My dad loved Las Vegas. We only took a few family vacations while I was growing up, but nearly every trip passed through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, with Las Vegas the first stop on the itinerary.
We left home around 2:00 am, climbing into the car beneath starry summer skies. My sister Sherrie and I slept in the back seat while Dad raced the sunrise across the California desert. I remember waking up once when we were driving past the great basin that contains Death Valley. The warm air blowing in the windows blew hotter for a few moments, like a sleeping dragon exhaled in the darkness.
My 1960s postcard of showgirls at the Stardust unleashes a flood of memories of a time when casinos stood open to the sidewalks, spilling cold air onto passersby. While dad played craps for a few hours, Sherrie and I urged Mom to try her luck on cheap slot machines where we could watch the action. Our favorites? The ones shaped like cowboys with spinning wheels in their chests.
I’m not sure why I have a postcard from the Stardust because the Golden Nugget was Dad’s favorite. As soon as we pulled into town, he took us there for breakfast in a restaurant decorated with western-themed murals. Years before casinos added gaming centers and amusement parks, dining was the only reason kids could walk through all that flashing, clinking excitement.
In today’s child-centric world of play zones and hand held electronics, can you imagine a less kid-oriented vacation than standing on the sidewalk while your mom fed pennies to a slot machine? But Dad never spent more than a few hours at the tables before we hit the road again, driving until we stopped for the night at some random motel that had a vacancy sign — and a pool if we were lucky.
The Stardust casino is long gone. The Golden Nugget has been revamped and remodeled. And nothing costs a penny anymore in Vegas. But I can look at my old postcard and conjure how it felt, waking up to the very first day of vacation as Dad parked the car in the Golden Nugget parking lot. Las Vegas, here we come!