AN EARTHMOVER CHURNS up the hillside, lifts its great yellow claw, and pulls a pine tree until it snaps. The trees will give way, one after the next, the branches gathered and discarded. Tomorrow there will be nothing but stumps; what was green will be brown, what reached upward will be flattened. A staircase to the hilltop will have been alchemized into rubble. Soon the hill itself will be gone, and the seats below, and the stage, and the shell which once supported a canopy of sails long since blown away in the great and terrible storm of June 2018. The Henderson Pavilion, this place that promised music under moonlight, will be gone, supplanted by another place extending other promises: walls and a roof and climate-control and a hockey rink and young men gliding in their armor and the people of my city, shoulder-to-shoulder, cheering them on. I should embrace the new promises made, but I cannot stop lamenting the old one broken. This is the summer of 2020, life is under assault from assailants seen and unseen, reason has given way to rhetoric, and the two remaining modes of discourse appear to be panic and denial. There is a body count and a deadening of souls. Who am I to mourn, in such times, a place?
It happened so fast. On February 6, the Vegas Golden Knights announced that they had purchased a minor-league hockey team. On February 13, Henderson Mayor Debra March informed us that the team would come to Henderson, that it would play at the corner of Paseo Verde and Green Valley parkways, and that the structure that occupied the corner, the Henderson Pavilion, would give way to a new arena. Among the townspeople, household whispers led to social-media bewilderment: In a city with so much raw land, why here, in place of this? Wasn’t it possible to love both our hockey and our Pavilion? On March 9, the city held a public meeting at which a man gave a PowerPoint presentation about all of the ways in which the Pavilion was unworthy — too old, too hot, too expensive to repair and maintain. At the end of the presentation, an elderly woman stood up. She was told she’d have a chance to comment to the city’s note-takers at the breakout sessions, but she said she would comment right now, to the people of her town, assembled here elbow-to-elbow in a plague season. “How many of you have ever been to the Pavilion?” she asked. Every hand in the room went up. “How many of you have ever had a bad time there?” All of the hands went down.
In the breakout sessions that followed, there was a corner to talk about traffic flow for the new arena, a corner to talk about parking, a corner to talk about design. There was not a corner to talk about saving the Pavilion.
On March 11, the president of the United States appeared on TV to acknowledge at last the danger of a renegade strand of RNA known as the coronavirus. For the next month and a half, time stood still, streets fell silent, and the air grew clean with quarantine.
The people’s hibernation coincided with the new arena’s gestation. By May 19, the city approved $42 million for the arena, to be matched by $42 million from the Knights. Architects were hired; renderings were produced. A group of Hendersonians gathered 3,000 signatures on a petition to put the matter on the November ballot. The city rejected the petition, arguing that each signature page did not explain exactly what would happen if the initiative blocking the arena were to make it to the ballot and pass. (As a signatory, I understood quite well that if the initiative blocking the arena were to pass, the arena would be blocked.) The grounds around the Pavilion were fenced off, the adjacent farmer’s market was moved a block away, and on August 18 the earthmovers arrived, and I pulled my car over to mourn the trees.
I am trying to write not from a place of outrage but of love. My love fuels my outrage. My love for the Pavilion helped me fall in love with this city. I was raised not a Hendersonian but a Las Vegan, out on the far-edge frontier once known as Flamingo and Sandhill. After a decade away, I moved back to the valley in August 1999 and found myself suddenly a resident of Henderson, a place I had previously associated with a sulfurous thing called “The Henderson Smell.” Now I associated it with the morning scent of mountains wet after monsoon rains.
In 2002, about five miles from our little house, the city opened its Pavilion, an amphitheater crowned by a lovely green hill with sapling pines at the top and seating at the bottom and a canopy that looked like a quiet fleet of sailboats or an arriving flock of doves. The place, designed by Denver architects Anderson Mason Dale, cost $10.3 million, and the result looked well worth the investment, a place, like any public building worth its salt, built to serve our children’s children. At the grand opening on September 27, the Las Vegas Philharmonic played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Hal Weller, the director of the Phil, mused on the many fall and spring seasons to follow. “The Pavilion,” he said, “is the perfect setting.”
