Leaving Las Vegas (Part Two)

When my father was my age, I was 11-years old. He was the medical director at a clinic in Las Vegas, owned a mortgage and was married with four kids. He had been done with medical school for 13-years and was 17-years removed from when he first started college at the University of California, Berkeley.

He is slender with thinning hair with a great mustache. My father has worn a mustache his entire life and it’s one of the greats—less ominous than Stalin’s and less creepy than Burt Reynolds’. Bushy, it’s the kind of mustache that begs to be pulled while in deep thought and my father makes Rodin’s Thinker look like a simpleton while tugging away at it. He had his work attire of a suit and tie while tending to the business of health care but rushes home to change into his after work uniform of jeans and dress shirt. My father has good fashion and one that should be emulated. I try to.

By all accounts, my father is a good man. He’s smart, very funny and a good dining companion. He’s reserved but I think most good doctors are. He trained as an internist and specialized in rheumatoid arthritis. He’s the fellow old folks would seek to remove the pain from their joints. He is the first person I ever remembered who ran recreationally and has completed more marathons than anyone I have ever met.

In addition, he plays a fantastic stride piano. Think Fats Waller meets Irving Berlin. He’s not in their league but he plays a lot better than most of my co-workers. While living with him, the sound of my father’s piano being hammered away at night while waiting for dinner was a soothing reminder that all was well with the family. Drinking his Miller Lite and playing away in front of his upright piano is the memory I usually start with when reminiscing with friends about my father.

He votes Democrat and instilled in us at a very early age that we will too. One of my oldest memories was my father telling me that if Jimmy Carter wins re-election, he was going to drive the whale of a Buick he owned to work on top of the roof. I was six and he rode inside of the cab.

In going through family photos, it’s always startling to look at your parents when they are the same age as you. They look vibrant and young. The prints are worn and weathered but my parents aren’t. They look like people that I would hang out with while drinking a beer and waiting for the BBQ to finish. The fashion is obviously dated and there are a lot more people smoking in the pictures but there is something mystical in looking at your folks enjoying their 20s and 30s. You would hope that in the years to come, one’s children would look whimsically upon the same pictures and have the same nostalgia. For so long, you think that your folks are a hundred years older than you but in reality, they’re just 27. To place it into context, I remember 27-years ago.

We had just moved to Las Vegas in 1983. My father had retired from the US Army as a major. He had been stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC with us living in Silver Springs, Maryland. He might have been born in Detroit, Michigan but my father is a Californian. He grew up in Vallejo and from my calculus, where you graduate from high school is where you’re from. Leaving the service, he explored various options including moving to Montana but settled the family in Concord, California.

We lasted a year.

I spent my 3rd grade in Concord wondering why in the Hell did we ever leave Maryland. I might have only been 7 but I knew I had a pretty good thing going on back East. We lived in a planned community on the East Bay of San Francisco and I think the entire family was miserable. I spent the majority of my time in school avoiding fist-fights and time in detention for refusing to do my homework. I was friendless minus my sister and the house smelt like carpet glue. With the exception of seeing a UFO with my brother, Mike, and running into a sliding glass door, our time in Concord was mostly forgetful.

The bill of sale that my parent’s presented to us for moving to Las Vegas was that the school was close to our house, there was a swimming pool and we could get a dog. We didn’t get the dog but the swimming pool was nice. They had bought a house in a cul-de-sac on the west side of town approximately 3-miles away from the Las Vegas Strip. In the early 1980s of Las Vegas, we lived in the boondocks. Today, that house is 17-miles from the edge of town and one of the oldest homes in the Vegas Valley. We moved in December and the weather wasn’t atrocious yet. It was cool and the city had a distinct yellow-hue to it. Everything was dusty and the garden was dead but the house was big, I had my own room and it felt new.

I can’t put a fine enough point on this memory. Everything was new. The house might have been 20-years old but it was new and the adventure of leaving Maryland and departing Concord felt over. Children thrive on stability and I knew, for whatever reason, that we were going to be there for a very long time. It was a large rambler with four bedrooms, 2 ½ bathrooms and a big backyard. I had my own room and thought that maybe things were going to work out in the end.

Behind the bar, I hear people’s genesis stories all of the time. I ask them what they do for a living, what sports teams they like and most importantly, where are they from. I’ve met people from every state in the Union and more internationals than I could remember. Predictably, whenever anyone mentions that they are from Las Vegas, my ears perk up. I might have moved to Las Vegas when I was 9-years old but I am from the Silver State. It’s not the experience of going from 4th to 12th grade that gives me my Las Vegas cred but rather the seven miserable summers I spent in that God forsaken city that gives me my Vegas credentials.

Spending one’s adolescence in undeveloped lots kicking rocks, riding bikes and trying to capture lizards is the opposite of anything I read by Mark Twain. The brutal heat, boredom and lack of anything to do defines the childhood of anyone who grew up in Las Vegas. The mathematics that made me rarely miss school short of violent illness was that there was absolutely nothing to do in Las Vegas. School was preferable to being on one’s own for the simple reason that at least there were other kids to share in the discomfort of growing up in Southern Nevada.

Did other kids have it worse than us? Probably but I’d be hard-pressed to find other people who grew up with a less idyllic childhood than the average Las Vegan. It’s not the heat, dust, wind or lack of things to do under the age of 21 that makes Las Vegas a challenging place to grow up but rather the fact that you are stuck in the middle of the desert.

