Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A sign of the times.
For almost four years, Las Vegans have been struggling to: First, understand what hit us when the economic collapse almost destroyed the underpinnings of our entire financial structure; and, second, figure out how, when and why a recovery would take place in what was once the envy of the modern world of growing cities.
For as many recessions and downturns Las Vegas has experienced in its first 65 years of growth in the modern era, there was never one bit of real concern that we wouldn’t come back with a flourish and better than ever. Until last time.
This time it was different because we were not only hit from the outside — with fewer customers coming to Las Vegas prepared to spend less and less — but also from the inside as tens of thousands of hard-working Nevadans found themselves out of work, upside down in their homes and generally out of luck. For the first time, tomorrow in Las Vegas actually felt like it might be worse than today. That is a terrible way for many thousands of people to feel as they get up each day for work in a tourist industry that demands the sunniest of attitudes grounded in an unshakable belief of hopefulness.
We have learned a few things over the past four years as the bottom fell out. Most importantly, many have learned that if we stick to the basics and are able to change from our wants to our needs, survival can be achieved. Although many businesses and people who one would have thought could never be taken down have actually disappeared, there are far more who are still standing, ready to grow in what seems to be shaping up, however slowly, as the Las Vegas of opportunity.
That is what I was thinking about last week at the Power of Love gala at the MGM. A fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic’s Ruvo Brain Center and a birthday celebration for The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali, combined to bring together 1,800 mostly Las Vegans for a night to celebrate achievement. It was a celebration of the achievement to date in brain sciences and the pursuit of treatment and cures for some of the most horrific diseases of our time, and a celebration of Ali’s birthday and the impact he has had on the world of sport and the world of man, much of which has been centered in Las Vegas itself.
As I looked around the Grand Garden at table after table filled with Las Vegans and celebrities from all manner of pursuit, I was struck by the attitudes that seemed to permeate the room.
The tickets were not inexpensive. In fact, in a city that has been reeling non-stop from the near knock-out punches we took in 2008, for 1,800 people to come up with that kind of money was a testament to the worthwhile nature of the evening’s endeavor. Las Vegas has always been one of the most giving communities on the planet, even as there was a lot less to give.
What I saw in people’s eyes and overheard in their conversations is what gave me a sense of hope that, admittedly, has been hard to come by, some days harder than others.
The good news is that there were so many people, almost all of whom were significantly younger than I, whom I didn’t know, despite heroic efforts to meet them all. That told me that the depth and breadth of the giving community of Las Vegas was growing. It was also what Dr. Toby Cosgrove, the man who runs the Cleveland Clinic, noticed as he looked around the room in almost disbelief at the outpouring of support for what the Cleveland Clinic is doing, not only for brain patients but for the Las Vegas brand.
What I saw in their eyes and heard through their conversations was a sense of renewed hope. They weren’t talking about yesterday, they weren’t stuck in the recent past and the economic tsunami that tried to take us out, and they weren’t focused on what we used to do and no longer could do.
To the contrary, what I saw and heard were the hopeful voices of people building for tomorrow. That night they were building a community we did not yet have. They were a significant part of a new Las Vegas that would claim preeminence in medical pursuit as part of the Las Vegas brand. And they were committed to doing all they could to make sure it happens.
I have seen that attitude before. I saw it in the 1950s when it wasn’t clear that Las Vegas was going to be anything other than a few gambling joints with no community fabric to keep it together. I saw it a decade later when Las Vegas was in the doldrums and needed a shot in the arm. Howard Hughes provided the shot, but it took a community pulling together to get us healthy. And I saw it over the next few decades when all manner of challenge threatened our city but the people refused to give in.
Yes, what I saw last Saturday was, at the very least, a new generation of Las Vegans joining with those who have come before to create that indispensable spark of excitement, determination and intellect necessary to grow our way forward. Sure, they loved hobnobbing with celebrities only a Larry Ruvo could string together. And of course they enjoyed eating the kind of meal only the celebrity chefs of Las Vegas could create. And for certain they marveled in their own ability and desire to reach deep in their wallets and raise the money necessary to make the Ruvo Center the success it has and will become.
But I expected to see all of that because I have seen it before. What I hadn’t seen and what delighted me to no end was that in the eyes and in the voices of those 1,800 Las Vegans was the unmistakable optimism that told me that, indeed, Las Vegas was back! Maybe not the way we were in our heyday, but back nonetheless.
And now that we are back, no matter how long it takes, I get the feeling we will not be stopped again. Not for a very long time.