Monday, April 18, 2011

Welcome To Las Vegas, Baby!

By now, most of you know that I have left the sunny climes of Southern California and Los Angeles to move to the City of Sin, Las Vegas, in the Silver State of Nevada. There were many reasons for this move, but I’ll only mention that which was most important. (I really don’t want to go into how tired of Los Angeles I was after 4 nonstop decades of living there.)

The main reason we left LA was for financial reasons. When Skip and I bought our house in Sherman Oaks, we both had jobs and had been reinsured that those jobs would be long lasting. Literally, within a few weeks after escrow closed, Skip was terminated from his job, followed a few weeks later by me.

In Skip’s case, it was the typical shenanigans that are found in corporate American business these days. They give Skip a massive raise, while telling him to buy the house and not to worry, and then a few weeks later, they tell him they’re going out of business and his job no longer exists, once it’s too late to do anything about it, of course. American corporate business sucks. They know it and we know it.

In my case, there was a lot that I liked about my job as head buyer at the Westwood Rhino Records Store, but there were a lot of business practices that were really grating on me, making it hard for me to do my job correctly, and I finally decided to be honest about it. That honesty led to me suddenly being unemployed. I was equally upset and ecstatic about this. Upset because I felt they should listen to me and make the workplace better for all. But since that obviously wasn’t going to happen, I was ecstatic to be out of there and away from the enormous pressure that job was putting on me, pressure that led to constant illness, including two separate hernias.

Now, while we were both upset at our respective jobs for terminating us just after we entered into an impossible deal with a couple of soulless banks, buying the house really saved our lives. We got the house just as the real estate boom began and within no time at all, we found that our house had more than tripled in value. This allowed us to pull from our equity to afford the simple things in life while we both looked for new jobs, jobs that we would never find due to all the reasons people can’t find jobs these days, from lack of availability, to our respective ages. If we would have been renting when we lost our jobs, we would have had nothing to fall back on and would have been homeless in less than a half-a-year or so. This also allowed us to take the time to figure out what we could do with ourselves and within the year, Skip had lined up several customers to do computer work for and I had set myself up selling stuff on the internet, for myself and for a few others. This helped bring in more money to keep us going just that much longer.

Of course, we knew we couldn’t last forever, and one of these days it would all catch up to us and we would lose the house. We didn’t know it would take ten years though. But by that time, we had set ourselves up so that we could afford to live with our meager endeavors. We just couldn’t afford to live in Los Angeles or any major California city. So, I started looking into alternatives.

Our first plan was to move to Tucson in Arizona. Most of my family lives in either Tucson or Phoenix and we’ve always liked the desert, and the Arizona desert is particularly beautiful. But as Arizona moved more politically right than was healthy and started passing crazy anti-immigrant, gun and Presidential birth certificate laws, I knew there was no way I could justify living there. I can deal with Right Wing. I just can’t deal with the crazy aspect of it.

This all came at the end of a particularly hot summer in Los Angeles, so we started thinking that maybe we should move to a climate that was generally more temperate for us, and that led to the Pacific Northwest. We knew we couldn’t afford to live in a major city, so we finally decided on the Washington town of Olympia, just about an hour south of Seattle. We could afford to live there and we were close enough to a major metropolis that we knew we wouldn’t get too bored, since both Skip and I are very social and spend a good amount of time out at clubs, theatres and restaurants.

It was just about this time that the hammer came down on us. At the end of summer, we had been convinced by a real estate broker that we should short sell the house and once we gave our okay, he convinced the bank(s) that it was the thing to do as well. (I’m still trying to decide if this was a mistake on our part or not.) We were promised that we would have “plenty of time to prepare”, but at the beginning of November we were told we had six weeks to be out of the house. Panic set in and I got in touch with some friends in the Seattle/Olympia area looking for help, and I got a lot of it. But they were also busy with their own lives and I needed someone who could go to places and pretty much do everything that I didn’t have the time to do, let alone not having the money to fly up there to do them.

