“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve driven to the airport without luggage and they said they had to get out of this town.”

The man behind the wheel is a part-time limo chauffeur, part-time Uber driver, and part-time front seat philosopher. Las Vegas is his town, his canvas.

“Been here 30-years now,” he says.

His voice is harsh, his Michigan accent nearly bleached from his words.

He tells me he has done a lot of things in life, much like the landscape rushing outside the tinted windows of his car. Driven celebrities, worked as a casino dealer, and helped people get their life right.

“The single most important skill to living in Las Vegas comes down one thing – self-control,” he says. “Everything you could ever want or fantasize about is available to you 24/7. Without self-discipline, Vegas will eat you alive.”

He tells me about his days running a casino blackjack table.

“You learn to read people, and not just cards,” he says. “I can clearly remember the look on someone’s face when I flip down the winning card for the house and their face suddenly changes — instantly telling me they are playing with their bill-paying money.”

He slowly shakes his head. He’s a good man with a good heart.

The landscape outside the window changes. He tells me about the history of the community going past, of how the eccentric millionaire aviator Howard Hughes bought the once raw desert land for practically nothing and named the area after his mother’s maiden name. Today a sea of mansions and tech hubs sit atop the former sandy dessert scrub. As the driver said, anything is possible in Las Vegas.

I think about what I’ve seen in my first few hours in Las Vegas. Slot machines lining the walls as I walked off the morning flight, rolling billboards on the backs of flatbed trucks pumping out music and smoke to promote a show, and girls dressed in more feathers than fabric. People walking the streets with open beers, every language of the world filling the air, and people taking selfies in front of iconic neon signs. And my watch declares it is still breakfast time.

“Yeah, this place can eat you alive. I’ve known so very talented and successful people who just had to pick up and move out of Las Vegas because they couldn’t resist the temptations.”

I picture the driver pulling up to the curb at the airport, the door swinging open, and out stepping a beaten soul preparing to board a flight with only the clothes on their back. Unfortunately, my driver does not have to imagine this picture as he’d delivered too many to catch the flight out of town.

The driver unapologetically loves his adopted city. While Detroit is decades in the past, he came to Las Vegas to chase his dreams. And in the city of dreams — or fantasy — he’s done just that. And along the way, he's helped others find their way home.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

(1) comment

Rusty Schroeder

As I drove home to and from Pearland last night, my wife and I talked about all the game rooms that scatter Hwy 6 and how live gambling takes place in the open daylight and darkness of our state. One time houses, now with a parking area and an open sign welcome visitors to spend their money in exchange for prizes or gift cards. It is unbelievable the draw that they have on the ordinary person that frequents them. Parking lots filled at all hours, but never have I seen anyone leave with a giant teddy bear or plastic Elvis clock. I have never been in one so I have to wonder the prizes that are given, but they sure must be enticing to the many that do. Just imagine if they gave you back cash for your winnings …………. yep.

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