Jay Rankin is a very interesting man. Working as a doorman at one of the largest resorts in the world, Jay witnessed first-hand many dark and enigmatic human interactions at the core of true-to-life noir. Today, Jay gives Noir Nation a behind-the-scenes interview of his memoir, Under The Neon Sky.
Noir Nation: Under The Neon Sky shares your experiences as a doorman working on the Las Vegas Strip. When did you know that you had to write this book?
Rankin: Having a background in psychology (my favorite course was on addictions, yikes!) and dealing with my own demons had a lot to do with my need to write. Life is about our chapters and I needed to write this one down. I had experienced my own partying days so I was immediately taken with what I saw and perceived while on the job. What really became clear was how people including myself, handled a place with no boundaries mixed with drugs and alcohol, gambling, and any sort of 24/7 pleasure you can come up with plus, no sleep. My shift was from 7 pm to 3 in the morning. This was the largest hotel in the world (MGM Grand Las Vegas) with over 5,000 rooms, 3 showrooms, one of which held 15,000 people, a theme park, 2 nightclubs, god knows how many restaurants, and a convention center. It was a high energy job that gave new meaning to “being slammed.” I experienced intense excitement, lots of laughter, raw anger, and some very sad moments. It’s absolutely amazing what humans are capable of when placed on Vegas soil. For me, it was a daily electrical charge and challenge. The more I was exposed to, the more I needed to write it down. It didn’t take very long for me to take notes if for no other reason than to give me some relief like therapy. Writing was like talking to a friend, or beating on a body bag, or taking myself for a walk in 110 degree heat to release the toxins that came with the job.
Noir Nation: What attracted you to Las Vegas in the first place?
Rankin: For as long as I can remember, I have always had a need for excitement. Even the people I chose as lifetime friends were wild. When I was 14 years old, I wanted to one day own a nightclub. I first visited Vegas to see my biological father when I was 11 years old. He was a gambler so he knew all the “good old boys.” Everyone he introduced me to was either named Tony or Vito. As a child, being there was my first real rush, seeing all the colors, hearing all the excitement, smelling the cigars, alcohol mixed with men’s colognes and women’s perfumes. My world had changed. I was the kind of person who even as a child loved mingling with the dark side of human nature. Las Vegas was always a high octane, colorful place so when the opportunity came, I jumped on it. One of my initial jobs was being a field reporter on Las Vegas’ first real local business shows. I had the chance to meet a lot of people who ran the town—the mayor, governor, hotel and restaurant owners, etc. It was the very early nineties and the town was exploding, or in many cases, imploding—the new hotels, housing, businesses, schools, hospitals. The infrastructure of all the new streets, bridges, and traffic signals was way behind schedule. I loved being there during those days, it was like watching an empire grow into something much more than it was just weeks ago.
Noir Nation: What is more challenging? Dealing with spoiled celebrities, drunks, hookers, and hoodlums, or Writing a Book?
Rankin: You didn’t include hotel management and co-workers on that list; they too, were very challenging. In a Vegas hotel, the money flows like a river and this can cause a feeding frenzy amongst the employees. The lack of trust is an awful feeling for working conditions each day. I didn’t mind the spoiled celebrities because giving service to people, even those who felt entitled, was the job description. It is very important not to offend people from different cultures. 5 Star service is the hotel motto. The most entitled were the shareholders, or in some cases, the high-rollers. Most of the celebrities were actually very nice. I loved the hookers and street-wise types because they understood and acknowledged exactly who they were without the bullshit, and I could relate to them, but dealing with people who were polluted was a huge challenge. Alcohol and drugs do things to people, make them behave in ways they would never behave without the influence. The brain loses its ability to protect itself, numbs the filtering process, and shuts down the emotional controls. So someone who may be very kind with a big heart, a great guy, can, if high enough, become an uncontrollable, screaming, and violent guest. While holding his wife’s hand, a guest could ask a hooker, “how much?” I’ve seen how alcohol can help people let go of everything. The real problem was that the hotel wanted that guest to come back and call our resort home. I had to swallow a lot of shit from people. Writing a book takes a lot of passion, dedication, discipline, and sacrifice. It’s all about a day at a time. You start off thinking how unique you are and through re-writes become a real writer; it’s not easy. Let’s see; writing or dealing with drunks, writing or drunks, hmmm.
