Jeff Ackerman: Even today, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
If things went as planned, they blew up the old Stardust Casino in Las Vegas this morning, and my son and I were watching from across the street.
My son, Luke, is 14 and autistic. In a nutshell, his autism can cause him to be quite obsessive, and for the past two years or so, he’s been obsessed with the way Las Vegas has been blowing up and rebuilding its famous Strip. It’s much more efficient to blow up a building than bashing it repeatedly with a steel balI, and besides, it’s show business, and not many do show business better than Vegas.
Luke knows every detail of every implosion (times, dates, amount of explosives used, etc.) the Strip has had, and there have been many. As a result, he’s become quite a Sin City historian, and this is his first visit to Vegas. The date and time of the Stardust implosion had been kept a secret until last week, when Luke came running downstairs to say it would happen March 13 at 2:15 a.m. (he learned about it on some Vegas blog he’s been posting to). I suppose there really isn’t a good time to blow up a casino in Vegas, since nobody ever sleeps, but perhaps they were hoping most would be too drunk or too depressed to really care at 2 in the morning.
“Can we go?” Luke pleaded. “I really need to see that.”
It was one of those decisions every parent faces: Should we make a car payment or go to Vegas to watch them blow up a building?
Next thing I knew, I was on the phone with some woman from the Circus Circus casino in Vegas asking if she had a room with a view of the Stardust.
“Why would you want to look at the Stardust?” she asked. “It’s closed.”
“I know that,” I replied. “We want to see them blow it up. Do you know if they are going to blow it up Tuesday morning?”
“Let me ask my supervisor,” she said, putting me on hold so I could listen to Wayne Newton.
She returned to the phone to say her supervisor didn’t know if, or when, they would blow up the Stardust. Then she offered us a room for $119.95, plus tax.
I know she and her supervisor are probably very busy booking rooms inside a pink casino filled with bells, glass and ugly carpet, but it seems to me they should know if someone was preparing to blow up their longtime neighbor. In fact, I’d be promoting it. “Come visit the Circus Circus and watch them blow up our competition!” I’d shout. My employees here on Sutton Way would probably know if they were going to implode Staples, or maybe the Grocery Outlet, to make room for an In & Out Burger (I know … but I can dream, can’t I?).
I love an implosion as much as the next guy, but it will be sad to see the Stardust reduced to … dust. My dad loved Vegas, and we spent a lot of time there when I was my son’s age and younger. I was there not long after the Stardust opened in 1958, and it was so much better than Disneyland. I’d never seen so many lights in one place (the Stardust had the largest neon sign in the world at one time) and couldn’t wait to grow up and lose money at one of the many slot machines I saw as we walked through the place on the way to a restaurant. The Stardust is perhaps the last of the casinos once operated by the Wise Guys and was the central character in the movie “Casino,” with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. The Mob was eventually run out of Vegas by the junk bond crooks (Michael Milken and his friends), who decided that visitors would rather see singing water fountains, pirate ship battles and gut-churning rollercoasters than an 80-year-old Frankie Avalon. How could Frankie compete with a bunch of acrobats who can roll themselves up tight enough to fit inside a cookie jar? I saw it with my own eyes.
The mobsters were less pretentious than the junk bond kings, who were actually kind of “nerdy.” The Mob stole money the old fashioned way, by shaving the slot machines and stuffing cash into big sacks and suitcases inside the casino’s count room. When I lived in Nevada, I met a guy named Harry The Hat, who admitted to stealing maybe $3 million or so from casinos over a four-year period. I have five or six boxes of Harry’s documents in my office. Harry lives in Florida these days and wants me to write his book. I’m waiting for the guys Harry stole the money from to finally die so they won’t break my kneecaps.
If things go well for Luke and me, I’ll bring back some video and post it on our Web site. If it doesn’t … well … what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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