That was when our friend Kathe got in touch with us. She lives in Las Vegas, or technically Henderson, which is a suburb of Las Vegas. She told us about the city and the problems it was having. Jobs had fled and the unemployment rate was the highest in the country. But because of this, it was also extremely cheap to live in. Despite the fact that she was as busy as anyone I know, she also sent along a couple dozen rental housing prospects that she had found. When I saw the rents, I knew we had found the place to live. It was about a third of the cost of living as that in LA. We were back in our much loved desert (despite the summer heat) and we were close enough to LA that I could make periodic trips there to pick up new stuff to sell, so I wouldn’t have to build a whole new client base. On top of that, I picked out a few of the rentals that looked good and Kathe went to them and looked them over, then reported back to me. Once I made my decision, she got me all the information and with only a week and a half to go before we had to leave our house, we had a nice 2 bedroom/2 bathroom condo to live in.

The trip here was a bit harrowing. We rented the biggest U-Haul truck we could get and it still wasn’t big enough. We knew our new place wouldn’t be big enough to hold everything in our house, and we had already abandoned a couch and some shelving units, plus I had sold off all our appliances through Craigslist at way too cheap prices. But we still had to leave more that wouldn’t fit in the truck, including our king-size bed that we both found extremely comfortable despite it being a decade old.

We packed the truck, drugged our cat and put him in a carrying case, and took off to Las Vegas. The cat, Chuck, didn’t like being drugged and yowled weakly through the whole five hour trip, every now and then working up enough strength to knock his carrying case over, causing me to have to pull over and readjust him. (It was all in vain, as he had to be put down a few weeks after we arrived. He was old enough at 13 and the doctor thinks the stress of the move was just too much for him. He started losing steam in January and within a week he was gone. It broke my heart as I had really bonded with the little guy. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m living without a pet of some kind. We’ll end up with a new cat soon, after I get this place organized.)

When we finally arrived in Las Vegas, we found our apartment, only to find out that the water heater was shot and we had no hot water or means to heat the place. This was in the middle of a very cold December and heat was definitely needed. This meant that we had to move into Kathe’s house, crazed cat and all, for four days while the water heater was fixed. We will always be thankful to Kathe and her husband, Buddy, for all their kindness through this.

Finally, we were able to move in and that turned out to be a major job all on its own. We had a huge truck full of stuff that had to be carried upstairs. After the first day, the first two feet of the truck was all that was empty and I began to realize that this was going to take us at least three or four more days and we would have to pay bonus time to U-Haul to keep the truck past the date it was due back.

That was when Larry showed up. I had gone out the next morning and was helplessly looking at all the crap piled in the truck when this huge, muscular black man popped up out of the trash dumpster in our parking lot. He looked at me and said, “Please tell me that you need help.” I told him to hang on and went and talked to Skip. Skip came out and we both talked to the man who introduced himself as Larry. It was decided that if Larry helped us, we would pay him $100 and a case of beer for four hours of work. He fell to his knees and thanked his Lord and immediately got to the job at hand.

Larry turned out to be an ex-boxer who was very much down on his luck. He had several kids and he needed that $100 to pay his rent. I suspect that there was an alcohol problem as well, but during his day with us, we only saw him drink two of the beers. The man was strong. He would lift up bookshelves that would have taken three of us to carry and lug them up the stairs by himself. (Kathe, Buddy, and the man who bought our stove, James, also helped out here and there.) Six hours later, the truck was almost empty and Larry told us that he had to get back home. We ended up paying him $200, that case of beer and a jar of honey. He claimed that honey gave him strength, and who was I to argue? (Larry showed up again the next day, asking if I could give him bus fair. I told him that I couldn’t have that type of thing happening and we never saw him again, which kind of makes me sad.)

