Monday, September 05, 2016

What it was Like to Grow up in Old Las Vegas

Once upon a time, I lived in a city full of mobsters, entertainers, cowboys, colorful gamblers, and an abundance of open desert. It's a time that's passed into a kind of mythological status, so it's only natural that one of the most common questions I get is: “What was it like to grow up in Las Vegas?”

We used to get started gambling early around here
(I'm kidding, of course)
This question is almost always posed with wide eyes and, I think, the hope that I have something  juicy to share, like a mobster dad or a mother who was an exotic dancer.

In my case, my dad was a bartender and my mom was an accountant.

My parents moved here around 1960. When I was born, Dad was working at the Flamingo. Over four decades he worked as a bartender or food and beverage manager at a whole bunch of legendary Vegas places that no longer exist, like the Aladdin and the recently imploded Riviera.

Here Dad is hanging out after work (notice no tie) at what looks like a pool bar. Once he was done with his shift, he usually went off to visit one (or more) of his bartender (or dealer or waitress or entertainer) buddies, which appears to be the case in this photo. This was probably taken around the time he worked at the Flamingo in the early 1960s.

Dad was, to my mom's great irritation, that guy who always “knew a guy.” And that guy never showed up when he was supposed to, nor did he ever do what he said he would. Take, for instance, the "painter" who painted my parent's bedroom with an earthy shade of exterior house paint that looked terrible and made the room feel like a cave. Dad was pleased, but Mom not so much. (In later years, Dad hired another guy he knew to do paneling on one of the walls, which took twice as long and cost twice as much as originally quoted, and did not improve the cave-like feeling.)

My mom worked mostly as an accountant, but she also sold flight insurance at McCarran for a while, as evidenced by this picture. Mom's the one with the lei. She also happened to be gorgeous, as you can see.

Mom once told me a story about the day she was out shopping with her hair up in curlers when she ran into Della Reese. She spotted Della, whom she knew (remember, it was a small town), and tried to duck out of sight because she was embarrassed. “Here I am in curlers, and there she was, all beautifully done up,” was kind of how Mom described it to me. I think Mom may have said a brief hello, but she scooted out of the store without stopping to chat.

Later that night, when Della saw my Dad (I’m guessing at work), she told him, “Your wife is stuck up.” Mom told me she was horrified when Dad told her (I bet he laughed), and I’m not sure how that perception was corrected, if ever.

We went to a lot of shows and restaurants, most of which my parents never paid for—unless you counted the generous tips paid to the maitre ‘d, the cocktail waitress, the waiter, and so on. Mostly, these were people my dad knew, who returned the favor when he comped them at his bar when he was working. It was an unwritten rule that if you weren’t paying for the meal or the show, you’d better be tipping well.

It wasn’t all shows and glamour, of course. We had a pretty regular family routine, although life with two partiers (as we would call them today) had its ups and downs. But they bequeathed me a huge supply of great stories, which is a good thing for a writer.

When I was a teenager and finding things to do without my parents, Las Vegas was still largely rural on the outskirts. I went to gymkhanas and off-roaded with my friends. The Red Rock Loop was a two-way road, and it didn't take long to drive out of town. Seeing the Milky Way required only about a two-hour drive… if that.

In some ways, getting used to the city-fication of Las Vegas has been harder than adjusting to the changes on the Strip. Gone are the ranches and the wide open desert I remember. Most of the places from my childhood are gone or irrevocably changed.

Still, I find the city fascinating and the desert alluring.

My son has grown up in an entirely different Las Vegas, a place that's far more urban than when I was a kid. He's rather blasé about his famous hometown, and while he still has some distinctly Vegas Native tendencies (like never taking anything someone hands you on the Strip and a love of vast, wild places), his experience growing up in Vegas is almost as if he didn't grow up in the same city that I did at all.

Are you a Vegas Native? Leave your story, please!

In August 2016, Vegas Girl celebrated its 10th anniversary. This post is a part of three-part series revisiting some of Vegas Girl's most notable stories.

All pictures from the giant family photo collection of Terrisa Meeks.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The Unsolved Murder of Stephanie Isaacson

In 2007, I originally wrote about the troubling and tragic death of 14-year-old Stephanie Isaacson in 1989. Out of my 22 years with Metro, ten of them were at the front desk of the Crime Lab, and this unsolved case remains one I cannot forget.

On June, 1, 1989, Stephanie Isaacson left her house at about 6:30 a.m. to walk to Eldorado High School. She cut through a vacant desert lot at Stewart Avenue and Linn Lane on her way, which was her usual route. Her shortcut was not a good idea that day.