Others agreed: When the American Institute of Architects held its national convention in Las Vegas in May 2005, the Institute’s most prestigious body, the College of Fellows, chose to induct its new honorees not in a palace on the Strip, but at the Pavilion. The AIA called the setting “High-Desert Grandeur.” It was certainly grand for my family. Season after season we went there for free symphony performances and children’s plays and cool morning walks along the palm-lined perimeter. Our little boy ran around the complex, across emerald lawns and fields of Mars-red clay. On show nights we took him to the top of the hill and showed him the lights of this, his native valley.
In 2006 we moved to Eugene, Oregon, and in 2010 we moved home from that paradise in part because we found a house within walking distance of the Pavilion. Our boy was in fourth grade when we returned, and his class’s first field trip was to a country-music festival and fair at the Pavilion. The hillside and plaza and Martian perimeter were filled with music and food, rides and games, gold-panning and a petting zoo. When the rain came, swirling and sweet, the people of Henderson huddled beneath the canopy of doves and under one another’s umbrellas. We were in that unlikely place called together, and the Pavilion had brought us there. In the years ahead, we listened to Beethoven and Stravinsky from the grassy hill; we watched Charlie Chaplin navigate the bewilderment of Modern Times while the Henderson Symphony Orchestra played his music. We sat on picnic blankets alongside friends old and new. We watched children roll laughing down the hillside.
When the Golden Knights came to town, the Pavilion’s playoff watch parties gave us free access to the expensive delights of the National Hockey League. The crowd gathered under the tent and before the big screen, decked in gold and black, nibbling on food-truck burritos and licking Hawaiian shave ice under the summer sun. Girls did cartwheels on the lawn while their mothers cheered on Marc Andre Fleury, a man so suddenly magical that locals were naming their dogs after him. It was here, after three hours of nerve-wracking action on the big screen, that I experienced the most profound moment of communal togetherness in my long Southern Nevada existence — May 20, 2018: Golden Knights 2, Winnipeg Jets 1. This team, in its first year of life, was going to the Stanley Cup Final. It was the Pavilion’s greatest moment, and it was the beginning of the end. For it showed that Henderson loved its hockey, and even more so, that it loved its Knights, and that the territorial locus of that love was right here, on this hill, whose glory was inseparable from its doom.
THERE ARE MANY elements of Las Vegas that permeate culture on a national or even global level — the Welcome sign, the Bellagio fountains, the disappointing realization that what happens here does not, in fact, stay here. For Las Vegas locals, however, few things are as ubiquitous as seven numbers: 877-1500.
That phone number. When you see it on the side of a bus, you sing it in your head. To live in Las Vegas is to know it by heart. You may not be able to recite your grandmother’s phone number, but you know that one. Glen Lerner, personal injury lawyer. He is, according to the jingle anyway, the way to go.
If you’ve had Glen Lerner’s phone number stuck in your head, you can thank Pete Radd. The master of jingles produced the tune more than a decade ago.
“Jingles become famous or infamous based on the budget the advertiser has to run it frequently,” Radd says of the ad’s longevity. “Radio stations try songs and watch what catches on, and they run those songs based on how people respond to them, based on how the market responds. When an advertiser has a jingle that they believe in, they have the power to play that jingle as much as they want and as much as they can afford. And that’s a big part of why a jingle is successful. Of course, I think it’s a good jingle. It is a good jingle. But it also has been played incessantly, nonstop on all TV channels, all radio stations, and now online.”
A lifelong musician, Radd has toured as pianist for The Four Tops, served as musical director for The Temptations, and was music director for the show Bottoms Up, which ran at the Sahara. He played at President Clinton’s inauguration, was featured on a Christmas album with Aretha Franklin, and is a regular pianist in the Bellagio lounge. Radd got into the advertising earworm business in the ’80s, after being hired to produce a jingle for a Reno cab company. The ditty (“333-3333, Reno-Sparks Cab gets you where you want to be”) was a hit.
After moving to Las Vegas, Radd sought out advertising agencies and went on to produce jingles around town, scoring another memorable hit in the early 2000s with a four-second ad you also probably haven’t forgotten: “UNLV Tickets. We get you there.” But it wasn’t until Glen Lerner’s advertising agency came calling that the ultimate “you know you’re a Vegas local when …” reference was born.