The next morning, I finished clearing out the truck and got it back to U-Haul in time, so we didn’t face any penalties. But now we were faced with a medium size apartment/condo filled with boxes. We’ve been here four months now and a good many of those boxes are still stacked all over the place. The reason for this is that I’ve had to concentrate on making money more than on getting settled. And things have worked out pretty well for us so far. I’ve sold enough that we’ve finally bought a new king-size bed a few weeks ago. (We had been sleeping on the floor on a very hard futon mattress until then.) And we can occasionally afford a good meal that isn’t a $6 buffet. The boxes are slowly, but surely beginning to disappear as I sell off the stuff that was in them. I hope to have this whole place cleaned up and organized by June.

So far, we’ve liked it here quite a lot. The people who live here are nice, polite people who I enjoy talking to, despite the fact that a good many of them aren’t very bright. (But they were bright enough to realize that despite their very justified dislike of Senator Harry Reid, the alternate, Tea Party/Republican Sharron Angle, was completely bat-shit crazy.) They’re mostly honest, hard-working middle-America people. And because of them, I find living here to be a lot easier going and a lot less stressful than the run-run-run atmosphere of Los Angeles. Both of our blood pressure readings have gone down tremendously.

A lot of things are cheaper here than just the rents. We have three very nice movie theatres around us that show first run movies on Tuesdays for $5 a ticket and plenty of bars at the local casinos where we can get a top shelf drink for as little as $2 and usually not over $6. Food is a bit of a problem. There’s plenty of cheap food here, but it’s not great food, although at least it’s edible. If we want great food, we have to pay for it. I miss the amazing, cheap Mexican and Asian foods that could be found in LA. Plus, the selection is not up to what we were used to in LA. All the Mexican food here is the same, and there is no Oaxacan or Yucatan or little other regional-style foods here. But when we have the money, some of the greatest restaurants in the country are here, and because of the economy here, we’re already finding good deals used to attract the locals to these places that we use as often as we can.

It’s beautiful here as well. The view of the Las Vegas Strip from out by our place is breathtaking at night. But besides that, I never really saw or appreciated the natural beauty here. We’re surrounded by a beautiful mountainous desert. Red Rocks is to the north. Lake Mead and the Canyon of Fire are both to the south. And Utah, with Bryce and Zion Canyons, is just a few hours away. We love it out here and have already been out hiking and taking it all in.

We still haven’t experienced the summer weather here and we’ll see how well we handle that in a month or so. But the temperatures in LA regularly reached 115 degrees in the summer and it was very humid. They might have more 115 degree days here, but at least it’s very dry, so I think we’ll survive with no problem, except possibly a monster electric bill, which we also had in LA.

I was also afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to do here, but we seem to be out and about at least three nights a week. The indie-rock scene doesn’t much exist here, but there are still plenty of concerts, shows and events to keep us busy. I’m very happy about the number of country music artists who play here, as I didn’t get a chance to see many of them in LA. We saw George Jones and few months ago, and Loretta Lynn is coming up soon.

And I think that’s enough for now. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about Las Vegas in the weeks to come, but I think this is already running too long.

I’m not going to make any promises, but I hope I can get back to writing this blog regularly now. I have a lot of tales to tell and I really want to get to it. It might only be one or two posts a month here until I can get us completely organized, but that’s better than nothing, as has been the case for most of the last year. I also hope to get my food blog up and running again by the end of the month, with an all new title and focus. More on that will follow soon.

By the way, I’ve been listening to Javier Escovedo’s newest album, “City Lights”, while typing this and I really recommend you download it and give it more than a few good listens. (It’s not available as a hard copy yet.) Javier was the guitarist and vocalist for California’s first ever Mexican-American punk rock band, the Zeros, who I spent a couple of days managing back in the 70s. I wouldn’t call his new music punk, although it retains punk’s energy. It’s just good, catchy, well written rock music that deserves to have more people listening to it than there are.

As always, thanks for reading and take care of yourselves. I hope to see you here again really soon.