Column #HR43 Memories
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
On May 17th at 5:00 p.m. the Sahara Hotel on the tail end of the famed Las Vegas strip closed its door for the first and last time. Local Las Vegans – that is anyone who’s lived here more than ten years and may or may not eat meat – gathered for one last look and maybe a final cocktail. For dart players from the Golden Age of American darts the closing was the end to a bygone era.
The Golden Era of American darts and the Sahara were linked in the same way that the name Kardashian is to trash. You can’t have one without the other. From the World Cup of 1979, the first darting event held at the Sahara, ‘till the final North American Open in 1995 the Sahara was the designated American stopping spot for darters from around the world. That World Cup in 1979 was won by England but Thailand’s gift to American Darts (and ladies) Nicky Virachkul won the singles over Wales Kerri Morgan. The pairs was won by John Lowe and Eric Bristow, who between them would win more total North American’s Open titles than anyone else and would for ever be linked with both the event and the Sahara.
At that World Cup in ‘79 darters from the world over drank the Sahara out of beer. A hurried call was sent out for reinforcements. When the beer arrived it was stacked on luggage carts and pushed through the casino with the idea of taking it up the escalator to the venue. Even a dart player knows that a luggage cart can’t go up an escalator. The Old Dart Coach (before he was the Old Dart Coach) and pal Ron Beach were sitting in the front row for the non-invited guests who filled the first thirty or so rows from the stage. When word of the beer problem reached the pair they immediately got a very nice “older lady” to watch their seats as they hurried to the down escalator for beer. Seems that other darters had the same idea but either weren’t as thirsty or a little slow on the trigger. When the pair reached the casino floor there were three or four luggage carts stacked with “This Bud’s for You.”
“How many can we buy?”
“$1.00 per bottle.”
“OK we’ll take two cases.”
They did, carted the two cases up to their seats selling off enough beer at $4.00 a bottle to make a nice profit and keep the “feeling” going. The Sahara was darts Wimbledon. If you weren’t there you weren’t squat.
The North American moved to the Sahara in 1980 from its early home on the Queen Mary docked in the harbor at Long Beach. One year a group of Northern Californians attended the Queen Mary event with special t-shirt reading “Assault on the Queen.” Cheeky that. The group leader also figured out that if one blew a trumpet into the ship’s air con vents it would travel into every room. Being a former United States Marine trumpet player he took to blowing revelry at 6 a.m. each morning driving the staff of the Queen Mary crazy. The staff never figured out that the guy with the 5:45 a.m. wake up – he had a couple of man chores first – might just be blowing revelry at 6:00 a.m. The same person booked two rooms each year using the bath tub in one just to store beer.
In the sixteen years that the North American called the Sahara home more than $789,000 in prize money was paid out with much of it going to England thanks to Misters Lowe, George, Bristow and assorted various gendered POM’s. The Brits would moan and whine each year that “playing 301 double on isn’t real darts. If they don’t change it we’ll stop coming.” Of course the money was good so they kept coming and whining and moaning and winning. Persistent bastards. For darters of the era it’s not what happened in the venue on the boards that remains in the memory bank but what happened elsewhere. The Old Dart Coach attended every North American at the Sahara although some remain hazy and the dates blurred together.
There was the “A” bar located at the bottom of the down escalator where Richie presided as the primary mixologist. If you weren’t a member of the “A” group you could forget about getting a beverage. The leaders of the “A” group were John Lowe and Big Cliff Lazarenko. If they didn’t give their okay you didn’t drink. Simple as that. “Cliff you know this guy?” “No.” “Sorry sir, this is a private party.” The “A” bar was in a perfect location at the bottom of the escalator and within twenty steps of the nearest men’s room. On one trip the ODC was at the end stall of twenty-five urinals. From the front came the yell, “Boy this water’s cold.” “Yea, and it’s deep,” replied the ODC adding “The first lair doesn’t stand a chance.”
The “A” bar was mostly a male dominated domain. Women applied by invitation. A drinking contest evolved one night between John Lowe, Jocky Wilson and Cliff Lazarenko. Bartender Richie kept the bar open until early in the morning hour. Finally he had to make “last call.” “OK we’ll have eighteen white Russians,” order Lazarenko. Richie put six white Russians before each contestant. “No that’s 18 each,” announced Big Cliff. The contest winner? Make a guess.
