Good morning, everyone. It’s Sunday Story Time. Pour your coffee and enjoy this tale about a Las Vegas wedding.
2013 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey
My daughter and her fiance left for Las Vegas by car two days before my husband Ken and I boarded a “FunJet.” We were early enough to get the best seats on the plane—right behind the bulkhead. That meant for three hours we stared at a carpeted wall. But unlike all the other passengers who were packed in like sardines, we had leg room.
“And what can I get you to drink?” A male flight attendant in a navy blue uniform asked.
“Ginger Ale, please.” I answered. For some reason, I only drink ginger ale on airplanes.
“There you are, miss.” He handed the golden liquid that was poured over too much ice.
“Thank you.” I said, knowing not to complain.
I turned to my husband, “He must want a tip, huh?” He called me “Miss.” I laughed.
Ken leaned over and kissed my check. “No, sweetheart. You look like a “Miss.”
“Why am I feeling so old, then?”
“It’s probably because your daughter is getting married tomorrow. Don’t all women feel that way when they see their daughters in wedding dresses?”
“I can’t speak for other women.” I said pouting. “You know what I wish?”
“I wish they will find the same happiness we’ve found together.” I leaned over and kissed his cheek. He smiled and took my hand.
We landed on schedule, and Mabel from the travel agency told us to take the Vegas Express shuttle to the Flamingo Hotel. There were dozens of buses lined up outside the baggage claim area and ours was the last one in the queue.
A skinny man leaned against the shuttle bus. He wore a large black Stetson pulled down over his eyes with a large white feather sticking out of the headband; he also had a toothpick sticking out of his mouth. He wore a red and blue plaid long-sleeve shirt with pearl studs for buttons. His pointy snakeskin cowboy boots with two-inch heels made this slight man appear very tall. Lose-fitting Levi’s were held up by a thick leather belt with a silver belt buckle as large as a hubcap. I giggled as I thought he must have seen one too many Marlboro cigarette commercials.
As Ken and I got closer to him, I noticed he didn’t bend his knees; I surmised he must have been breaking in a new pair of jeans. He tipped his hat like a throw-back from the saloon days and revealed his bulbous nose, a ruddy complexion, and a scraggly salt-and-pepper mustache. His ears stuck out like wings under his hat. “Howdy, ma’am. Welcome to Las Vegas! My name is Gus. What hotel you folks stayin’ at?” He smiled to reveal he was missing a front tooth.
I smiled back. “Thank you, Gus. We’re going to the Flamingo.” I handed him my overstuffed suitcase.
“All righty then.” Gus grunted as he threw our luggage into the belly of the bus.
Ken pushed me to the very back of the bus. “That guy is scary and I think he has a hanker’ for you, dahlin’.”
I laughed. “Well, we are in Vegas, dahlin’” I drawled back at him.
Several more people boarded after us, and Gus announced over the loud speaker in a heavy western accent, “Ladies and gentlemen make yourselves comfortable, and we’ll get underway in gist a sec’.”
A few minutes later, he dropped down into the driver’s seat and looked into the overhead mirror. “For those of you who have never been to the desert before, let me be the first one to welcome you to the land of “lost wages.” He laughed at his own joke. No one else joined him. Gus muttered, “tough crowd,” and pulled away from the curb.
He shifted into a higher gear as we pulled onto the highway. ““Come on, folks, loosen up—you’re goin’ to have a great time! But while you’re here, you listen to ol’ Gus. Drink plenty of water. Now I know, the fancy alcoholic drinks are more fun, but those snake oils will not only give you a headache the next day, they’ll dry out faster than a bed sheet on a windy day. Worst part is, you won’t even know you’re drying out before you’re faintin’ dead away. Don’t get sick. Be smart. You don’t think I got this pretty face from keeping myself hydrated, do ya?”
This time everyone on the bus laughed.
Gus smile. He knew he had his crowd. “I like to think of myself as the airport shuttle ambassador.” Gus gained speed as he moved expertly through traffic. “I’ll be happy to answer any questions about our little oasis—providin’ your question doesn’t have anything to do with the art of gambling.’ I never did figger out how to beat the house. Don’t think it’s even possible.”
