Living in Los Angeles had its perks. Not only was Hollywood a big part of my life but so was Las Vegas.
My family loved to spend long weekends in Vegas or Sin City as some called it. Mama was an avid poker player (7-card stud mostly). My grandmother was addicted to the slots, while my step-father, Mike, liked Black Jack - aka 21.
The Vegas trips started when I was about six and continued well into my teens. The four of us piled into our Cadillac. We'd drive through the Mojave desert for about four hours before reaching our Shangri La.
Vegas was still pristine in the 1960s - not the theme park look it has today. The city exuded class. Hotels that no longer exist caressed its skyline - The Stardust, The Sahara, The Desert Inn, The Dunes, The Sands, The Tropicana, The Flamingo and more.
"In 1941 the El Rancho Vegas resort opened on a section of U.S. 91 just outside the city’s jurisdiction. Other hotel-casinos soon followed, and the section of highway became known as “the Strip,” states the History Channel. Most casinos were built around regional or Old West themes. In 1946 mobster Bugsy Siegel, backed by East Coast gangster Meyer Lansky’s Mexican drug money, opened the Flamingo, a swank resort that took its cues from Hollywood, not Deadwood. Top-drawer talent was booked for its lounges and dozens of celebrities attended its Christmas Day opening....In 1966 Howard Hughes checked into the penthouse of the Desert Inn and never left, preferring to buy the hotel rather than face eviction. He bought other hotels too—spending $300 million on them and ushering in an era in which mob interests were displaced by corporate conglomerates.
"In 1989 longtime casino developer Steve Wynn opened the Mirage, the city’s first mega-resort. Over the next two decades the strip was transformed yet again: Old casinos were dynamited to make room for massive complexes, taking their aesthetic cues from ancient Rome and Egypt, Paris, Venice, New York and other iconic places.
"Casinos and entertainment remained Las Vegas’ major employer. The city grew as did the numbers of annual visitors. In 2008, even as the nation and the world faced a punishing recession, rising unemployment and a housing price collapse, Las Vegas still received nearly 40 million visitors."
The rest is history or as I say, "mystory," .😉
What did this little girl do in an adult town of gambling and debauchery? Plenty. Mama made friends easily and always found someone to look after me while she spent hours in the casino. Sometimes, I was helping the hotel clerk at the reception desk. Other times I hung out at the pool with other kids and their parents. I was never bored.
We came together for lunch and dinner every day. Mama always ordered room service for breakfast. We stayed in two adjoining rooms - Mama and Mike in one, my grandmother and I in the other. Our common door opened at breakfast-time with a table adorned with fruit, waffles, eggs, bacon, pastries, ice-cold milk and coffee..lots of coffee for the adults as they caffeined up for another day at the casino.
We took our Vegas sojourn every six weeks. That desert city soon became a part of me, a ritual that would stay with me well into adulthood.
By July of 1977 I had turned 21. What better place to celebrate my "coming of age" than Sin City. I grabbed my friend, Tara and we made a beeline to Vegas in record time - 3 hours and 20 minutes. We were filled with excitement as we pulled up to the valet at Caesar's Palace Hotel and Casino. We carried two freshly minted tickets, a birthday present from Mama to see the one and only, Frank Sinatra. It was Friday afternoon and his performance was still hours away. Sinatra was already getting up in years and had come in and out of retirement a couple of times. Despite the passage of time, his voice remained as smooth as water on a windless sea.
We unpacked carefully setting aside our special outfits for the concert that evening. With several hours to go before showtime, Tara and I sauntered out to the lavish pool in our teeny bikinis, hoping to catch a few rays and maybe a boy or two by sunset. Tara was a cute brunette and I was the tall curvy blonde. Quite a pair. We strategically placed two lounge chairs where we had easy access to the pool and the cutest boys within a few yards. We sipped our frozen Pina Coladas. Before we knew it the afternoon had morphed into evening. Showtime was fast approaching. We zipped upstairs, showered and changed into our evening attire.
The usher escorted us to the best seats in the house, third row center. We ordered our cocktails while listening to the orchestra play an anthem of classic Sinatra tunes. We were so excited. Amazing how a man from a past generation still thrilled so many.
The house lights went down as we heard, "Ladies and gentleman it is our honor to introduce, the one, the only, 'chairman of the board', old blue eyes himself, Mr. Frank Sinatra."
And out he walked in his trademark suit, tie and hat as if he owned the place. He opened with Come Fly with Me : "Come Fly with me. Let’s fly, let's fly away. If you can use some exotic booze there's a bar in far Bombay. Come fly with me. Let's fly away.."
Wow. A huge applause filled the theater as Francis Albert Sinatra grabbed a stool and and slowly sat down as he recalled funny anecdotes from days past. He then went on to sing such classics as "Fly me to the Moon" - "Luck Be a Lady" "I've got you under my Skin" "I get a kick out of You" "Witchcraft" "All the Way" "That's Life" "You Make Me Feel So Young" --before ending with "The Best is Yet to Come". What a show!
It was 10:30 PM and the night was still young. Tara and I were feeling lucky as we headed to the casino. Tara wandered over to the slots while I perused the Black Jack tables. At the time, the main pit in Caesars Palace was not very big. You could often find celebrities playing at the "high minimum" tables. But that was too rich for my blood. I was looking for a $1.00 table. My thoughts were interrupted by loud laughter. I followed the sound to a table surrounded by onlookers. And there he was - Sinatra himself playing Black Jack at $100 a hand. I peeked my head in to watch. "How cool is this this," I whispered to myself. I get to see him up close and personal. In a flash, he looked up and saw me. "Hey honey, come over here and bring me some luck," he said, staring straight at me. "Me?" I replied. "Yeah. Come stand next to me." I gulped and felt the butterflies fill my stomach. I stepped past the man in front of me and over to Sinatra's side. "Atta girl," he said with a wink and a giggle, obviously noticing my nervousness. To my relief, he won the next couple of hands. He got up and said, "Thanks kid. Go have some fun," placing a $100 black chip in my hand.
Old blue eyes then slowly walked away with his bodyguards.
"Did that just happen?" I mumbled to myself. I knew no one would believe me. I ran to the slot machines yelling Tara, Tara.. She was not very happy having lost nearly $50. I recounted my story. Just as I predicted she said, "Yeah right. And Robert Redford just asked me to marry him."
It took some time to finally convince her of what happened..or at least she said she believed me.
In the end it doesn't matter. I was there. And I'll never, ever forget it!