The ODC always seemed to be attending weddings during the North American. One year he, Jerry Umberger and Jerry’s wife Gloria were to attend a wedding just a couple of blocks from the Sahara. Might have been for Mike and Michelle Enright. When they stepped outside the 110-plus temperature hit them “like the blast furnace from a Pennsylvania steel mill.” (Thought we’d toss in a City Confidential “talk” from the Bio Network here.) “What the heck,” they exclaimed or words to that effect. “No problem,” uttered the ODC. They hailed a cab and got in. “Where you headed?” “Not sure. Maybe downtown.” The cab went a couple of blocks. “Stop. This will do.” Cabby was not happy. Horse on him.
At another wedding between two Brits, one in a walker, the ODC took a date. They both played dress up as after the nuptials they retired to the newly wedded couple’s room for champagne. The next stop was at a dance going on in the dart hall. While in the middle of the dance the ODC noticed that his date was gone. “Where’s your date?” “Don’t know. She was on the end of my hand.” After ten minutes of standing on the dance floor while those around him were walking to music the ODC came to the conclusion that his date may have fled the scene. He of course adjourned to the “A” bar to drown his sorrows. Southern California’s Jim Lovell inquired of the ODC, “Where’s your date?” “She got lost.” Lovell volunteered to have a look around. He never found her. The next day the ODC confronted his “date” of the previous evening. “Where the hell did you go?” “I told you I’d be back.” “Yea but you didn’t say it would be twenty-four hour’s later.”
The ODC would gain a measure of revenge a couple of years later during the playing of a tournament at the now also long gone Hacienda. He made a date to take said lady to see Siegfried & Roy at the Mirage. “We’ll play dress up.” The ODC was in sartorial splendor – a purple velvet double-breasted smoking jacket, black silk slacks, blue shirt topped with a large black velvet bow tie. The lady was stunning in a black sheath dress topped with a simple string of pearls. As they were making their way from the bar to the show room they passed the glass window looking in on the white tiger’s cage. A lady passing by stopped them with the query, “Could I take a picture?” The ODC and his date stood in front of the window with arms around waist in the usual “daters pose.” “Lady could you move out of the picture. We just want the coat and the tigers.” Horse on ye dear.
The buffet at the Sahara was something special in the early years. It was not usual to see large groups of darters chowing down like food was going to be outlawed. There was an English lady dart player of some note who had an affinity for men, particularity those born with life-lasting sun tans. She also had some health problems which cropped one night at the buffet. In short she passed out. The paramedics were called to remove the unconscious lady darter from the buffet. As it happened, all the paramedics fit the description of the lady’s personal choice in men. The ODC followed them out and down toward the lobby. As if by magic, upon reaching the hallway the lady regained consciousness. She blinked her eyes looking at each of the four paramedics. “How do you feel?” asked the ODC. “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.” As a postscript to the story the same lady some years later would marry a fellow Brit in Las Vegas. After four children she told him, “We’re no longer married.” “Why?” “Because a marriage in Las Vegas only counts in Las Vegas.” Might have been the first time that “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” was used.
Memories. Many more. There was the time that the ODC had the ceiling of the bathroom fall on his head. Fortunately it landed on the one part of his body where little damage could be done. When he complained to the front desk he was told “If you don’t like it go somewhere else.”
Or the time he slipped off his shoes after a long day while sitting at the Sports Book bar with Jr. doing the “honors” with beverages. A security guard came by to ask, “Sir, where are your shoes?” “Right here… woops some stole my shoes.” “Then Sir you will have to leave.” As the ODC started to walk to his room he was told, “You can’t walk through the casino.” “How the hell can I get to my room if I can’t walk through the casino?” The security person relented while escorting the ODC to his room for a re-shoeing. The shoe thief(s)? Two Canadians.
One year the ODC and pairs partner Mike Enright advanced through the preliminary rounds like a hot knife through butter. They were smoking. At the round of sixteen the fun stopped when they drew the Eric Bristow and Leighton Reese. In the race to two it was deadlocked at one. The ODC had three darts at a double to win. He laid three on the flipping wire. What a wanker.
Charles Dickens wrote in the Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Chuck was half right.
For Americans, the Golden Age of Darts and the Sahara were “the best of times.”
With both now gone it’s “the worst of times.”