Gus was quiet as he turned at a busy intersection. After the turn was completed, Gus continued. “Now, where was I?” He paused for a second. “Oh yeah—I know it’s hard to believe, but drivin’ an airport shuttle wasn’t my first career choice when I came out here twenty-five years ago. I was going to be a famous high roller, but somehow that just didn’t work out.”
Gus had wormed his way into the ears of the bus riders as they laughed again.
Knowing he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, Gus went on talking. “Now, old Gus is goin’ to give you a little history lesson about our lovely city. Did you know that “Las Vegas” means “The Meadows,” and its first visitors were the Paiute Indians? It seems there’s a natural spring just north of downtown which was source of refreshment for them in the olden days. By the 1850’s the Mormons built a small mission and fort here. Can’t say if there still around.” Gus laughed. “And then in 1902, the railroad bought up most of the land and where the tracks went through, twelve hundred lots were sold.” Gus gulped some water from a cup he had on the dash. “That was the start of our fine city.”
“Before Hoover Dam got built, Vegas was a pretty sleepy little place. But that project brought outta-work men here from all over the country. Remember during the depression, it was damn hard to find a good job.” He laughed at his pun.
“About the same time the dam was being built, gamblin’ was legalized. When ol’ Bugsy Siegel came to town in 1946, he had big ideas for the place. He helped build the Flamingo. Everybody said he was nuts for thinkin’ rich people would come all the way out here just for gamblin’, but old Bugsy was right. He made that hotel so big and flashy high rollers from around the world eventually found the place. But Bugsy made some big mistakes; first, he opened the place prematurely before the “bugs” in the hotel had been worked out, then he couldn’t pay the mob back for their investment when his floozy Hollywood actress girlfriend skimmed money off the top. As we all know, that was the end of poor ol’ Bugsy. If you’re staying at the Flamingo, check out the memorial to him.”
Gus turned the bus again. “But it’s been since the 80s, the city has really taken off. Over a million people live here, now—about 4,000 come out here every month. I gotta say, though, I liked it better 25 years ago when I bought my first mobile home. It’s a little too big for me, now.” He turned the corner onto “the strip.
As the bus passed hotel after hotel, Gus continued our orientation to his city. “Last count there was over 150,000 hotel rooms in Vegas. Just look at these beauties!” He said like he was showing off his personal property. “Whatever you’re looking for in Vegas, we’ve got it. Heck, we’ve built the whole world right in a couple of miles! Look – there’s New York, and over yonder the Eiffel Tower, and there’s Italy complete with Gondolas . . . just for all of you.” He took another sip from his cup and cleared his throat. “And don’t forget Caesar’s Palace—heck, the damn Romans couldn’t build it that good!”
Gus parked the bus in front of the Flamingo and jumped out of his seat like he’d been shot. He popped open the luggage compartment under the bus and grabbed our bags. Then he came over to the tall steps of the bus and offered his dry,weathered hand to help me down. “Well, dahlin’ here you are, safe and sound, and ol’ Gus started you off right.” He flashed his toothless smile.
I realized he was waiting for a tip. I handed him a five. “Thanks Gus.”
“Why thank you, ma’am.” He tipped his hat. “You and your hubby have a wonderful time in the house that Bugsy built.” He waved goodbye, jumped back on the bus and pulled away.
“Well, that sure was quite a welcome.” Ken dryly.
I smiled. “I think Gus was just what we needed. His commentary got me ready for this Vegas wedding. I never dreamed my daughter would be getting married here.
Ken knew I wanted my daughter to be married in our church with family and friends surrounding her as she journeyed into a new chapter of her life.
He put his arm around me and whispered, “This will be fun. Just wait and see.”
“What would I do without you?”
Ken grinned. “Well, I’m sure ol’ Gus would be good to you. He’s got a first class mobile home, you know. He certainly had a hankerin’ for you, dahlin’.”
I laughed, took Ken’s hand, and followed the bellhop to our suite which would be our home for the next four days.