It’s hard enough to launch yourself into rosy-cheeked, six-cylinder holiday spirit in default-mode Las Vegas, a city without handy seasons to give your wintertime sensibilities a helpful nudge. (Plus, it’s like we leave the Christmas lights up year-round anyway.) Add to that our collective hangover from an election campaign whose rancor had settled into a toxic borealis, a resident poison fog, and I was starting to wonder whether we’d all just silently agree to forget about Thanksgiving and Christmas out of totalizing, apocalyptic exhaustion. Like, Never mind, bring on the horsemen, we’d say, waving languidly from the couch, bathed in the obliviating light of Netflix.
But then I remembered that the best antidote for such pessimism-flavored self-pity is shutting up and looking beyond the backyard fence of our own provincial minds. Nothing cures doldrums better than inflicting kindness on others!!! That’s the thrust of our annual Holiday Guide (p. 95), where you’ll find fun seasonal events, donation and volunteer opportunities at local organizations in need, and cool gifts that, to be sure, will reliably light up all your beloved recipient’s consumerist-delight receptors as all gifts should, yes, but that also boast some socially conscious dimension that makes the cosmic needle quiver just a tad more in the direction of the good and the right. But the gift of time is most precious of all: Whether it’s stalwarts such as Aid for AIDS of Nevada or lesser-known organizations such as Helping Hands of Vegas Valley, there are countless Southern Nevada nonprofits that could use your help this season.
This month marks another tradition as well. It’s the fourth edition of our Illustrated History feature, in which we consider Nevada’s past through the decidedly non-boring lens of, yay, drawings. This year, the theme is “Heroes and Villains.” We only chose that simplistic title, though, because “Sociopaths, Killers, Well-meaning Killers, Demagogues, Terrorists, Trailblazers, Inspiring Orators and Activists, and also Politicians Who Did Some Good Things, Plus Some Other People Worthy of Purgatory” was too long. Which is to say that the noteworthy personages of Nevada’s past — and very recent past — are most accurately rendered not in black or white but, rather, shades of gray. On p. 81, you’ll meet legendary labor leader Al Bramlet, whose aggressive methods of unionizing Las Vegas might have cost him his life; Sarah Winnemucca, the Paiute activist who spoke truth to a government heedless of its treatment of native Americans in its conquest of the West; and Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan, a bodybuilding duo whose obsessions culminated in the bizarre, shocking death of their live-in assistant.
But the historic headliners of Nevada aren’t consigned only to archived news links and old textbooks. Some of them walk among us, making history as we speak. On p. 50, veteran Nevada journalist John L. Smith profiles Billy Walters, high-stakes sports bettor, golf course developer and philanthropist who was indicted on insider trading charges in May. Walters has been in the crosshairs before, but he’s never been convicted of anything more serious than a misdemeanor — thanks to his well-honed gambler’s instincts for self-preservation and, perhaps, a little luck. Smith considers Walters’ previous brushes with the law, his interesting circle of associates, and the stakes of the game this time around. Whether the multifaceted Walters is a hero or a villain? That’ll be for history to decide.