Hot summers in the Las Vegas desert were somewhat unique. Most women shopped while wearing their bikinis. Men always strutted around bare-chested in shorts and everyone else ran around half naked envying the younger generation. Everyone seemed to have a can of beer or glass of wine in their hand, even while they were driving in celebration of our special and wild lifestyle.
At the time, there were only a few shopping malls in Las Vegas. The neighborhood grocery stores had no dress codes. They were the center for neighborhood gossip and became meeting places for singles looking for someone to have dinner with or party with all night. But that started to change when the first mini mall, including a nationwide grocery store, was built off Paradise Road. The new sign on the front doors of the mall listed the new dress code for its shoppers. At that point, the openly loose daytime lifestyle in Vegas retreated to the darkness of night and flourished under the lights of the strip, making room for more conservative family style living under the heat of the sun.
New construction created an economic boom for builders like Sproul Homes and developer Ernest Becker. He purchased the original 250 acres that is now Charleston Heights. Becker initiated the development of the western half of the Las Vegas Valley.
Mortgage lender First Western Savings and Loan, bankers, title companies, insurance agencies and large building supply corporations were making quick fortunes. Since most homes were built with cinder blocks and cement, construction workers were at a premium. In other words, the place was booming. In just a few years, living in Las Vegas grew from some people’s fantasy to many people’s reality. But, like most economic bubbles, that was about to change.
By the early 1960s, the demand for new homes seemed to vanish in thin air. Greed and the quick path to prosperity led to economic disaster. Overbuilding of single-family homes, overpricing of vacant land and inflated interest on mortgage loans quickly paved the path of resistance for new buyers, forcing developers to sell their homes for “contracts of sale” with $100 down and a promise to pay later. What a deal!
Essentially, a contract of sale allows the buyer to make one payment to the bank that includes principal, interest and a down payment to be paid at a later date when there is more equity in the home. It certainly was a better option than paying rent.
I couldn’t resist. Since there was no qualifying for the contract, I purchased two houses in Paradise Gardens. After all, what did I have to lose? Within a year I lost everything, including my job.
Looking back on that New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, I was consumed with optimism and committed to my personal values. Happiness was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t have a care in the world. Everyone in my world was wild, healthy, energetic and ambitious. Life was good and nothing could or ever would change it.
Fifty-three New Year’s Eves later, I still have that same hope for the future. True, I don’t have the same good health or energy I had then, but I am still happy. I’m still consumed with optimism about the survival of our democracy. I’m still committed to my personal friends and very little has changed.
If you think about it, no matter how the external world around us changes, we are still basically the same. Maybe we are older, but hopefully a little wiser, more prudent, tolerant and patient.
Every New Year’s Eve I realize that losing everything in Las Vegas didn’t change me, only my opinion of things. The baptism by fire prepared me for what followed in my life. It taught me who I am.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.