“What causes so many people to have a love affair with Las Vegas? Is it the casino gambling, drinking, restaurants, or the lack of boundaries? Maybe it’s all the above. You’re free to be whatever or whoever you want to be.”
Author Jay Rankin has delivered a Vegas story unlike any other with his memoir Under The Neon Sky. He worked the graveyard shift as doorman at the MGM Grand Hotel for six years, from its opening in 1993 until 1999. By the end of this wild ride, you feel as if he barely escaped with his life.
I have only visited Las Vegas a few times in my life, but at some point on each trip, I have a daydream. What would it be like to just chuck it all, and stay? To just leave all of the stress and responsibilities at home behind, and disappear into the milieu of casino life? People do it all the time, but nobody has ever written a story about it as well as Rankin with Under The Neon Sky.
For one thing, Jay Rankin was not escaping anything when he and his wife came to Vegas. He had a Master’s degree in psychology, and had worked as a probation officer previously. A big factor in his being hired over 1500 other applicants was his previous experience as a local Vegas TV personality, who had hosted a business affairs program.
The position of “Guest Ambassador” at the largest hotel in the world meant an income in the region of $300,000. The sheer numbers of people he dealt with insured constant excitement, and he began to inhabit the hidden underground of those who live and work in town.
Rankin’s degree in psychology serves him well as an author. One of the more effective aspects of the book is the author's ability to dissect what he was doing, while admitting that he was powerless in stopping the inevitable flow of events.
By the end, I had come to root for the people who populated Rankin’s life, even though most of them were past the point of no return. It is a cautionary tale to be sure, but it is also a fabulously voyeuristic view into a world most of us will never know.
For anyone who has ever thought about just disappearing into the netherworld of a Vegas casino, I would recommend reading Under The Neon Sky first. It is an excellent first effort from a man who was fully immersed in the lifestyle.