Radd describes the process of creating the jingle as collaborative. The advertising agency suggested the lyric; Radd produced the music, which he describes as “kind of macho with a funky hip-hop beat behind it.”
The fact that those seven digits are now stuck in all of our heads is proof of the logic behind the phone number-centric approach.
“Nobody gets up in the morning thinking they’re going to need a personal injury lawyer,” Radd says. “If you are an unfortunate soul who gets in a car accident, that’s the first thing you need. It flips your life over like a pancake one day. What we were able to do, what Mr. Lerner’s ad agent team knew ahead of everyone, was that it was all about the phone number.”
The jingle’s reach extends beyond Clark County. Not only does it play in other states where Lerner’s law firm has a presence (Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, to name a few), the melody is used by affiliated law firms. Oftentimes, Radd’s friends will call him up while traveling to tell him that someone stole his jingle. “No, I did all of them,” Radd tells them. “They were all done here.”
When asked about his connection to Vegas’s best-known phone number, he says that he feels fortunate to hear his work played so often. There’s an English version, a Spanish version, a fast-tempo version, a slower version. Strip visitors hear it in their hotel rooms. Locals hear it, well, everywhere, and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“They had the budget to play it frequently, and they stuck with it,” Radd says. “They used it consistently over time. Over and over again. You and I could turn on the TV right now and find that jingle playing on a channel somewhere.”
YOU DON'T LOOK AT Linda Perez and think, battered woman. She’s got an MBA from Purdue. She worked in management at Caesars Entertainment, back when it was Harrah’s. She was married to a doctor … who abused her. She’s been out of that relationship for 25 years, and it was part of what inspired her to lead a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence in Northwest Indiana and now here. Perez became CEO of the Shade Tree almost exactly a year before she talked with Desert Companion about what it’s been like steering an organization whose work is difficult even in the best of times, now, through the worst of them.
You picked a challenging time to come to a new job in Las Vegas. What has this year been like?
Amazing in many good ways, and then trying to navigate through what came up. Being the CEO of the organization, it was almost like, This is what is happening right now, you have clients and staff to take care of, let's do this. That's really the mindset that it's been, because that's what I'm passionate about: our clients and staff. They need us.
Did anything in your past prepare you for this?
I think what has prepared me for it is just being a strong woman in the workforce — I mean, you know, being a CEO for the organization that I am leading, but also having a personal connection to it, to our cause. I'm so grateful for all the career opportunities that I've had. I worked for Harrah's, which became Caesars Entertainment, for 13 years, so I have profit and nonprofit background, and the work that I do is in crisis a lot of times, so the pandemic was another crisis, on top of what we did already. It was just, what do we do and how do we address it?
And how did you address it? What was the third week of March like at the Shade Tree?
Fortunately, I have an amazing staff, and I had a couple individuals who were already following the news. So, it was on our radar, but the beginning of March, it was like, Okay, what is CDC saying? What is the governor saying? We grabbed my leadership team and said, "What protocols are we going to put in place, because this is going to impact us tremendously with the clients we have and those that are still out there who are going to be needing our services." So, we put our task force together quickly and put protocols in place.
What did that look like, inside the shelter?
Those initial protocols were keeping our current clients safe. At that time, it was that they couldn't leave, so we had to make sure, internally, that we had things for them to do that made their lives within the shelter as okay as possible, given the circumstances. It was about keeping everybody safe from the virus, keeping them from catching the virus and spreading it within our walls.
You mentioned having a strong connection to the community you serve. You're a domestic violence survivor of how many years?
Oh, wow. Just thinking about that. ... I am a 25-year survivor, because I'm 50 now. However, I grew up in a domestic violence home, so that was normal to me. And, for me, that's why educating our children and young adults is really important, because, having grown up with it, I know the effects it can have on children who are exposed to it. And the chance of them becoming a victim or abuser are high when that's the environment you grow up in.
One doesn't need that experience to qualify for your job, but how does having it distinguish the way you do your work?
I believe that everybody has a calling, and this is mine. Having that experience, I'm able to empathize with our clients on a different level. And sometimes that means working with my staff to understand what they're going through. Sometimes it's not visible. Sometimes (the clients) are not sharing, and something can trigger their trauma, and because I understand that, I'm able to work with my staff so that they can understand those things they might not be able to see. I think it's very beneficial for me to have that connection to them.
