Vegas for a Florida Series

A little village called Goodland nestled in the Ten Thousand Islands on the Florida southwest coast received an unlikely visitor about fifteen years ago. It’s not a quaint and charming seaside village, but a scrappy drinking village with a fishing problem. A sandy road winds through the mangroves to a tiny marina at its town center surrounded by small cottages. There is a general store, one restaurant, and one bar. Most everyone there has a boat, and they cast for mackerel off their docks. The nearest industry is a cat food plant, and feral cats are everywhere.

The unlikely visitor was Donald Trump. The town was so excited to have a celebrity that they all came out to greet him and took pictures of the bar owner with him. He attended a town meeting and had a drink while schmoozing with the populous. Trump had been looking at Cape Romano as a possible place for one of his casinos or a resort. Yes, our sanctuary island could have become Mar-A- Lago.

In the end, the future So Called Ruler of the United States (SCROTUS), decided that there was not enough infrastructure to support his endeavor and it was too expensive to build. We were spared.

There have been Casinos built tho, primarily by the Seminole Indians. They have a special contract with the government and hold rights to the casinos in Florida. I’m not certain how Trump was going to edge into that market. Have one of his cronies change the law I suppose.

Dog racing, Jai-Alai, and card rooms are run by many organizations in Florida. While they bring the Seminoles much revenue, they are nothing compared to the Las Vegas casinos.

We just got back from a trip to Vegas. It was a fun trip and most of my research came via the Lyft and Uber drivers. They are very knowledgeable about their community. There seemed to be a consensus that the mob was a good thing and corporations are bad. See, the mob took care of their own. They only offed other mob members when there were issues, but they treated the general population with respect. They reinvested into the community, building schools, hospitals, and daycare facilities…whereas, the corporations have sharply increased prices, cut wages, and pocket their money.

MGM was the worst. When they moved in and started jacking up costs all the neighboring casinos did the same. There is a Trump Hotel there, but Trump doesn’t own it. He let it go when he was down on his luck and the people who bought it kept his name on it for branding. Little did they know, right?

There is a man by the name of Steve Wynn who has purchased much land and built up a major resort complex in the area. The Wynn and Encore hotels and casinos are the seventh largest in the world. Wynn is a savvy businessman and a major rival of Trump. His two properties collectively hold more Forbes five-star awards than any other resort and casino in the world.

We visited many of the famous places in Vegas along the strip, which is a mere four mile stretch of land, much smaller than the movies project it to be, and smaller than I realized. Our Hilton hotel was connected to the Miracle Mile underground mall home of the famous Halo bar and lounge.

Of course there was a casino there, as there was in every grocery store, restaurant, and hotel as well as the airport. But my favorite place in the mall was Lobster Me, a fast food joint that served the best lobster rolls and chowder west of the state of Maine.

My favorite place of all was dumpy little joint called Ellis Island. It’s lit up with green lights, can be seen from any hotel in Vegas, and boasts a couple of the best, and most affordable, restaurants in town. While Mon Ami Gabi was nice,

overlooking Bellagio Fountain, Ellis Island served us a huge slab of prime rib, mashed potatoes with gravy, and garlic green beans for a tiny sum of $8.00. They have a micro-brewery on-site, a Bar-B-Q pub and a full service restaurant. And, of course, slots. We managed to leave Vegas $2.50 to the good.

Another fun place for me, being the history lover that I am, was the Golden Nugget downtown on Fremont Street. The Golden Nugget was originally built in 1946, making it one of the oldest casinos in the city. Steve Wynn bought a stake in the Nugget, which he increased so that, in 1973, he became the majority shareholder, and the youngest casino owner in Las Vegas.

Fremont Street is Vintage Vegas. It’s the area you see in all the old Vegas movies:

Films

  • In the James Bondfilm Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the casino can be continually seen in the police chase scene.[5]
  • The casino can be seen in the beginning of the film Smokin’ Aces(2006), in which the antagonist cuts the ribbons for the casino’s grand opening.
  • In the film Next(2007), Nicolas Cage is briefly seen entering the Golden Nugget through the Fremont Street entrance.
  • The Golden Nuggetfeatures prominently in the poker mockumentary The Grand (2008).[6]

 

Television

  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents1959 episode “Man From The South”, the opening shot shows the Casino and Fremont St.
  • The Golden Nugget and Fremont Street are in the opening scene of “The Night Stalker” (1972) with reporter Carl Kolchak investigating a series of vampire murders in Las Vegas.
  • Vega$showed exterior shots of The Golden Nugget in the opening and closing slots and in the pilot episode
  • The Casino(2004), a Fox reality television series is based on the story of the Golden Nugget’s acquisition by Poster Financial Group.[7]
  • In 2010, the casino’s pool and shark aquarium were featured throughout an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Video Games

  • In all Street Fighter IIgames (except HD Remix), Balrog’s (M. Bison in Japanese) stage is set in front of the Golden Nugget. The Golden Nugget sign is clearly seen in the back. In HD Remix, it has been changed to the “Crazy Buffalo”, presumably in reference to the name of Balrog’s original Super Combo.
  • The name Golden Nuggetalso designates casino games on Game Boy AdvanceNintendo 64 (known as Golden Nugget 64, and features a slideshow of the hotel and casino as a menu option), Nintendo DS (known as Golden Nugget Casino DS), PlayStation, and personal computers.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the logo of the “Silver Rush,” formerly a gambling hall, shows a similarity to the logo of the “Golden Nugget.”