Noir Nation: Some say that Las Vegas doesn’t let you leave once the lights have you. Did you find it hard to leave the job, the lights?
Rankin: Before Las Vegas, my world was work, marriage, sleep, and watching TV. It was all pretty standard, black and white normal—paying bills, deciding on what to eat for dinner, watching Monday Night Football and the news, etc. Vegas was like a frontal blast, a laser wake up call for all my senses to stand up straight, a new reason to take deep breaths. If all that we are is a complex web of pathways in the brain, then Vegas carved a trench into my lobes. When it was over, there were pieces of me lying around but the addiction to the rush, the complex yet vibrant smells, the glow of all the lights was hard for me to walk away from. After I left, it took me a while to come down. The first few weeks away were like the DT’s. Even today, years later, I still miss it.
Noir Nation: What is the most memorable experience you would like to share from your book?
Rankin: That’s a difficult question because of all the stories of the guests and what eventually happened to some good friends, but I would have to say the night Mike Tyson fought Evander Holyfield. Steven Spielberg could not have created what that night was like. I decided to place that event in the 1st chapter. That was probably one of the most memorable and shocking experiences in my life.
Noir Nation: Local magazines and the Art District downtown are trying to establish Vegas as a cultural center instead of just a tourist center. Do you think Las Vegas has any culture or do you think that the transient nature harms the roots needed to foster the arts?
Rankin: With a population of 2 million plus 40 million visitors a year, I believe a cultural center is long overdue and would be wonderful for the town if it’s done right. This is still Las Vegas and even a cultural center needs to be done with some flash to create a destination. When taking a wide-angle picture of Vegas, there are a lot of great things the city offers other than the main industry of hotels and casinos. If you look at all the quaint, cultural centers in big cities, it’s a draw, and for Las Vegas it would be a great addition. It would help to create and bring more depth to the town.
Noir Nation: Where do you see Las Vegas in 10 years?
Rankin: Great question and a tough one. If there is ever a town that had a history of re-inventing itself, it is Las Vegas. There was the corporate re-invention from the mob-owned days. The Steve Wynn re-invention when he opened The Mirage and Bellagio. The MGM Grand Hotel and theme park not only re-invented Vegas, it re-invented the other end of the Strip. I believe the MGM opened the floodgates of visitors targeted as families, the twenty and thirty-something, different cultures. The High-rise condos and all that new real estate certainly re-invented what the Strip had been. The CityCenter Resort re-defined what a Vegas destination was going to be in the future. But then the worldwide recession crept across the planet. When things were good in Las Vegas, revenue from new housing developments and industry was exploding. The building of new casinos worldwide has taken its toll along with the recession. The latest targeting seems to be a younger crowd, lots of alcohol, nightclubs, etc. In 10 years, Las Vegas could become stagnant if things don’t improve. The new Asian casinos seem to be keeping Vegas afloat. Virtual gambling may have an impact. The casino corporations may even decide to do something unheard of, get rid of debt. Possibly a new industry will keep the town growing. Then again, the Strip could recreate itself once again, who knows.
Noir Nation: What are you up to creatively and professionally?
Rankin: I’ve been working on a few writing projects, one of which is about the world of professional boxers. There are some seasoned screenwriters I have been meeting with developing a possible series based on the book. For years, I have been working on a second book based on a doorman. I am also a single dad raising my 11-year-old son. Raising a child by yourself takes a lot of creativity.
Contact info: www.JaysLasVegas.com
Under The Neon Sky….A Las Vegas Doorman’s Story