When Stephanie didn't come home that afternoon, her father started looking for her and soon found out she had never arrived at school. A search turned up her body in that desert lot. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Terrible crimes occur every day. I know this because I read the reports and saw the photographs of pretty much every homicide committed in Metro's jurisdiction between 1984 and 1994.

At the time Stephanie was killed, my nieces were close to her age and lived only a couple of miles away from where she was found. The tragic and senseless nature of this crime felt very close to home, because it was.

A young girl being violently murdered while walking to school is deeply disturbing. And in this case, that brutal crime went unsolved and unpunished.

I wrote to the Cold Case unit to ask if there were any updates to the case. I didn't expect to hear a surprising new development, but I had a sliver of hope that there would be something that had changed. A person of interest. Some new development that hadn't received much press.

Sadly, the reply from the cold case investigator was very short: “We've nothing to update... sorry.”

Periodically, I receive comments on the post from people who knew Stephanie, most recently on August 12, on what would have been her birthday. Stephanie's mother wrote:

Today we would be celebrating Stephanie's birthday if she were still with us. I am her Mother and I can tell you that "time does not heal all wounds." This tragedy will always be an open wound for her family and friends. I miss her every day. I wish the low life who stole her from us could be brought to justice. I still believe there is someone out there who knows who did this. I just wish they would have the decency to come forward and tell who committed this horrible crime, but I don't believe it will ever be solved. I love you Stephanie. 

Did you live in Las Vegas in 1989 in the area of Stewart Avenue and Linn Lane? If you know anything about this case, it is not too late to speak up. You can contact the anonymous tipline at Metro or contact Metro's Cold Case Unit.


Note: In August 2016, Vegas Girl celebrated its 10th anniversary. This post is a part of three-part series revisiting some of Vegas Girl's most notable stories.

Photo by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, September 02, 2016

Mystery Shopping in Las Vegas - An Update

When I first published the post “The Truth About MysteryShopping in Las Vegas” in 2011, I had no idea how much interest it would spark. 

The allure of getting paid to shop remains high, no doubt fueled by totally false ads about earning hundreds of dollars per shop.

Here's the deal: in Nevada, you cannot become a mystery shopper unless you have a work permit and are working for a licensed private investigator, as a regular employee—not an independent contractor—or if you're an actual private investigator. Period. All those websites that promise mystery shopping jobs right away are misleading, at best, and outright scams in many cases, like the money order cashing scam I encountered ("cash this money order and wire the funds out of the country".... yeah, no).

If you're looking for legitimate work as a mystery shopper, do your homework. Remember that old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”  And don't let high-ranking websites fool you. One of the top five returns on my recent Google search for “mystery shopping Las Vegas” was for a membership to get mystery shopping jobs online, with no mention of Nevada's laws or licensing requirements.

I wrote to QSI, a Las Vegas company that offers legitimate mystery shopping work, to see what might have changed since I wrote my post. Their Vice President, Lety Gonzalez, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Q:  What do you think people should know before they apply to be a mystery shopper in Las Vegas? 

A: Before folks apply to be a mystery shopper in Las Vegas, they need to know that mystery shopping is a part-time job to supplement income or do for extra money. It is not something that will earn a ton of money, although there are some folks who do mystery shopping full time.

They should also know that they must apply with a licensed PI company and are required to obtain a work card from the Private Investigator’s Licensing Board (PILB). Nevada is the only state with these requirements. Shoppers are paid every two weeks and are W2 employees, NOT independent contractors.

Q. How often do you have someone apply with you who’s been duped by a mystery shopping scam before finding you?

A: I haven’t encountered too many folks personally, but I have heard that it is very common. Receiving a check without having done any work or filled out any report is one to keep an eye out for. A legitimate mystery shopping provider (company) would not pay a shopper prior to having the mystery shop completed.

Q:  Is the demand for mystery shoppers growing?

A: Companies are always looking for shoppers. QSI specifically is always accepting applications. With more and more shops being conducted in Las Vegas and in Northern NV, we are always seeking shoppers to help meet rotation requirements. We always want new faces in the places we shop!

Clearly, there's some fun work available for people who can meet the requirements, but don't quit your day job just yet.

And beware of the scammers out there.


Have you ever done mystery shopping?

In August 2016, Vegas Girl celebrated its 10th anniversary. This post is a part of three-part series revisiting some of Vegas Girl's most notable stories.
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Trumbull at flickr. Interview comments edited for clarity.