 

The expanded resort is built around two aquariums. The largest faces the swimming pool, and incorporates a slide through the tank containing full grown sharks.

The smaller aquarium is in the lobby of the Rush Tower. A total of five specialty restaurants were added: Vic & Anthony’s steakhouse, Grotto Ristorante, Lillie’s Asian Cuisine, Red Sushi and Chart House. The Chart House has a view of one of the aquariums.

It is along Fremont Street that you’ll find the Mob Museum, and the dozens of little wedding Chapels, Elvis, The Pink Cadlliac and more. There are quite a few jails down there, as well. Despite its glory, the area is a bit ghetto compared to the high-end Miracle Mile. Here is where you’ll witness most of the iconic Vegas signage.

We had a blast with our drivers. One I will always remember was Jacki…with an ‘I’. She was the splitting image of Brandi. I’ve promised her a scene in Book Two of the Naked Eye Series. Quite a character and an encyclopedia of Vegas tips and tricks.

We saw the Cirque du Soleil Beatles Love show and it was fantastic. Made me cry at the end when the National Guard drug all the old hippies off the stage. The fabulous costumes and lights coupled with extraordinary costumes and choreography with audience interaction made for the most spectacular show. The theme would have made John Lennon proud.

Frank Marinos Divas show was right up Brandi’s alley. The impersonators actually looked better than most of the celebrities. The sexy male dancers kept my attention.

All in all, it was a fun and informative trip and I am grateful for having had the experience. A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Bellagio Fountain was a pretty sight tho.

I think I’ll keep Richard and Brandi in Florida for the most part.

Florida Native Rhythms Festival

Last weekend, we took a little trip down to Melbourne, Florida for the Eighth Annual Native Rhythms Festival sponsored by the Indian River Flute Circle and Native Heritage Gathering, Inc. It was set in Wickham Park, a lovely little wooded park in the midst of an enchanted forest, or so it seemed with the trills of the flutists wafting along on the breezes.

There was something magical about hearing Native Americans playing their tunes that most learned from their forefathers, legendary music passed down through generations, while wandering between the ancient live oaks that flanked the tall pine forest. It set me back in time.

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While we were there we browsed the vendors and came across a very kind lady who hand makes drums with different animal skins stretched across the raw hide frames…buffalo hide, deer, and elk. Each drum has its own pitch and tone, depending upon the thickness of the animal skin. Drum circles are popular events around here, especially on the beaches. I wanted one, but I also wanted a new Keurig, and coffee won that battle.

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Artists and craftsmen/women had their works displayed throughout the park and the vendors were very friendly, taking the time to teach people about their crafts. I tried to learn how to play a flute. I need a lot of work, but it was fun trying. No trading with beads and shells here, but they take VISA and MasterCard.

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But, by far, the coolest exhibit was a real teepee.

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The teepee was fashioned from dyed and painted animal hides braced on poles. We hesitated to go inside the tiny doorway, but the gentleman standing by the door told us it was not something we wanted to miss, so we went inside.

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He was right. It was stunning, and much larger inside than it appeared from the outside. There were two cots, one on either side, and a large living space adorned with trophy furs and blankets.

The costumes were beautiful and colorful with leather, seed beads and bone. Don’t see too many feathered headdresses with the Florida native attire.

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There is a short clip of some of the sort of flute and drum music we heard playing. The weather was perfect and it was a nice day out. omanyteBTW, the park is an Omanyte nest right now for all you Pokemon Go players. That’s a very rare and ancient fossilized snail.

Book Two in the Naked Eye Series: Vegas, Florida Cowboys and Indians

Most of my writing these past few weeks has been marketing related. I’m jonesing to get back to creative fiction writing. I’ve been toying with the title of the next book. I was going to call it Naked Malice. But Naked Odds seems to suit the characters and gambling component that is expanded on.

We’ll be at SleuthFest in February, and then Vegas in April. There are a couple of scenes that take place in Vegas and I have never been. I’d like to get a feel for both the layout of the Strip and the people. (Being able to take in the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show is an added bonus.)

The Seminole Indians, (Native Americans to be more politically correct), here in Florida have a colorful recent history that is also finding its way into Book Two. Another fascinating tid-bit that I’m working in has to do with the “real” American cowboys. There were even Seminole Cowboys.

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Let’s start with the horse. Horses were not native to North America. Or were they?

Should the wild horses that roam North America be considered native wildlife? They may have been “introduced” by man, but scientific evidence suggests that they are genetically the same as the horses that became extinct on the continent between 11,000 and 13,000 years. In fact, the genus Equus could have been wiped out entirely had it not crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into Eurasia. 

