Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

Where Do Las Vegans Go For Fun?
I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Clairton in the 1950s was a bucolic village of 20,000 hard working should, many of whom were immigrants - Italians, Slavs, Greeks - mostly Eastern Europeans. The lifeblood of the city was U.S. Steel's Clairton Works which produced the coke to make the steel. Individual taxes were low and the mills paid most of the taxes for Clairton High School, one of the few in the area to have a swimming pool. Clairton Park also had a large community pool, a fishing pond, tennis course, a baseball diamond, dozens of shelters for picnicking, and even lodge that could be reserved for large parties. It also had a memorial drive to honor the World War II veterans.

The place was pure Midwestern naiveté and conservative thinking. To his dying day my grandfather did not believe that a man had actually walked on the moon.When I moved to Las Vegas in the late 1960s Clairtonians were fascinated to know somebody who actually lived here. On each visit I would get the usual questions: Do people live there? Are there schools in Las Vegas? If so, what do they teach, dealing? Some actually believed me when I told them children were taught their numbers as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, jack, queen, king. But the most frequent question I'd get was, "Where do people from Las Vegas go on vacation?" To which I would answer, "Clairton."Times have changed in both towns. Clairton suffered the same cancer as so many rust belt villages that depended on their regular fiscal doses of steel-enriched plasma. The immigrants, most of whom arrived in the first decade of the 1900s could not believe the mills would ever go away. They did and Clairton's population shrunk to fewer than 10,000 souls who fell into one of two categories - either elderly who refused or were unable to leave their homes, or relative newcomers many of whom have, as they say in court cases, "no visible means of support."

Las Vegas has changed as well but its changes lie on the opposite end of the continuum. When I first arrived some 250,000 folks populated the community. As the immigrants began to arrive they were immigrants from other states for the most part rather than from other countries. The Las Vegas population boom mimicked that of Phoenix and Los Angeles. And although people cried, "Don't Californicate Las Vegas," they kept on coming and coming and coming. Today the population has topped the 2,000,000 mark. That has kept the economy booming. Las Vegas is to cities what Southwest Airlines is to the travel industry. So where do Las Vegas residents go for vacations? Anywhere they want. In my next post I'll tell you about "Leaving Las Vegas" and how that experience has changed.

Dr. Forgot

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