Things We Lost in the Implosion

riv hotel lobby '55

Original Riviera Las Vegas lobby when it opened in 1955

I will keep this brief (perhaps that should be my sarcastic epitaph)…the Riviera is scheduled to implode its last 1.5 towers in about 30 minutes. (The hired demo company is doing it, of course; the casino closed last year right after its 60th anniversary and is scheduled to turn into overflow parking/outdoor convention exhibition space for the Las Vegas Convention Center.) All good things must come to an end, as the saying goes. In this case, the hotel was run-down and hadn’t had a substantial renovation since the mid-80s, when the casino floor was expanded and the Las Vegas Strip’s very first fast-food restaurant (Burger King) was built into the casino. Couple that expansion with a new showrooms “tower” (only three stories, but encased with a mirrored skin several stories higher to create a wow-effect), and the place was “hot” again. Many films were shot here, including one of my personal favourites, ‘Go’ (1999). Here’s a link to the nice montage that the Nevada Film Office put together:

riv blue

I never stepped foot in the Riviera until I was a local. My friend Joel and I were out and he wanted to show me something at the Riv. He was big into Vegas history, so I followed his lead. We walked in and the place had that stench of stale smoke that gets on your clothes, in your hair, and obviously goes right up one’s nose. (Here’s to second-hand smoke!) Alas, he took me up the showroom tower escalators, and there before us was a whole wall of framed photos of celebrities who’d appeared there over the years. The list is long and I won’t go into it in this blog, but it included Ann-Margret, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Dean Martin, Joan Rivers, Liberace, Debbie Reynolds, etc. etc. But that wasn’t what he wanted to show me; we walked a bit further down a random hall, and it led out to the “Designated Showroom Smoking Area.” An understated name for what was built on the roof of the massive casino expansion in the mid-80s and was to be the fancy new rooftop pool deck. The putting green was still in tact, as well as the pool and locker rooms. The pool was allegedly filled with water *one time*, promptly leaked into the casino right below, and was then immediately drained and never opened to the public. Except as a smoking area…go figure. No wonder the Riv went bankrupt after the expansion. (Fun fact: The original 1955 pool was in use until the closing day last May. Another fun fact: This was my favourite place to de-compress, and to also take visitors. My parents will attest to this.)

me riv 9.12

Me at the Riv rooftop pool in September, 2012

I wanted to end the blog on a happy note. My friend Chris in Palm Springs–the one who had a stroke two years ago–has been making great progress. Here’s a pic of us last week; his CNA has had him standing up with the use of a cane. (He still has no sense of balance and he is fully aware of this…his CNA uses what I horrendously, anti-PC refer to as “the lasso” to make sure he doesn’t fall over.) But he can stand up from the bed, stay standing about 10 seconds, and then sit back down. This in and of itself is a miracle.

chris and me 8.10.16

This is amazingly epic progress for someone who was bedridden for months and who’s just started back to once-a-week, non-profit therapy at the Neuro Vitality Center in Palm Springs about a month ago. Re: the title of this blog, I think I can safely say that both Chris and myself have learned more in the last two years when the stroke imploded both our mundane night auditor lives (we had the exact same work schedule and nights off) than we probably both learned in the 34 years before. (We’re the same age…he was born in January, ’80 before I was born in April ’80.) I’m not sure anything that either of us had experienced in life before he had the stroke could’ve prepared us for the long and winding journey we’ve both been on since then. We had casually dated a couple of years before the stroke, but realized we were better off as friends. I was scheduled to visit him the Monday after he had the stroke late Saturday night (the day before Mother’s Day 2014). He was a very good friend to me in a pretty difficult time the summer before, and I’d like to think I’m returning the favour now. I’ve lucked out/been quite blessed and have been able to hire a very competent caregiver couple for him, and he seems to be thriving as of late.

chris 7.20 nvc

Chris with one of his caregivers Brent on July 19th

So to wind up this not-so-short-at-all blog, things Chris and I gained–not lost–in the “implosion” of the supposedly carefree, single, mid-30s track we were both on, which was disrupted in May 2014. And I think these are valuable life lessons for anyone who happens to be reading:

-Learning that we’re not invincible. Also that money and things don’t matter nearly as much as family and friends. I still re-learn this lesson every day, as does Chris.

-Learning that sometimes friends are better than lovers. I consider him my best friend, and I woudn’t have it any other way.

-Learning that appearances can be deceiving; Chris is wheelchair-bound for the most part and also slobbers involuntarily due to the stroke. He’s always afraid of outsiders thinking he’s “retarded” (his word). I beg to differ; getting invited into the after-party of a Palm Springs documentary begs to differ; being treated like family at the rehab he lives at and the Neuro Vitality Center where he goes once a week begs to differ.

-Learning how important ADA requirements are. This is in the same vein of not knowing what it’s like until you’re walking in those shoes, but in this case the shoes are a wheelchair. We’re very fortunate that the high majority of Palm Springs is wheelchair accessible…that’s not the case in many places. Thresholds are the enemy, as I’ve figured out.

All that being said, I’ll end the blog with this wedding photo of Ann-Margret. (Pardon the Getty watermark.) I’m reading her memoirs, and not only did she get married at the Riviera in 1967, but she performed her first one-woman review there soon after. (She was discovered by George Burns and opened for him at the Sands several years prior to becoming a movie star.) Happy times and fond–or even bittersweet–memories cannot be imploded…only buildings filled with asbestos and stale smoke can go up in smoke, dust, and asbestos-laced dust. (Seriously, it’s an issue for those attending implosions here in Vegas.) On that note, I’ll for sure end here. And here’s to alleged “progress” and paved convention centre parking lots.–brt

riv ann-margret wedding '67

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