouse (redundant, I know. Sorry.)
And I sorta resent the assumption that Las Vegans have rewritten the Ten Commandments, leaving the first one off the list. (Yes, yes, others, too, but I’m not discussing those right now.) You see, I have a serious Pollyanna complex. To me, Vegas is magic—real magic. Shows, good food, libations and laughter…the fun stuff. Okay, minor mischief, too, but nothing life-altering…or life-ending.
It beats the heck out of me as to why folks want to dredge-up our sordid past. I know, a pretty interesting opinion coming from a crime writer, but I am the rubber-chicken of the crime-writing world—soft-boiled and silly. When I kill someone, I push them out of a tour helicopter into the middle of the Pirate Show in front of Treasure Island or toss them into the shark tank at Mandalay Bay. For some reason, living in the desert, death by shark attack was too good to resist.
My characters are straight female impersonators, swingers, an occasional porn star, casino owners, brothel-owning mothers, fighters, UFO groupies, Air Force Spook-ologists, Hollywood luminaries with big secrets—you know, my neighbors. Kidding. But they are my neighbors as I imagine them to be. However, you know what’s not so funny? When I mention that a character is part of the “old guard” immediately someone jumps to the conclusion he is a surviving mobster—an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Please!
The old wiseguys are gone from Las Vegas.
And, if I ever put one in my stories, shoot me.
Deborah Coonts is the author of the Lucky O'Toole Las Vegas adventures.