Please remember, I am part of that “transitional” generation of women. Told we could “have it all” but raised by women who had migraines, asthma and ulcers because real life told them they couldn’t. Without an independent role model, I followed a path of predictability. Getting engaged at 19 was far from unusual. In fact at 19 I was already a “godmother” and had been “maid of honor” at a totally “non-shot-gun” wedding. I knew exactly what my life would be. Get engaged, married, have 2.2 children, swim and/or play golf at the country club and run the family restaurant. Well, I did get engaged on my 19th birthday to a very nice boy with a very nice diamond ring from Fortunoffs. We would live happily ever after.
Plans progressed. We set the date. I went shopping for a wedding dress and was told by a friend who was already married, “when you put on THE dress you’ll feel the magic.” I tried on one dress and said “you’re right, this is it.” But I didn’t feel any magic. I just knew it looked better than the others. I lied because I didn’t want to be “different.” We planned a very nice wedding, a honeymoon in Puerto Rico, rented an apartment on the bottom floor of a great house in Bayville and ordered a copious number of invitations that were never mailed.
Exactly what was I supposed to do now with the rest of my life? Only one suitable decision ~ move to Los Angeles.
“She’ll be back in three months” seemed to be the general consensus among family and friends. I’m not certain I didn’t disagree with them as I sat in a car with a friend awaiting our departure. It was all contingent on my father’s final “OK” ~ in the form of an envelope of cash and the guarantee that my little Triumph Spitfire would, indeed, be shipped. As my mother – one of the kindest souls and neatest women I’ve ever known – stood next to the car with tears in her eyes she entrusted a large envelope of her own to me. Inside were all the response envelopes from the not-to-be-had wedding, addressed to the family home and stamped. Her simple goodbye – “you have no excuse not to write.”
Somewhere around St. Louis I realized my most marketable skills were making milkshakes and asking “would you like your burger medium or rare?” A frightening few moments, indeed. But Route 66 was fairly distracting despite miles upon miles of corn fields. On Day Four we hit the all important fork in the road. A very important decision had to be made…The Grand Canyon or Las Vegas.
While driving toward the “left coast” seemed an aimless endeavor, the current choice was clear. Sprung from the cage of conventional behavior, I was on my way to Las Vegas.
As I said in an earlier post, when my ex came to Locust Valley, he declared, “I now have the final piece of the puzzle,” dubbing me “the mayonnaise princess.” While I had been known to put mayonnaise on cheeseburgers, the nickname had nothing to do with my choice of condiment. On a visit back to Locust Valley in 1977 the cultural divide between my past and present became apparent, even to me, when I asked the very young man behind the counter of the delicatessen for “lox” and was told “none here, go to Britton’s.” ~ the hardware store. I’d had lots of Wonder Bread but never a bagel until I moved to L.A. But, I digress.
That Saturday night in Las Vegas ~ Labor Day Weekend 1970 ~ I had no idea how incredibly sheltered my upbringing had been and even less of an idea of what Las Vegas was about. What I did know ~ I was on my own in a place lit up like a Christmas tree at a time when Christmas trees were still politically correct. The thrill of sitting with that watered down drink at a slot machine wearing high heels was indescribable. At that moment I was certain my life in Los Angeles was going to be everything I had never dreamed of and the possibilities were endless.
My friend, Kate, and I wandered into the lounge. In Vegas during “the day” there were lounge shows of medium talent and those headlining Rat Pack type show rooms with untenable cover charges. The “Treniers” were appearing at the Sands lounge that evening. As a Motown devotee I found this absolutely perfect. No Four Tops or Temptations, but just what the night called for. The cover was two drinks which were definitely not watered down. Kate and I enjoyed the show as four men at the table next to us were checking out their possibilities. I was too enthralled with my first true rush of freedom and loud music where no one said “turn that down, Janet” that I didn’t pay attention ~ at first.
After the first drink I smiled back, after the second we agreed to join them at their table. It turned out they were “friends” of the Treniers. Men in their mid- thirties in town for the weekend from they didn’t mention where. They were definitely the most sophisticated guys I’d ever seen, but then where would I have been hanging out with men in their thirties? After the show we all went out to the “tables” ~ no slots for them. They were playing roulette and planned to move on to another Casino. Did we want to join them? We had our own car and felt perfectly safe saying, “sure, we’ll follow.”
Two or three casinos later it was about three a.m. I wasn’t imbibing but I was certainly high on the experience. One of the men was particularly attractive, and attracted, and asked if I wanted to head to Caesar’s Palace with him. He would, of course, drive me back to our motel whenever I wanted – no doubt about that. Kate drove away, as did Jake and I. Caesars was beyond unbelievable. As we walked over to the roulette table I boldly put $2 down on my lucky number – 8. The wheel spun and I won! $72 return. Today that would barely fill a gas tank but 1970 gasoline was 28 cents a gallon. I saw this stroke of luck as a positive omen for my future.
As for the present, most certainly I was having fun. Would you believe Jake lived in Los Angeles? He would love to take me to dinner once I got settled. He recommended some great areas to look for an apartment – Toluca Lake in the “Valley” and Beverly Hills adjacent if I wound up “over the hill.” At 21, I found that doubtful until he explained the geographic boundaries of the city I would be calling home in forty-eight hours. But right now, flush with my winnings and a potential “Mr. Right” ~ oh, those life plans die hard ~ standing with me in this glamorous atmosphere I was certain I’d made the right choice to “go West young woman.”
It must have been 5AM when I was ready to get some sleep and asked Jake to drive me back to the motel. While I was a bit embarrassed for him to see where we were staying, I knew wherever I wound up would make a better impression when we met up again in Los Angeles.
Jake just happened to be staying at Caesars. How about we catch some sleep in his room before he drove me back? After some back and forth conversation it became clear his driving me anywhere was not an option. Mr. Right was really wrong. We parted relatively amicably but as I walked out of the Casino I realized two things…it was a very long walk back to the motel and I didn’t even know this talent agents’ last name. Using a large part of my winnings on a taxi ~ that motel was REALLY at the end of the strip ~ I had time to reflect on my first big night of freedom.
As Forest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”