Bought one and built one:
Once I was settled in Las Vegas my friend Momir Baich, the tavern owner from Pocatello, put his tavern in Idaho up for sale. The place sold and he and Ann packed up their two children and headed for Las Vegas. I helped them find an apartment near the Sahara Hotel, close to where I'd lived when I first moved to Las Vegas. Ann was ecstatic at being a stay-at-home (or more accurately stay-at-apartment) mom. Mo, however, was frustrated at not being able to immediately find work. I suggested he try driving Taxi as I was doing. By this time Jim Bell, nephew of Vic Whittlesea and manager of the taxi company and I had become friends. I was certain he would hire Mo. But Mo was reluctant. He had never driven taxi (neither had I as I pointed out to him) and did not think he would like it. But when I reassured him that it would just be until he got something permanent, and it would pay the rent, and driving taxi in Vegas was a lark since one needed to only learn one street – the Strip – he reluctantly agreed to try it – just for a short time.
Mo soon fell in love with life as a taxi driver. He used his talent as an excellent conversationalist (a talent that served him well as a bartender) to increase his tips, and he discovered, as had I, that one could live on day-to-day tips and save his weekly paychecks for the big expenses. He eventually got a regular shift and drove cab until the day he died – literally. Mo had been living in Vegas and driving taxi for years. His children had grown and married and Ann continued her life not having to work outside the home. Mo’s routine was to work the Strip for the first half of his shift, then drive to the downtown area where he would park the taxi in the shade of the Greyhound Bus Depot and have lunch at the Union Plaza (a hotel that had been built on the site of the old Union Railroad Station). After lunch he would rest in his cab for a while, perhaps taking a nap, before completing his shift. One day after lunch he returned to his cab, closed his eyes, and never awoke. I am certain Mo died a happy man.
Whittlesea Taxi was owned by Vic Whittlesea, an entrepreneur and longtime Nevada resident. He lived in Las Vegas and owned taxi fleets in Las Vegas, Reno, and Sacramento as well as rental properties, apartments and a host of other revenue-generating activities. In the mid 1960s Vic, a single man with no children, invited his nephew to come to Las Vegas and learn the business. Jim Bell had grown up in Montana and with an eye toward working in his uncle’s business, attended Business College for a couple of years in Chicago. Jim married his high school sweetheart, Carol and moved to Las Vegas to work for Uncle Vic.
Vic had come up the hard way and while he was willing to eventually turn the business over to his nephew a little at a time, he was insistent that Jim learn from the ground up. That meant starting by working in the garage and cleaning the lavatories. He put Jim on a meager salary with a weekly draw but picked up all his living expenses. This suited Jim fine, but by this time he and Carol were starting a family and the weekly draw was barely enough for the incidentals that were needed around the house. As their children and Jim’s career grew Carol pressed Jim to ask his uncle for a raise, insisting that as a manager he should be earning more than he did as a trainee. But Jim’s response would always be, “Some day the business will be mine. I can’t pester him for more money. You’ll just have to make do.”
I arrived in Las Vegas in August 1968 and had rented an apartment on Fairfield Street. It was one of many apartment complexes where the often transient Las Vegas workers lived. From my balcony I was able to see the time and temperature sign atop the Sahara Hotel. It was a safe, clean, working class neighborhood, but has since deteriorated. Crime has increased dramatically and by the 1980s the area began to be referred to as “Naked City.”
The apartment was conveniently located close to both my school and the Strip. Rex Bell Elementary School had been named for movie cowboy Rex Bell who had been married to Clara Bow, the sexy siren movie star of the Depression era. Their marriage had produced Rex Bell, Jr. who later became a good friend and the local District Attorney.
Around the corner from the school was a 7-11. Since I was still in debt as the result of my year as a bachelor, I walked into the 7-11 and asked to speak to the owner. His name was Ed Camilli and he had recently retired from a job in Erie, PA and moved to Las Vegas, purchased the 7-11, and was starting a second career as a store owner. When I told him that I taught at the school around the corner and was interested in a part time job, he hugged me and said I was hired on the spot. The long hours in the store were becoming a strain on Ed and his wife. So after teaching I would work the 7-11 until I closed it at 10. I worked there three days per week which gave Ed and his wife enough of a break to make them happy.
The apartment was close enough for me to come home for lunch. Sherma did not work but tended our adopted little son so we had lunch together regularly. One day at lunch she said, “Guess what, Daddy?” That was how she announced her pregnancy. After three years on non-conception and the adoption of Little AR, we were going to have a baby the old fashioned way. My two children would be described as, “I bought one and built one.” Crystal Michelle was born nine months and two weeks after the birth of her brother Andrew Richard, Jr.
Sherma had been anemic from time to time but fortunately she remained healthy during the pregnancy. The school district provided good insurance coverage and my out of pocket expensed were only $500 for the birth, which I paid the hospital in advance. The pregnancy was not a difficult one but her labor went on for close to 12 hours. I made the mistake of calling her mother and telling her that we were headed for the hospital. The mistake was that if gave her time to race to the airport in Salt Lake City, fly to Vegas, and catch a taxi to the hospital.
Sherma had been in considerable pain and discomfort during labor and the doctors had just gotten her calmed. The possibility of Caesarian was not discussed. Just as she was getting calm, Dorthea burst into the room screaming, “Oh, my baby, my baby, you are in such bad condition!” That woman could disrupt a peace conference. She was far and away the most manipulating, disagreeable, dare I say, evil, person I’d ever known. The doctors attempted to usher her into the next room but she put up a protest, accusing them of torturing her baby girl. Finally, they threatened to have her removed by Security if she didn’t calm down. She then shut up and shortly thereafter Sherma delivered Crystal.
After the delivery, when Sherma was in recovery Dorthea asked what we planned to name the baby. I told her that I liked the name Crystal and Sherma liked Michelle so we decided to name her Crystal Michelle. She wrinkled up her face and said, “That's too bad. I thought you might name her after me. You could still do that, you know.” I said nothing although my impulse for a snappy comeback burned in my mouth. Mother-in-law had been a pain since the marriage began and would continue to be so until the marriage ended, which no doubt pleased her.