To be clear, I’ve never blamed my parents for moving us to Las Vegas. We had to live somewhere and my father needed to make a living somehow. Because of this, we wanted for very, very little. They were generous and gracious and did the best they could to provide for us. Our house was comfortable with the exception of the summer where the air conditioner went out and the family slept outside for a month. After a couple of years in Nevada, I just assumed that everybody lived a similar life to us. That’s how one gets conditioned and in the end, I honestly believe it toughens one.

I went to school at Doris Hancock Elementary for two years. After Hancock, I was bussed to Kermit T. Booker Sixth Grade Center in North Las Vegas. In the era of desegregation, the school board in Las Vegas developed a school in the worst part of Southern Nevada to ship every 12-year old and I was one of the unlucky masses. Booker was adjacent to Gherkin Park and was filled to the brim with gangbangers. So bad was the drug violence in this community that on the first day of school, there was a shootout across the street from the school that resulted in four people’s deaths. I wish I was kidding.

After the most duck-and-cover year of my life, I ended up at Frank F. Garside Junior High and spent two years playing Dungeons and Dragons. I wish I could say that I was the model student but I was too focused on building model airplanes and rolling 8-sided dice. If Seattle was good for the grunge musicians, Vegas was good for role-playing games. Hidden away in air-conditioned apartments of friends of mine, I built the best avatars chubby kids could construct and dealt with the social stigmatisms that role-playing games could provide.

To finish the narrative, I finished my time at Bonanza High. For four years, I did my due diligence and did my best to get through my time as a Bonanza Bengal. I detested high school. Not because of the anguist of being a late teen at school but rather that Bonanza was the last of the mid-70s school and they jammed packed our campus with five other high schools. I graduated in 1992 but in 1993, they opened up five other schools that eliminated the overpopulation on Bonanza. Needless to say, high school was challenging.

I am proud to call myself a Nevadan. I might have only spent 8-years in Las Vegas before I left for college in Reno but the first days at UNR made me tell anyone who would listen that I was from Las Vegas. Why not? College is a game changer in a way different from anything else. That freshman year at Nevada instated my love of my state in a way that has never been questioned or challenged. I was a part of a rich tradition of Nevadans that started with Kit Carson cruised through Pat McCarran and ended with  Wayne Newton. Ask any Virginian their thoughts on George Washington and Robert Lee and you’ll hear a similar story.

In college, I played rugby, studied political science and most notably, wrote a human interest column for the student newspaper, The Sagebrush. I lived on campus, met friends and tried desperately to get laid. Having not gotten any love from the coeds on campus, I moved off campus my third year across the street from Lawlor Event Center proceeded to live a slightly less celibate lifestyle. Not much.

I think there is a point in one’s life where you surrender to the surroundings of your environment and make peace with the fact that this is the life you have made for yourself. I have been fortunate that this internal monologue has constantly been reworked and redefined anytime I have decided to. Life is a series of chapters and I have always been pleasantly pleased with each of the novel headings of my life. The four and a half years at UNR were the best years of my life but they certainly weren’t the end of amazing and incredible years. They just happened to be the best chapter that I have constructed for myself.

My father at 38 drove a Chrysler LeBaron. I drive a 1998 Toyota Tacoma. He dressed in a shirt and tie and I wear anything that is all black. He fed five people not including himself and I take care of my long-term girlfriend and two dogs. I have no idea of his level of debt but I am drowning in it. I made a series of horrible business decisions regarding opening a bar in Salt Lake City but I powered through it. I have never asked my father about his but I guarantee he did the same. He’s a strong man. Richard Raskin isn’t afraid of making tough decisions. Neither am I.

This is the backstory. Honest, blunt and true. I am a Californian by birth, a Nevadan by history and an Utahn by choice. I never thought 12-years ago that I would be in the basement of a Sugarhouse basement explaining my backstory and beating the Hell out of the backspace key erasing paragraphs of untrue portions of my background. We have no control of our youth and in the end, the best situation is the one that we recognize. I am fortunate because I have surrounded myself with people who appreciate my past and embrace my future.

I bring up my father at age 38 to note the differences. My father was set in his career and bigger than the responsibilities than the pressures that faced him. I am a cheap, petty man who wastes too much time defending angles of life that I believe in. Who is richer? Clearly, my father but Jesus, what would he trade to be in my position?

I yelled violently at somebody who cut me off today and I can’t believe my father would have done the same thing at age 39. He’s too cool of a man to do that. He might have 27-years ago but I don’t think he would have. I’m looser and less constrained by the weight of family to do that. Nonetheless, I am my father’s son.

Richard Raskin made the decisions to move his family because he thought it was the right decision. Was it? I think history will be very kind to him. My Pa is a model for my life even though I have never said or mention it to him. I assume he knows it and if he doesn’t, he hasn’t been paying attention.

I returned from my trip with Steve Keyser filled with questions. I was presented with an endless series of opportunities moving from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City and I threw caution into the wind. I packed up and left for the Beehive State. Right or wrong, the decision was made in the fashion of my father. I knew that whatever I did I did for those that I care. In my case, leaving Las Vegas was to escape the horror that I built for myself. In reality, I made my decision because I was trying to follow in spirit what my father did.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his podcast, SLC PubCast. Be patient. This is part two of a four part series.

2 thoughts on “Leaving Las Vegas (Part Two)

  1. love your writing and the image it presented of your dad. also during the many moving-relocations of my childhood, concord was indeed one of the many pitstops our family made–odd isn’t it? well done you!

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