Sunday, March 07, 2010
On the grounds of the Flamingo Las Vegas casino, between the pool and one of the wedding chapels, there sits this small memorial to the hotel's founder, the notorious mobster Bugsy Siegel. The plaque has a colorful bit about the original hotel building, none of which survives today. There's a bit about Siegel getting whacked in LA, and the sign concludes by pointing out that the hotel's changed hands three times since then, just to be clear that, as glamorous as the Mafia was back in 1946, current management is Definitely Not The Mafia. Actually the Flamingo has changed hands one more time since the memorial went in, and it's now part of the vast Harrah's empire.
A lot of people see or hear about this marker and go, "Only in Las Vegas". Some people find it scandalous that the Mafia plays such a big part in the city's creation myths. But, c'mon, it's not like Vegas is the only place that likes a little naughtiness in its past. Lots of cities do that, and it doesn't have to be far in the rear view mirror before people start romanticizing it. Tampa has its pirates. LA has shady silent-movie types, ready to flee to Mexico at a moment's notice, half a step ahead of the law, or creditors. All of Australia has the whole convict thing. Silicon Valley has amusing tales of not-strictly-legal geekery, like Apple's pre-origins making phone phreaking gear. New Orleans has, well, everything. Even Portland gets notions about having once been a lusty seaport, where unsuspecting men were shanghaied and pressed into service on ships bound for the South Seas or around Cape Horn. We'll never know for sure how common that actually was. Even if it was just an occasional practice, in terms of sheer nastiness it would rank right up there with anything the Mafia ever did. But it makes for an entertaining myth, and tourists pay to hear fanciful tales about it, and it's not really hurting anyone at this point. So I can't really get worked up about it when Vegas does the same thing.
Years ago I had a boss of, well, Sicilian extraction, who once told me about an uncle of his back in Boston. He was everyone's favorite uncle, friendly, generous, always had gifts for all the kids, always dressed impeccably in expensive suits. The one rule was that you were to never, ever inquire about what he did for a living. The boss left the story at that, but I always got the impression he knew a lot more than he cared to say. So in a way, I once knew a guy who knew a guy, you know what I'm sayin'?