THE SILVER NUGGET WAS ACTUALLY IN NORTH LAS VEGAS. IT WAS A SMALL DIVE THAT CATERED TO LOCALS AND ECONOMY-MINDED DAY TRIPPERS.
Ciro drove to Slots-A-Fun first. He suggested that I check-in with them...I refused. We drove the length of strip. Along the way, he gave me an estimate on how much the craps dealer made in each place. Caesar's Palace and the MGM were tied at the top...alone at the bottom was Slots-A-Fun.
At Tropicana Avenue, we got on the freeway and returned downtown. Back in the low-rent district, we cruised Fremont Street. Again Ciro told me how much tip income was generated at each casino. He put Binion's Horseshoe at the top, (less than half of Caesar's) and the Nevada Club neck and neck with the Lady Luck at the bottom of the dung heap. Only this time, he added the extra dimension of telling me the who's who of our schoolmates and where they were working.
A few blocks up, Ciro pointed out John Heaverlo's casino, (the El Cortez). He said, "Hal Mair works there too. They average twenty-two dollars a day." At the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard, we turned left. In a few streets, we crossed Bonanza Avenue and entered the next town, North Las Vegas.
The Silver Nugget was a clean and modern casino with a big empty parking lot. Like walking into a cathedral, you could hear a pin drop on the spacious, low-limit casino floor. We did a superficial loop of the property and saw few customers. Ciro encouraged me to take my first shot on their craps table. After I timidly refused, he led me to their southwestern-themed, Wagon Wheel Cafe.
The large restaurant was bright, cheery and completely empty. We waited at the sign that read; PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED. A young, stuttering, redhead with a Kayla, TRAINEE name tag greeted us. When she dropped the lamented menus, a much older hostess named Dixie bolted out of the kitchen.
Dixie's deeply wrinkled face and liver-spotted arms coupled with the most unnaturally dyed blond beehive hairdo made her look like she was a hundred. In a coarse southern accent that suggested that she gargled with lye, Dixie reamed-out Kayla for her lack of eye-contact with us and the angle of her elbow while handling the menus.
Teary-eyed Kayla was humiliated and stormed away. So aloof Dixie escorted us to a table. Ciro asked her to wait as he emptied his pants pockets onto the table. He placed down John Heaverlo's car keys, a box of Marlboros and a book of matches from the Dunes.
Dixie said in a huff, "Well..." Ciro said, "Wait...," as he put his apartment keys, glasses case and wallet down. He looked puzzled until he said, "Oh, I have them here." That's when he took the two coupons out of his shirt pocket and said, "We should show you these first, right?" Dixie looked at him with contempt and rasped, "What else will you gentlemen be having?" Ciro pushed his menu an inch closer to her and said, "That's it."
When she was gone I said, "Boy, what a sourpuss, she was disgusted with us." Ciro said, "Yeah, the Wicked Bitch of the West...I could tell she really hated you...be careful, she might spit in your chili." I gave him an uneven smile and said, "She wouldn't...?"
We watched from thirty feet away as the menus slipped out of Kayla's grip as she greeted three women. Luckily, this time she managed to grab them before they hit the floor. She looked over her shoulder but Dixie was nowhere to be found. Seconds later, Kayla's serious, freckled face smiled when Ciro gave her the thumbs-up sign as she lead her party by us.
A minute later, sobbing Kayla came out of the kitchen with our order. She set down two Silver Nugget, Wagon Wheel Cafe napkins with caricatures of chili peppers in sombreros. Then without spilling a drop, she cautiously put our coffee cups filled with chili on top.
IN SMALLER PRINT THE NAPKINS READ: WASH DOWN RAIMUNDO AND EDDIE'S DELICIOUS, EXTRA HOT CHILI SPECIALTIES WITH AN ICE COLD BEER.
Kayla's voice quivered as she said, "W-w-will there be anything else?" Ciro said, "Are you okay?" She said, "I-I'm supposed to be a hostess but my boss is so mean that the waitress just quit. I don't know what I'm doing and now Eddie the cook saw her go into Mr. Atkinson's office. She's screaming about firing me too. But I don't care...I'll just go back to McDonald's." She took a deep breath, put our short beers on the table and said, "Will there be anything else?" Ciro said, "If it isn't too much trouble, how about some more crackers and some Tabasco sauce too." Her broad smile revealed a mouth full of braces as she said, "You might want to try the chili first."
When she came back Kayla set down our 53c check with the coupons stapled to it. Then she put down a basket of Saltines, the hot sauce and two glasses of water. Kayla said, "If you're fixin' to put more Tabasco in that, you'll need all these." Ciro slipped her two dollars and said, "You'll be okay whatever happens. Trust me, you're very nice." Seconds later Dixie's voice boomed from up front, "How long are you gonna make these good folks wait for a table?"
Ciro and I were done "eating" in a minute. But his mouth was on fire. He gobbled up all the extra crackers and doused the fire in his mouth with the rest of his beer and both of our waters. So it surprised me that the first thing he said was, "Where's that $%#$&! Dixie?" I said, "I don't see her." Ciro said, "Let's dine and dash." I said, "Heh?" He said, "That girl is getting fired anyway, c'mon, let's beat this toilet for the check." I wasn't in Las Vegas twenty-four hours and after refusing many of his other suggestions, I was ready to become a felon. I said, "Okay."
Ciro worked around the piles of spent Saltine wrappers and gathered his possessions as Dixie came in from the casino and went into the kitchen. We could hear her screaming at Kayla as Ciro said, "Let's go, go, go."
Ciro and I walked fast, left the restaurant, crossed the casino and continued outside. We were laughing at John Heaverlo's car as the smile vanished from Ciro's face. He started emptying his pockets on the hood of the Buick. The one thing missing was Heaverlo's keys. Ciro cursed and went back in. He wasn't smiling when he came back and said, "That $%#$&! Dixie was waiting for me. She was twirling Johnny's key ring on her middle finger when she said, 'forget something, low-life?'" I said, "What did you do?" "What could I do? I gave her a five and grabbed the keys."
We were about to pull out when Kayla exited the casino. Ciro called her over and asked, "Did Dixie fire you?" She beamed, "Hell no, I quit!" Ciro said, "That sucks. But hey, give me your phone number and we'll go out and have a good time." Kayla said, "Go out with you? Go to hell, low-life."