In the spring of 1967, behind closed doors, my father broke the news to my mother. We were moving to Las Vegas, Nevada. I think she screamed. Then cried. I think I heard her say, "But people don't live there!" I remember her running to the phone to call Monsignor O'Dwyer, our parish priest, to see if cannon law would allow us to move to a place called Sin City.
Thankfully, Monsignor O'Dwyer gave us his blessings. By June of that year, our house in Van Nuys was sold and everything was packed up in a Bekins Moving Van. Friends threw my parents a going away party. A large cake said, "Las Vegas Or Bust." The next day the Ruggs arrived at LAX for the flight to our new home.
The next few years would be some of the coolest of my life. I was seven years old. I had never heard of Las Vegas. But Las Vegas and I would become good friends. Pals even.
What made our new adventure ultra cool was the fact that my dad worked for "The Man". Howard Hughes. The mysterious billionaire. How James Bond is that? That my dad was actually in charge of Insurance for Hughes' companies didn't dampen my spirits. I didn't know what insurance was. But it sounded James Bond. How cool is that? Howard Hughes. Mysterious Billionaire. Insurance. Whoa.
And the ultimate best part, the thing that made this whole move the best event to ever happen to any kid in the history of all kids, was that we were going to live at the Sands Hotel. LIVE THERE. IN A HOTEL! THE SANDS HOTEL. HOW JAMES BOND IS THAT?!!!!!!
The plan was for us to live at a suite at the Sands Hotel until my parents found a house to buy. I hoped it would take years. I would be lying if I said that living at the Sands wasn't the most wonderful experience of my childhood.
My sister and I got to know most everyone that worked there. I got a "job" being a towel boy at the pool. My job consisted of showing up whenever I felt like it and giving people towels. I gave Ed Sullivan a towel. I gave other celebrities towels but I remember Ed Sullivan the most because I had never seen anyone with a head that big. I'm serious. It was almost creepy.
The pool pro (yes, in the Vegas of 1967 they actually had famous former swimmers who were pool pros) would take me up to the top of the high dive board. He'd grab my feet and dangle me over the water. Then he'd let go. I must have done this 1000 times over the next three months.
I never picked one thing up in the hotel room. The maid would come in and do that. For dinner, I'd call room service and order a rare cheeseburger. I would wander around the halls of the hotel. I walked like I was the child of the man who did insurance for Howard Hughes. I was James Bond.
I had run of the hotel....except the one place I wanted to see the most: The Casino. I could pass through it quickly with my mom or dad. But I couldn't linger all by myself and be all James Bondy. The best I could do was stand at the edges and stare. Stuff was going on in there. Cool stuff. Howard Hughes stuff. Mysterious stuff.
Once, as I was guarding the perimeter, Sammy Davis Jr. walked by. I looked at him. I thought to myself, "That's the shortest person I've ever seen who's not a midget." He was iddy biddy. I remember throwing him a wave like, "Hey, Sammy. I'm not just any kid. I live here. My dad does secret insurance James Bond stuff for Howard Hughes." It's hard to convey all that in a wave, but I tried and I think he got it. He looked at me and said, "Hey, man." Wow. I had just been, "Hey Manned" by Sammy Davis Jr.
On hot summer nights, we'd all take a walk down the strip. In order to understand how cool that was you have to know that the Las Vegas of 1967 was nothing like the steroid, freaky megolopolis of today. Back then, there was desert. There was a road cutting through the desert. On that road were some of the most amazing sites a boy from Van Nuys could have possibly imagined.
The Desert Inn. The Silver Slipper. The Thunderbird. The Stardust. The Frontier. The Dunes. The Sands - my home. Just off the strip was my personal favorite, The Landmark. It was super cool. (Coincidentally, the Landmark was used in the James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever.)
Now, back then, it wasn't the size of the hotel that mattered. What mattered were the signs in front of each. What mattered were the billions of electronic lights that swerved and moved and pulsed. The Stardust was my personal favorite in terms of sheer voltage used.
I loved those walks. I loved those signs. I loved those lights. I loved those hotels.
And they are all gone. Each was exploded, blown up and pulverized to make way for the Las Vegas of today. My childhood has been vaporized.
But, for a time, those were the sweetest sites my eyes could behold.