The interview barely lasted a half-hour before Charlie Zobell, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s city editor, offered me the job covering the night police beat.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “I am either the greatest thing since sliced bread or they are desperate to find someone, anyone to take this job.”
When I walked into the newsroom a couple of weeks later, I knew the answer. “So you’re the sucker they finally found,” one of my new colleagues snickered.
That was 29 years ago today.
I arrived as a callow 25-year-old, an Eastern elitist fresh out of grad school, thinking – no, knowing – I would be in this godforsaken backwards state for two years, tops.
Nevada was a way station on my inevitable career path back across the Mississippi, surely for my eventual dream job at my idolized and idealized New York Times. Covering the night police beat in Las Vegas was, I had been advised by my career guide, the legendary Frank McCulloch, a perfect way to cut my teeth in journalism. But I’d be leaving Las Vegas soon enough.
Nearly three decades later, having less hair on top and more on my face, having morphed from a print forever guy to a TV host and having left the RJ for the dreaded Sun and then departed from Greenspunworld, too, I have no regrets.
And this city I derided as depressingly soulless, this state I mocked as literally and metaphorically barren, for them I have a different name now: home.
I know what you are thinking: Who cares about a 29th anniversary?
I suppose my nostalgia is especially acute because I am embarking on my 30th year in a state I couldn’t imagine living in while I was growing up in Buffalo and going to school in Ithaca and Ann Arbor. And I found myself marveling today at just what a Nevada partisan I have become over the years, wincing at foreigners (and Steve Wynn) who mispronounce the state’s name (it’s not Ne-vah-duh!).
For many of us who live in this wonderfully contradictory place, with its very urbanized population and wide rural expanse, with its glittering houses of sin and temples for latter day saints, with its seedy strip malls and incomparable Lake Tahoe, there is no place like home. And it’s not just that I love Nevada politics, which I do with an ardor that only has deepened through the decades. It’s more than that. This is still a place with so much potential, something I did not see when I moved here.
I have told people for years that I still trek to Carson City every other year, full of hope for a process in a building that should be festooned with a banner bearing Dante’s admonition. I still believe that there is the possibility of greatness, even there, or across the courtyard in the Capitol.
1. Because I am a hopeless romantic.
2. Because I am a hopeless Nevadan.
Or is there a difference?
I have met so many people through the years with elected titles and without, who truly want to make the state better, who want to wean Nevada from its dependence on the Las Vegas Strip, who want to create a thriving and vibrant education system. You can get depressed about the small ball so often played here by political and community figures, the petty squabbles over money and power.
But Nevada is not as phony or empty as a faux New York or Venice or Paris, populated not by hollow facsimiles of real people who inhabit real places. People here don’t live in the hotels – yes, I thought that, too, when I came for that interview. Life doesn’t revolve around the casinos, even if the economy and politicians are too dependent on them.
Nevada is a place where anyone can succeed – hello! – and like every other place in America, where hard work is rewarded, where incredibly talented people do amazing things. Las Vegas is a microcosm of America – a melting pot of ethnicities, a melange of cultures. It is at once static and protean, with the power structure seemingly ossified but with the possibility of change palpable.
It also is an incomparable place to be a journalist, covering not just politics but crime, courts, anything. The place fairly teems with stories, many of them untold because of resources.
I came here to be an ink-stained wretch, but I have been constantly surprised in my life here, discovering the wonders of fatherhood, of television journalism, yes even of…Reno! I am sure there is a sameness to living in certain places, where an ennui sets in that is stultifying, where people simply exist.
I have not felt that for one moment of my life in Nevada. And when people ask me where I am from, I don’t whisper it as might have 29 years ago. I say it loudly and proudly and with the correct pronunciation: Home means Nevada to me.