(Sara Michele Crusade/Examiner.com) – As I reflect back on the way Las Vegas used to be in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I find myself nostalgic. Back then I hated the city. As a high school teen, Las Vegas was a boring city to grow up in; all casinos and adult entertainment. But actually, Vegas had a simplicity and honesty back then that is sorely lacking now.
To use current lexicon; back in the day Las Vegas had style. It was an oasis in the desert, developed for adults who wanted to escape their humdrum lives by adventuring to the city in the sand for some poolside relaxing and slot machine action. There was a simple elegance to the old Las Vegas; one armed bandits paid out silver in a cacophony of noise; hotels shared the same name as the streets they sat upon (Desert Inn, Sands, Riviera), and Folies Bergere was the longest running show on the Strip. The state sales tax was 3% back then, and politicians assured citizens that gambling would keep our sales tax low.
Back then, we trusted the cops; the street corners didn’t have cameras focused on every intersection. Las Vegas didn’t look like Disney World mated with a high priced call girl. It wasn’t a pretentious city, mocking glam and glitz as it does now. In fact we barely considered Las Vegas a city at all; it was more like a bustling town. It took 45 minutes to get from the outskirts of town to the Mt. Charleston exit, and Sunrise Mountain was still considered the far side of town.
We had three legitimate newspapers back then; the Review-Journal, the Sun, and the Valley Times. The Las Vegas Mirror was the preeminent entertainment rag, and working for the paper got me backstage to see Melissa Manchester when she headlined at the Riviera (back when the Riviera was a premiere hotel on the Strip), and the Hacienda was the end of the trail (or beginning if you were driving from California).
I started thinking about all this because I read an online article that the state Senate passed the bill to prohibit cell phone use while driving. You know the argument that texting is the cause of untold accidents, and must be regulated; despite the fact we already have distraction-laws on the books. But of course, every Democrat, and one liberal Republican supported the further regulation of Nevadans.
We have laws that forbid driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs as well, yet studies show that, on average, one in 10 drivers is under the influence. In 1995, Nevada had a total of 127 DUI related deaths. In 2008, more heavily regulated, Nevada had lowered total DUI fatalities to 121. I’m so underwhelmed. It reminds me of the ridiculous argument that more gun control will save lives, when statistically; cities with fewer regulations on the ownership and use of firearms have fewer crimes; because anyone with half a brain knows that criminals don’t obey the laws, so adding further regulations isn’t going to impact anyone but responsible people – who are already responsible.
On April 29, 2011, some 300 students from Clark County descended upon Caesar’s Palace to protest funding cuts to public education. The students supposedly circled the statue of Caesar. I’m unclear why they chose Caesar, unless he became the icon of the State for the protest. I would imagine few of the students in Clark County public schools even know the history of Caesar (or that there was more than one Caesar).
What they should have been protesting instead was the abysmal fact that Nevada schools rank 50th in the nation (out of 50 states) according to a survey done in 2010 by Education Week magazine. In 2008, according to an article by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Nevada schools ranked 44th in education. And, according to the article, Nevada ranked 25th in government revenue per resident, so schools were more than adequately funded. Apparently, in 2010, when we’d slipped to 50th, we still ranked 25th for revenue.
Instead of protesting funding cuts, perhaps the students should be protesting the proportionately high amounts of money that go to administration, or the hold the unions have on public education, or the fact that Clark County public schools don’t teach American history prior to 1800 and don’t teach students about the constitution and other founding documents.
In the 1980’s, we protested out front of the Imperial Palace because of the controversy over Ralph Engelstad’s Nazi memorabilia collection. Engelstad, who was owner of the Imperial Palace, purportedly had birthday parties in his multimillion-dollar Nazi memorabilia room to observe Adolf Hitler’s birthday. I proudly stood in front of the hotel with a large group of Jews and other peaceable protestors. Our protest had direction and was considered a civil rights issue. Protesting funding cuts for a well-funded public school system that is failing its students is a folly.
The only constant is change, so it comes as no surprise that, over the years, Las Vegas has changed voraciously. But not all change is good, and we can see at the federal level as well. Progress means moving forward, but it doesn’t mean letting go of the good from the past; it simply means improving upon it. Having spent a fair portion of my life here, I can say that our progress is not something to celebrate. Although Las Vegas may boast more hotel rooms and fancier casinos than 30 years ago; it also has more than doubled its sales tax, failed its public school system, and increased regulation to an alarming rate.
The simplicity that was once Las Vegas is long gone, and sadly, it appears honesty and trust have also disappeared – like the fabled Thunderbird Hotel and the Silver Slipper Casino.
(Sara Michele Crusade is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has been published in the U.S. and Germany. She is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology. Email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.)