Here is a selection of short extracts from some of the stories that feature in the book.
We drove all the way out here from a little town in Louisiana in 1989 with all our stuff in a U-Haul. There was me, my mom, my two older brothers and my sisters. I was seven years old. We were coming in on Lake Mead Boulevard from the north. It was about one or two o’clock in the morning. And suddenly there it was, spread out over the valley below, this giant city, just glowing, sparkling. We were so far above it. Our town had, like, five thousand people. I’d never been in a plane before. I never saw a city from high up like that. It just took my breath away. It still does, more than twenty years later. I still drive up there on weekends. My mom pulled over to the side so we could have a good look at it. We all thought it was just gorgeous. We were mesmerized, without a doubt. “We’ll do good here,” she said. Or something like that. It was a long time ago.
- Louis Harper
I wanted to be one of the people who strode through casinos, the kind executives paid attention to. I wanted to have the right watch, the right car, the right suit. I wanted people to see I had those things and to be subservient to me. Then I’d know what it really felt like. I used to stand in front of Caesar’s watching the tourists from Ohio photographing the glitterati pulling up in their Lotuses. I’d think, “I want to be that guy. I want them to take pictures of me” – and of course not one of the people who cleans their toilets.
- Kenny Baker
I was bored with gymnastics by the time I finished eighth grade. It wasn’t quite performance, at least of the kind I was starting to aspire to. I started to pick things up from these amazing people who came to our house – magicians and sword swallowers and fire eaters. They’d bring their toys over and do tricks. I asked them how it worked and they showed me. I learned to do certain bullwhip tricks with targets I was later able to apply as a prostitute. Above all, I wanted to be an acrobat. I tried juggling, but I didn’t have a passion for it. It didn’t have this immediate, otherworldly grace that I saw when I watched an acrobat.
- Christopher Erle
I came back from college and got an intern job as a craps dealer at the El Cortez. I figured my grandfather and dad had done it. I had no idea how miserable it would be. I went on to being a casino host for high-end players. I was at the Hard Rock, and Caesar’s. That involved getting them in, keeping them there, making them feel good, issuing their complimentaries. In this town how much you gamble dictates who you are – what types of room you get, the seats you get at the prize fights and shows, who acknowledges you and who doesn’t, whether or not you’re introduced to the celebrities in the show rooms. I worked on that for the casino. I also had to deal with their requests for extra credit. You eat a lot of shit with these people. They’re high demand. They’re negotiators by trade and they want to get every inch out of you, just on principle, just for fun. They were people who made it in property, mortgages, things like flooring. They could be New York traders, IPO experts. There were pimps, drug dealers, conmen with years of jail time. But green is green. Vegas isn’t picky. They don’t care how you get it, as long as you lose it.
- Nevada Stupak
I was six when they divorced. I was the youngest. From that point on she was out all the time, either at work or with her friends. These were people who were into cocaine and gambling and drinking. There were dishes piled up in the sink for weeks. We’d throw apple cores behind the television. We were in a middle-class neighbourhood and ours was the house with the dirt front yard. We had to wear these hand-me-down clothes to school, which meant we were teased mercilessly through grammar school and junior high. It wasn’t that there wasn’t money coming in. She worked and my dad always sent child support payments. But there was never any food in the house. We’d go days eating peanut butter out of a jar with a spoon. She’d eat in casino restaurants. One day she came back with a bag of leftovers and we were hungry and asked her if we could have some. “No,” she said. “That’s mine.”
- Alesha Beauchamp
I heard about the tunnels under the city. I had friends who were from there. I met Manny from drinkin’ with him in the streets. I knew he lived down there. He was always good to me. He protected me, he never came on to me. I felt safe with him. He was a ticket hopper, from Alaska originally. He’d go around the casinos checking for money left behind in the machines. You might find hundreds of dollars that way because the people playing are often drunk and they forget. He said I could come down there and live with him. I was scared, it was so dark down there and unknown. But he promised me no one would hurt me. His place was off Flamingo there by the railroad tracks, under the Rio. I made him walk in front of me. We had miners’ lamps on our heads. When I got there I could see it was like a normal room that somebody would live in, with shelves and a little bathroom with a curtain and a king-sized bed, all nice and neat. I freaked out the first time I slept there. I thought, What’s happening to my life? But it wassafe, just like he said.
- Melinda Medina
It’s difficult to live in a place you can’t stand. It’s normal to get bored. That could happen anywhere. But this is something else. This feels like some disease that’s on your skin. They say, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But it’s not true. I think it’s going to stay with me forever, wherever I go. I have this friend, she went to Kansas. I may be stuck here at the University of Never Leaving Vegas, but she got away. She writes to me, “Cindi, you wouldn’t believe it. There are humans here! They don’t binge, or at least not much. They smile, they’re nice to you!”
- Cindi Robinson