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The Big Time

16 May 2004

I was walking on air. I'd just landed a dealing job at the Mint Hotel in downtown Las Vegas! It wasn't the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, even I knew that, but it sure beat shilling on a dice table at the Pioneer Club for $11 a day. I'd been hired by a pit boss named Sonny, who told me to go to Personnel and fill out an application. For the first time since I hit Vegas a month ago, I felt like a bona fide member of the human race.

I found the personnel office behind the casino, where I told a Bette Davis look-alike that Sonny said I was supposed to start work on Monday. She typed something on an employment application, then handed it to me along with a leaky ballpoint. Under "position" she put "Student Dealer." Under salary, she put "$14." Hopefully, that was $14 a day, and not $14 a week.

I filled out the application carefully, skipping over such unimportant questions as next of kin and current address. Hell, I didn't even know what my address was. Somewhere on Sixth Street was all I could remember.

"Fine," Bette Davis said, checking it over. "Now take this form to the Sheriff's Office and get a work card. You can't work in a casino without one. Carry it with you at all times."

Work card? No one ever told me anything about a work card. I'd been working at the Pioneer for nearly a week without a work card. That was something else I could tell the federal government about. The Pioneer was letting people work without work cards!

The Sheriff's Office was six long blocks down Fremont Street. Pushing on the glass door, I suddenly found myself in the midst of hundreds of people, most of them standing in two long lines that were barely moving. The room, which was about the size of a football field, reeked of stale sweat and other things I didn't even want to think about, and there were cops all over the place, their handguns sparkling in the afternoon sunlight.

I got into one of the lines, standing behind a tall Mexican with a scar on his face. He turned and looked at me. "Better git a nomber," he said. "You gotta git a nomber." Oh great. One line was for people with numbers; the other was for people waiting to get numbers.

It was dark outside by the time I got to the front of the line, and dark in Vegas means around nine o'clock at night. It was almost like living in Alaska, where the moon only comes out on a whim. I'd made it through the first line, then was told I couldn't get into the second line until I stood in a third line, this one for fingerprints and photographs.

The woman behind the counter stamped my form, then slid it over for me to sign. "You're all set," she said in a mechanical voice, handing me a plastic card with my mug shot on it. "That'll be $20."

I let my breath out slowly. No use getting mad at her, she didn't make the rules. "Do you take food stamps?" I asked her, digging out my wallet and saying goodbye to my last Andy Jackson.

The important thing was that I had a work card now, although it was officially called a "gaming" card. "LVMPD," it read, along with my name, my ID number, the card's expiration date, and "Mint Hotel" stamped on the other side. Every time I switched jobs, I got a new card. Twenty dollars. Every time I lost my card, I got a new card. Twenty dollars. Every two years when the card expired, I got a new card. Twenty dollars.

The LVMPD (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department) said it was to keep convicted felons out of the casinos, hence the fingerprints. Mine were probably on their way to the F.B.I. right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if Diane's apartment was surrounded by federal agents by the time I got home. Personally, I figured it was just another slick way to fatten up the county's slush fund. With every casino worker in the city coughing up $20 every two years, the town would never go broke. The people might, but the town wouldn't.

I hiked back down Fremont to Sixth Street and half an hour later I was back at Diane's place. The aroma of peanut butter toast was wafting through the air as I plunked down on the couch and started rubbing my aching feet. Ahh, home sweet home.

When I told her the news, Diane was happy and sad at the same time. Sad that I was leaving the Pioneer where she worked, happy that I was making more money. Three dollars times five was fifteen extra dollars in the household budget every week. That would buy almost seven jars of peanut butter.

Anyway, Diane had news of her own. It was so slow at the Pioneer that she was off tomorrow. That gave us 24 hours together, all cooped up in a one-room apartment with nothing to do but stand around and look at each other.

"Er, Diane, let's do something tomorrow. I'm starting to go stir crazy. We could take a little trip, maybe get out of this heat for a few hours."

Diane rubbed her eyes, then settled her binoculars back in place. "You ever been to Mount Charleston?"

"No, where is it?"

"It's about fifty miles from here, up in the mountains. It's really beautiful, and it's twenty degrees cooler than it is down here. I used to go up there all the time with my mother, when she was still alive."

Suddenly I felt guilty. Every time I was around her, all I talked about was me, and my past, and my dreams, and my this, and my that. Never once did I ask her about herself, about what she wanted out of life. I was thoughtless and inconsiderate, that's what I was, and I vowed to turn over a new leaf right now.

"Well, if we're going to the mountains, I'm gonna need to put some gas in the car. Could you loan me a few bucks, babe?"

To hell with it. I'd turn over a new leaf in the morning.

The next day was absolutely gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky. A cold spell must've blown in during the night, too. It was only 107 degrees. We loaded the car with blankets, an ice chest, a backgammon game, some suntan lotion, stopped at a Kentucky Fried for a box of chicken, got some ice and sodas at a 7-11, then gassed up the old Mustang and took off down the Tonopah Highway.

It was almost impossible to believe we were only a few miles from Vegas. Cactus and yucca plants on the side of the road were giving way to big furry pine trees, and damn if I didn't see a little patch of snow off in the distance. Coming from Texas, it was the first time I'd ever seen snow in my whole life. It was beautiful, and it made me mad that no one ever took me to see snow when I was a kid, and that I'd never lived in a place where there were four seasons in a year.

In Texas, there was spring, summer, and fall.

In Vegas, there was summer. Period.

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson