Like most people, Zach had made many a mistake during his lifetime, be it still a young one after only nineteen years. But now his mistakes had somehow managed to speed from zero to sixty and back to a screeching halt, all during one life-changing evening. Nowhere to go but up, as the old saying goes. But this time it was up over the junkyard’s security fence and passed an angry German Shepard.
The evening had begun full with hints of wonderful possibilities.
Dawn was a fellow bus-person in the restaurant at the casino where Zach had recently started working. Being overwhelmed by the bright lights of Las Vegas had him withdrawn into quiet mode, only speaking after being spoken to. But Dawn had a different effect on Zach. Not only did she speak to him, but she listened to him as well.
The seasoned wait staff of the restaurant treated the busboys (and girls) as an inferior species. Bussers were there to quickly turn tables so that the wait staff could pull-in bigger piles of cash, in a world where a single dollar-bill had lost its value. The majority of the bus staff was made-up of minority groups. The Latinos, the Orientals, the Blacks, each hung with their own kind, talked almost exclusively amongst each other, and gave off an air of dislike for the typical White teenager.
That was Zach and Dawn’s first common thread.
The workers in the food service industry of Nevada are all members of an organized union. Zach had applied and had been hired on a temporary basis, as Caesars beefed up their manpower before a major championship boxing match, that was being held in a temporary stadium built on the casino’s massive parking lot.
A youthful urge to see the ‘real world’ had brought him here to live in Sin City. His Aunt and Uncle, longtime residents of Vegas, had offered him free room and board, an introduction to the big city life, even restricted use of the family’s CJ-7 Jeep. All he had to do was reap the benefits. Frustrated at the progress of his ongoing college education, he was taking an extended break from school to make some much-needed money.
Zach was born and raised in a heavily wooded area of the Appalachian Mountains. Good work ethics were a common part of life, but money was scarce. Skipping ice cream for a week during high school would save enough coinage for a gallon or two of gasoline and take him cruising around town on the weekends.
And now he found himself in a land where the dollar bill meant so little. The official onset of Fight Week had packed the casino with high rollers and celebrities, taking the craziness of Vegas to a whole new level. Some minimum single bets on games of chance like Baccarat or Roulette were set casino-wide at $15,000 or more, greater than the average annual salaries of his parents at that time.
The daily headcount of gamblers in the casino was greater than the entire population of his hometown.
The show of cash around the casino floor was an overwhelming stimulus on a small-town boy. There were famous entertainers milling about, looking for attention and special treatment. An occasional large posse of large men would rumble through the lounge, over-obviously shielding boxing greats like Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman from their swarms of fans. The constant flow of ‘normal’ dining guests would be splattered by the famous, with popular sportscasters and regular Vegas headliners such as Neil Sedaka and Paul Anka. A young Brooke Shields and 10 of her friends stopped in one morning for a late breakfast.
Dawn’s sixteen-year-old brother had just received his Driver’s License on the Tuesday of Fight Week. He did what most any teenager would’ve done after getting their ticket to freedom. Grab a couple of non-driving friends and do some serious road-tripping around Clark County. Normal activity, up until the point that they rear-ended a $100,000 Excalibur stopped at a red light. The damage to that rear bumper cost more than the total value of the brother’s used car. Of all the cars, in all of Las Vegas…
The private talks between Dawn and Zach became more open, more personal as the days of working together rolled along. She was a petite young woman, with beautiful eyes highlighting a pure, innocent face framed in long dark brown hair. She looked the part of what she really was, an intelligent, personable young college freshman. But there was a darker side revealed during intimate talks that spurred an exciting, unexpected story of the girl outside of the classroom. There were nightclubs and wild parties and talk of illegal drugs and illegal activities.
During the hours leading up to the Big Fight, as the preliminary fights were taking place, the gaming areas began to empty of people as everyone headed out into the dark to watch the main event. Restaurant operations came to a halt. Dawn appeared from the service corridor with a big smile and two coffee cups. Her friend at the service bar had fixed her two very-coffee-looking Jack Daniels and Coke.
“Here silly, mum’s the word” as she handed a drink to Zach. “Come on! Let’s go watch the fight!”, leading him by the hand on the way to the elevators.
Seven floors up, and down a long hallway, was the door to a laundry room. In near darkness, with only the sound of dryers tumbling linens, they sipped their drinks and peered out the room’s one small window and watched the spectacle unfolding in the near distance.
From their vantage point, it appeared to be a tiny Rock’em Sock’em Robot game surrounded by thousands of tiny people, but they were witnessing the larger than life Muhammad Ali battling Larry Holmes.
Zach joined Dawn and her friends more than once for an evening of barhopping. Neither of the two was of legal drinking age, so they barhopped more often than they had wanted, being kicked out of every third or fourth establishment.
At Circus-Circus one evening, they ran into a guy who Dawn seemed to know. It didn’t appear to Zach to be a real buddy-buddy relationship. He was older and not very personable, unlike Dawn’s other friends. And then Zach noticed a small package being passed between the two of them.
As they left the bar that evening, Dawn confessed that she was doing this guy a favor by selling a stash of assorted pills, mostly Quaaludes, in exchange for a cut of the profits and a sampling for herself. Two months beforehand, Zach had received a 99% score on a college chemistry exam. Now he stood in the shadows of the Vegas Strip, offering illegal drugs to prostitutes, that evening’s targeted customer base.
Working a mindless job day after day, then spending his free hours doing nothing constructive, had the pointless monotony of his daily life beginning to wear on Zach’s emotions. With his Aunt and Uncle away at work, he spent hours alone, skinny-dipping in the pool outback, isolated from the world by the tall privacy fences, unseen by neighbors, their voices not ten-feet away. Phone calls to the house usually asked for him by his proper surname, which meant that it was work calling, not a friend.
A day-off from work, spent in his Uncle’s liquor cabinet, developed into a bad case of “Long Distance Fever”, the $30 phone call well-worth the chance to speak with his friend Ray back on the East coast. Everything worthy of gossip was discussed, all their friends were doing well. Ray rambled on and on about a huge party planned for that following weekend. After hanging up the phone, Zach was aware of everything, except that he was homesick.
The tumbleweeds of the Nevada desert are blown about by the invisible force of the winds. Another boring night away from work began with Zach meeting Dawn for cocktails at a bar over in Henderson. She needed to make a quick stop at a nearby apartment complex to pick up a new supply of pills and then it was off into town for an evening of fun.
He enjoyed her company, secretly hoped for something more, and took advantage of any opportunity to be by her side.
They knocked on door #211, a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of an old building in the old part of town. The electricity to the apartment had been cut-off for whatever reason. There was no furniture in the living room nor appliances in the small kitchen. The only source of light came through the dirty blinds from the parking lot’s pole lights. The shadows of four adults, the glow of two lit cigarettes, and uncomfortable chit-chat. A liquor bottle was passed around as business was nervously conducted.
After a sampling of product and four or five bar tabs later, the Jeep navigated itself towards home. Then on a boulevard one block from the Vegas strip, the Jeep detoured into a forty-foot aluminum light pole, leaving everyone in the dark.
Zach found himself lost and alone, walking the sidewalks of streets he had never walked before. As the scrambled pieces of his mind slowly fit back together, panic and confusion and fear fueled his steps. Destiny walked him by the local precinct building of the LVPD. Instead of running, he went inside to find the answers to the missing pieces. He could have been walking himself into trouble, but it just didn’t matter at this point.
The ‘good-old-boy-network’ was apparently alive and well in Las Vegas. Officers responding to the accident recognized the owner’s name on the Jeep’s registration. Zach’s Uncle was a longtime, high-ranking security official, serving with several local casinos over the years. He knew people, who knew people, who knew people. Zach had been released to fend for himself on the streets of the city. The Jeep had been impounded at a nearby junkyard. But Zach’s biggest fear?
“What happened to Dawn? Where is she? Is she all right?”
An ambulance had taken Dawn to the hospital for observation. She had suffered three broken ribs and multiple cuts and bruises, but would otherwise be perfectly fine. And possibly fined for possession.
An off-duty officer gave Zach a ride back to the house. He was met at the door by his worried Aunt and Uncle, who were already aware of Zach’s destructive evening. There were serious looks of concern, sincere words of relief, and a one enormous “We’ll talk about this in the morning” as the bedroom doors closed shut.
There was no sleep that night. Zach’s thoughts swirled with emotion, his heart raced as he paced around and around the room. The total uncertainty of what had actually happened. The guilt and embarrassment of destroying the family vehicle. The costs. The possible fines. Dread had flooded his world.
At 3 AM, Zach lost the arguments in his mind. He stuffed some clothes into a backpack and headed out the front door. He walked the mile and a half to the 7-11 on the way to town. There he used the payphone to call a taxi. He had some cash in his pocket, but his checkbook and wallet were locked in the Jeep’s glove compartment, safely secured in a junkyard.
The German Shepard turned out to be all bark, no bite. The bigger challenge was the eight-foot metal fence topped with barbed wire. Trespassing in and out in under 5 minutes, personal belongs in hand, Zach hailed another cab and headed to McCarran International Airport, to run away from his problems, towards his friends.
The flight back East was uneventful, with the exception of a small argument with a stewardess just before touchdown.
“Sir! Please take your seat, we’re landing” as he finished a gin and tonic before staggering off to the bathroom. There was no stopping him, he flushed just as the wheels hit the runway.
Zach convinced an airport taxi driver, with a hundred-dollar bill, to take him as far as the truck stop in his home county. At the truck stop, he made another payphone call, twelve hours after the first one in Nevada. He called the only number that he could remember, the isolated farmhouse, the site of the big party that Ray had mentioned during their phone call just the week before.
“Ray? Dude, I’m here!”
“I’m at the truck stop. I need a ride”
Zach spent the next three days in the comfort of friends, a wall of safety found in the glasses of liquor and cans of beer. There were fat lines of wet crystal meth on the living room table, a cloud of pot smoke in the air. A live band played rock music on the front porch until late Saturday night. Barefoot girls danced in the grass.
For 72 hours, Zack’s loved ones knew not where he was. His demons knew all too well. It had taken 5 days to destroy his relationships with family members and another 15 painful, difficult years to rebuild those bonds.