Thirty years ago, I might have stumbled upon the Dirty Old
Man Delegation, the Boozers Brigade or the Strippers Symposium. But during this
trip I naturally found a kiddie-land favorite: the Annual Clown Convention, which
was held at the
“I love kids. I had three for breakfast,” veteran clown Jim
Howle told five children sitting before him on a makeshift stage. He pulled paper
from his shoe, “Here’s a footnote.”
A pink clown whispered to me, “I’m a beginner and earn a
living as a waitress and construction worker.” A brightly dressed Charlie
Chaplin said, “I’m full time with a business license. I do 300 performances
Tables in the back of the room offered novelty items for
sale from lime green wigs to Technicolor costumes, magic tricks and books.
“Here Comes the Clown,” “Talk like a Dummy” and “Stop that Heckler” were a few
of the titles.
As I watched clowns compete, I remembered my first visit to
“I just won 13-thousand dollars gambling and would like to
buy you a diamond bracelet. No strings attached.”
“Yeah, right.” I flashed a skeptical grin.
Fred led me to a hotel shop where I was gifted an $800
trinket. Then he wanted to gamble and nudged me from table to table stuffing chips
in my purse, which I later tallied to be $2900. After this, he bought me clothing
totaling $4000 at a Caesar’s boutique and topped off the two hour adventure
with the words, “Well, it was nice meeting you, young lady, but I’d better be
I sprinted back to my room and dumped the loot at my aunt’s
feet. She shook her head, “I wish I were young again.”
I wondered whether this was a common occurrence or a fluke.
Did people just give away money in
My answer came a few days later when a man named Craig asked
if I’d like to gamble with him. He was determined to hit the jackpot and stalked
a row of slot machines like a 12-step program dropout, popping coins
obsessively into one, then another and another. I agreed to play an adjacent
row with a bucket of his coins. An hour later, I said good-bye, and Craig handed
me a hundred dollar bill for my time, which I promptly showed my aunt.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s in Las Vegas, the generosity of
strangers—or more specifically middle-aged men--was as predictable as buffets,
headliners and showgirls; and the biggest recipients were those whose jobs
involved tips. Small town Americans would relocate to
Over the years, Vegas has shifted from big spenders to tourists in order to stay afloat. The scores of “high rollers” from the 1970’s and 1980’s have either stopped coming due to the deteriorating economy or have gotten snapped up by competitors, such as Indian casinos. Nineteen states permit casino gambling. The growing gap between the rich and the poor has statistically led to fewer wealthy folk, and thus fewer big time gamblers. Casino owners over-borrowed and overbuilt, and the city now has the highest foreclosure rate of any major metro area in the country and the second highest unemployment rate at 13 percent. In an effort to pinpoint a new and steady revenue stream, the family was targeted. Today, the city caters to mothers, fathers, kids and even clowns, who are mostly middle-income and careful with their cash.Seventeen-year-olds looking for a golden gift from the gods are probably out of luck. A veteran Vegas waitress recently told me, “You used to be able to count on the kindness of strangers. Today, tips are probably the same as in any other big city. Men full of cash are a thing of the past.”