I had accepted a contract with the Clark County School District (Las Vegas) in spring 1968 and had been assigned to Rex Bell School, sight unseen. Rex Bell was a famous cowboy and actor married to the "it" girl, famous actress Clara Bow. Elementary schools were named after pioneers in Las Vegas. In July my then wife and I were still in Utah when we got a call and were told that a baby was available for adoption and we had to be at the lawyer's office in Tustin CA by 10 a.m. the following morning, then drive to the hospital to pick him up. That was July 8, as we drove to Orange County that day and picked him up the following day. Our son was 3 days old.
We returned to Utah to tie up loose ends then drove to Vegas in late August. We had two cars, no Air Conditioning in either and a month old baby, and by the time we hit Mesquite it was 110 in the shade - and there was no shade!. One of my ex's cousins was driving my Rambler convertible and I was driving my 65 Pontiac Bonneville pulling the biggest U-Haul they made. About 10 miles out of Mesquite on the upgrade, the Bonneville started to overheat. I pulled over and thankfully an RV with a young couple pulled up to see if he could help. It must have been 115 by then and the baby was fussy, not to mention the adults. So I sent my ex and her cousin on ahead and said I'd meet them in Vegas. I had already rented an apartment so all they had to do was get the key from the manager and at least they would have air conditioning. The apartment was located in a fairly nice area then behind what is now the Stratosphere - the area now called "Naked City" but then it was not too bad.
The RV driver had water and we got the Pontiac cooled down the radiator refilled and he followed me maybe another 20 miles up the long grade until the car overheated again. As we waited to get the engine cooled down again and add more water we chatted and he said that he was an actor and had just been in his first movie - a small part. They planned to visit her parents in Vegas then continue to LA for his next movie. They were such a nice couple. They followed me all the way to Vegas where the freeway ended at Lamb Blvd. (in those days) then they headed for her parents. I'd never heard of him as an actor until much later. They were Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Dern.
With a baby and only one income and my debt from my first year teaching (after which I vowed "Never Again" to be fiscally irresponsible and lived up to it), I decided I needed a second job. From my apartment balcony I could see Whittlesea Taxi so I walked over one day and asked if they needed any drivers. Manager Jim Bell, had recently moved to Vegas to work for his uncle Vic Whittlesea, hired me and I told him I was a teacher and was only interested in driving part time. He said that he did not hire part time employees and he did not care what I did on my own time, but if I wanted to work full time he would hire me. I agreed.
Of course I had very little seniority so I was assigned to be an "extra" driver, which meant you showed up at a certain time and were assigned a cab of a regular driver who had called in sick or did not show up for work. The show-up time was 2:30 for "extras." I took my students to recess at 2:15, then another teacher would watch them for me while I ran over to Whittlesea to pick up my shift, which would start anytime between 4:30 and 6. Then I'd race back to school, finish the day, freshen up, and drive cab for 8 or 9 hours.
Oh, when I first got to Vegas before my taxi adventures, I went to the 7-11 on Teddy Drive, around the corner from Rex Bell Elementary School, told the owner I taught at the school around the corner and asked if he needed help. He hired me on the spot and I worked the 7-11 from after school until I closed it up. But I was not making enough money there so I started driving cab. On my days off I still worked at the 7-11.
I had no clue where anything was in Vegas so I would go to the Sahara taxi stand on one end of the Strip and a fare would get in and tell me a hotel destination. Then I'd drive down the Strip until I saw the hotel and pull in, drop him off and head for the Tropicana or Hacienda (where now sits Mandalay Bay) at the other end of the Strip. Thus I only went one way, back and forth on the Strip until I learned where all the hotels were. Little by little I'd take an occasional fare off the Strip, usually a dealer or dancer who got off work and needed to go home. They would give me directions and that is how I eventually learned the town.
It was a different world than anything I'd experienced. I'd always loved the night and I loved driving cab in those days. I loved the hookers, the dealers, the high rollers, the drunks, and even the vice cops. In fact, the vice cops had a ruse. They would walk out of a hotel in plain clothes posing as a drunken tourist and ask the driver to fix them up with a hooker. If the driver did so he'd bust you. Many of the drivers ran hookers on the side - in fact, every call girl and hooker gave you her number and would pay a very handsome tip if you set her up. Once the driver took the vice cops to the hooker both would be arrested - her for prostitution and the driver for pandering.
An interesting phenomenon about Las Vegas at the time was the underground portion of the economy. Most who took part in that underground economy worked for tips. Cocktail and food waitresses, taxi drivers, valet car parkers, and many of the others who depended on tips for the majority of their income were given tips directly from customers. Dealers pooled their tips. That is, whenever any dealer was given a tip it was placed in an pot then divided among all dealers. That way, those on the night shift, where tips were often greater, and those on the day shift, split their tips equally. But not all tips received were kept by the recipients. The dealer would tip the boxman, the cocktail waitress tipped the bartender, the food waitress tipped the cooks, etc. Tips usually exceeded salaries and were an integral part of the economy. Of course, if tips were reported to the IRS at all, only the tiniest of portions were reported. That was the process until the IRS cracked down and demanded that hotel records be kept. Still, there was no better feeling than going to work broke and coming home with tip money in your pocket. For me, thips provided the everyday necessities of life and my paychecks went into the bank.
Casinos usually enticed local employees to cash their check by offering free meals and a few dollars of gambling scrip if one would cash one's paycheck there. Thus, every Wednesday (payday) I'd pick up my check andsometime during my shift stop at a casino, cash it, and play a few free hands of blackjack.
Other parts of the underground Las Vegas economy employed people who received no formal paychecks. Prostitution is banned in only two counties in Nevada; Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno). There is not stature in any of the other Nevada counties that addresses prostitution. Hence, the image is that is legal when in fact, it is winked at. Because of the clandestine nature of the business and payment, one would think there are no rules, but in point of fact, there are rules that are followed to the letter or “working girls” will find their business dry up.