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For the Record: Trip to Vegas serves up bittersweet memories

by Linda Hiller, Staff writer

Things change. That’s the title of one of my favorite movies and should be the motto of Las Vegas.

Last weekend, we spent a joyous and horrible Thanksgiving visit there, in the city that also happens to be our kids’ birthplace. For that reason, you’ll never find us among the Vegas bashers – we lived there for 15 years, began our 22-year marriag, bought our first house, had our children there and became Nevadans there.

“There” was our beloved home for some pretty significant years.

But in 1993 it outgrew us, and now, going back is always full of emotional highs and lows, as with any pilgrimage. There, the highs are finding something familiar to visit, which becomes more like looking for a needle in a haystack every year.

Of course, we drive by our first homes, the kids’ first school and a park or two, but they’ve blown up and rebuilt every single casino we loved, among them the Frontier, the Landmark, the Sands, the Dunes and more. We have indestructible memories from those places, though.

One time, Cary Grant held the elevator for me when I worked in the Dunes and Mohammad Ali flirted with me there (OK, he flirted with everyone). Tony Bennett — shorter than I’d imagined (all show business people are, it turns out) would always say a friendly “Hi,” and Lorne Greene would walk around wearing a big brimmed hat, waiting for someone to recognize him.

When the so-called mobsters would come through the casinos, people would whisper and covertly point. There was this one elegant older gentleman with white hair and the biggest collection of alpaca sweaters you could imagine who brought us coffee every morning in the Dunes just to be nice. Years later, I saw his picture in the paper after he was arrested as a mob enforcer with a fondness for acid.

Ah, Las Vegas … for two kids from Washington state, it was like living in a movie.

Things change, I know, but probably the worst part for us last week was finding out that many of the angelic playmates and schoolmates of our kids have really, really changed since becoming teen-agers … into robbers, jailbirds, druggies, drinkers and gang members.

We were shocked – these were the same kids who came to our Ozzie and Harriet birthday parties, where I would make a cake looking like a swimming pool with candy Lifesavers as inner tubes and little paper umbrellas shading the plastic sunbathers. Hubby Jeff would juggle water balloons outside while the kids swam and giggled in our pool on hot summer evenings. Their perfect little faces look gleefully back at us from the home videos we watch from time to time, and now I wish I could rewind the tape and talk to their parents. Maybe those kids could have been contenders if I had.

We know that Douglas County is not perfect – there are problems here with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, vandalism, pregnancies and all – but I can’t help but wonder if the pressure in an urban community such as Las Vegas is a lot greater than we think on all the kids, not just the obviously “at risk” ones.

We talked about it on the long drive home and as he was driving, our Las Vegas-born son Blake, now 19, who was definitely saddened by the sorry turn of events for many of his former classmates, said something interesting.

“I don’t think kids here at Douglas realize how great it really is to live and grow up here,” he said. “They’re always saying it’s boring and all, but it’s really pretty sweet.”

Right on, tough guy. You and your sister, you go and contend!

n Linda Hiller is a staff writer for The Record-Courier.