You mentioned not being able to see domestic abuse in someone. What are the other big misconceptions about it?
Why does she stay? Why does she stay? That is something that ... you know, I was a successful person when I was going through the worst trauma of my life, and I was going to work every day, and he was a doctor. Those are the misconceptions people have. Domestic violence and sexual assault do not discriminate. They do not know religion, age, social status, economic status. Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, affects one in four women, one in seven men. Those numbers are high. And many of our family and friends, if not us, have gone through it.
How about you personally, how are you coping?
I'm actually glad you asked that, because it's something I have to remind my staff to do, because what we do is very hard, and self-care is important. For myself, I'm very grounded in my faith, so I listen to a lot of inspirational messages. And, I enjoy having wine. I mean, it was Jesus' first miracle. (laughs) I like to read. I like to expand my knowledge. And I'm very close to my family back in the Midwest.
What's your favorite wine?
You know, I'm stuck on Champagne right now. I've been having mimosas this summer. But I do love a good Cabernet.
1. IN A TIMELY ACT of internet archaeology, Review-Journal politics editor Steve Sebelius has disentombed, from some archival netherworld, a 2005 longread detailing the origin story of the Las Vegas Monorail. Which, as the story puts it, “is, without question, the biggest juice project ever seen in the Silver State.” (And that’s in 2005 juice.) Headlined “Next stop: Suckertown,” it was co-written by Sebelius and George Knapp for the late alt-weekly Las Vegas CityLife. Why revive it now? Because the LVCVA just bought the monorail — though not because the agency wants a monorail.
2. Local writer Krista Diamond (see “Mr. Earworm,” above) recently tangled with COVID-19. One of the most troubling aspects of the disease proved to be losing her sense of taste, an experience she recounts for that Fifth Street wannabe, The New York Times.
3. The notion of a “fall season” — of TV, books, anything — seems preposterously out of register with a moment in which time is a haphazardly applied concept: It’s September? Sure, let’s go with that. Even so, I couldn’t get enough of Rolling Stone’s fall movie guide. From “September” through “December,” here’s every upcoming Bond, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, indie, rom-com, dram-com, sandworm, Eddie Murphy comeback vehicle, and future rueful entry on Ryan Reynolds’ IMDB page. Complete with trailers. In other words, just the time-suck this sucky time calls for. And, on a hardly related note, here are two wry poems about King Kong in Hollywood.
4. Because he’s a real-time biopsy of the heaving, conflicted American soul, some big-deal novelists have taken a crack at President Trump — and flopped. Salman Rushdie. Thud! Dave Eggers. Splat! You know who’s written maybe the best Trump novel, according to The New Republic? Carl Hiaasen. The poet laureate of the bonkers crime caper is out with Squeeze Me, in which the sovereign of Mar-a-Lago caroms through one of the author’s usual 18-bankshot Florida plotlines. One with all the trimmings, from greedy Palm Beach swells to a python juiced on LSD. TNR concludes, “Placing our absurd president in an equally absurd setting normalizes Trump in useful ways: He becomes a product of a distinctly American environment.” Perhaps every generation gets the Florida Man it deserves.
5. When you saw the “reaction video” of two young Black guys grooving to the drumsplosion in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” you probably thought, Hells yeah, I love it, too, and left it at that. Jody Rosen didn’t. He kept thinking. The result is this shortish, insightful take on the video's racial and generational dynamics. Another helping of Boomer validation, anyone?
6. Stan Parish, author of the new thriller Love & Theft, sets most of his tale elsewhere but opens with a slam-bang jewel heist at the Wynn Las Vegas. (Thanks for the free read, Amazon preview function!) Come for the gripping tick-tock action, but stay for the verisimilitude: Unlike many fictional depictions of Vegas, Love & Theft races through actual streets, which really are where Parish says they are. And, instead of concocting a grandiose stand-in for the Wynn, he just uses the Wynn. Nice to see a novelist lavish the same accuracy on Las Vegas that he would on a fictional depiction of New York or L.A. Scott Dickensheets
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.