Had it not been for previous westward migration, over the land bridge, into northwestern Russia (Siberia) and Asia, the horse would have faced complete extinction. However, Equus survived and spread to all continents of the globe, except Australia and Antarctica.

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Native status for wild horses would place these animals, under law, within a new category for management considerations. As a form of wildlife, embedded with wildness, ancient behavioral patterns, and the morphology and biology of a sensitive prey species, they may finally be released from the “livestock-gone-loose” appellation.

Those of us who have been here a while equate wild horses with cowboys and Indians. Anyone who grew up in the sixties (with, at most, three TV channels) has seen the Wild, Wild West movies and TV shows, which showcased and romanticized the life of both cowboys and Native Americans. So, where did the cowboy originate? Out west? Most would think so.

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In 1493, on Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing E. caballus, were brought back to North America, first in the Virgin Islands, and, in 1519, they were reintroduced on the continent, in modern-day Mexico, from where they radiated throughout the American Great Plains, after escape from their owners.

Wild Horse Herd stampeding

Wild Horse Herd stampeding

The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend.

However, out west in the 1880s, one loosely organized band was dubbed “The Cowboys,” and profited from smuggling cattle, alcohol, and tobacco across the U.S./Mexico border. It became an insult in the area to call someone a “cowboy,” as it suggested he was a horse thief, robber, or outlaw. Cattlemen were generally called herders or ranchers. They were gentlemen and rarely carried weapons (unlike the the cowboys of the wild west shows).

There is regional history of Cowboys; the Texas Cowboy, the California Cowboy, and others. They developed climate suitable regional attire. Florida has its own history of “Cowboys” and they are a proud bunch.

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The Florida “cowhunter” or “cracker cowboy” of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Texas and California traditions. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were bullwhips and dogs. Since the Florida cowhunter did not need a saddle horn for anchoring a lariat, many did not use Western saddles, instead using a McClellan saddle. While some individuals wore boots that reached above the knees for protection from snakes, others wore brogans. They usually wore inexpensive wool or straw hats, and used ponchos for protection from rain.

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Cattle and horses were introduced into Florida in the 16th century . In the 18th century, CreekSeminole, and other Indian people moved into the depopulated areas of Florida and started herding the cattle left from the Spanish ranches. In the 19th century, most tribes in the area were dispossessed of their land and cattle and pushed south or west by white settlers and the United States government. By the middle of the 19th century white ranchers were running large herds of cattle on the extensive open range of central and southern Florida.

Horses first arrived on the southeast North American mainland in 1521, brought by Ponce de Leon on his second trip to the region, where they were used by officers, scouts and livestock herders. Later expeditions brought more horses and cattle to Spanish Florida. By the late 16th century, horses were used extensively in the local cattle business and by the late 17th century the industry was flourishing, especially in what is now northern Florida and southern Georgia. The horses brought to North America by the Spanish and subsequently bred there included Barbs, Garranos, Spanish Jennets, Sorraias, Andalusians and other Iberian breeds. Overall, they were relatively small and had physical traits distinctive of Spanish breeds, including short backs, sloping shoulders, low set tails and wide foreheads.

The vaquero tradition has had little influence in Florida.

The early cattle drivers, nicknamed Florida Crackers and Georgia Crackers, used the Spanish horses to drive cattle. The cowboys received their nickname from the distinctive cracking of their whips, and the name was transferred to both the horses they rode and the cattle they herded. Through their primary use as stock horses, the type developed into the Florida Cracker horse, known for its speed, endurance and agility. From the mid-16th century to the 1930s, this type was the predominant horse in the southeastern United States.These were replaced mostly by thoroughbreds after introduction of “screw worms” from imported cattle, and the Spanish breeds nearly went extinct.

Long before Mickey Mouse came to town, the major attractions in the Kissimmee/Orlando area were the local rodeos. You can still experience the traditional culture of Kissimmee’s cowboys through the Kissimmee Sports Arena Rodeo. The rodeo runs at least twice a month on Friday nights at 8 pm. The Florida cowboy, or Cracker Cowboy became a branding symbol in the 1930s-50s.

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There was a local watering hole called the Big Bamboo on highway #192 for decades. It was a bamboo structure that sat in the midst of a pasture when I was a child. All the cowboys came by to wet their whistles after a long day of herding and told their stories. A wrecked plane and rusted out ambulance graced the front yard, the owner keeping them there as conversation pieces. He was a funny old man and refused to sell the Big Bamboo when all of the million dollar hotels were going up around him. It wasn’t until he died at the turn of the 21st Century that his grandchildren sold off the property and the Big Bamboo was no more. It’s where I had my first taste of alcohol while visiting my Uncle Jim, who started Cypress Cove nudist resort.

But I digress.

Several documentaries have been made about the Cracker Cowboys as they fight to defend their ranch land from encroaching development. Here’s a short clip from one of them.

More than one of these Florida Cracker Cowboys makes his way into Book Two of the Naked Eye Series.

Naked Malice, or Naked Odds? ….the story focuses on some gambling and other issues surrounding gambling in Florida and how the Seminoles are dealing with getting rich quick.