One year after the worst night ever, we’re prouder than ever to say, ‘Viva Las Vegas!’
The Do Not Disturb function on my iPhone was set to begin at 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2017, and end at 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2017. My alarm clock, though, was set to awaken me on the 2nd at 5:45 a.m.
That 15-minute difference was haunting.
I attended a Vegas Golden Knights preseason game on Oct. 1, which began at 5 p.m. I came home after the game and got home around 9. I read a book on my iPad and didn’t turn on the television. I went to bed about 10:30 p.m., but was awakened before the 5:45 a.m. alarm could go off on that Monday morning.
At 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2017, when the Do Not Disturb function ended, my phone began pinging repeatedly like a slot machine chirping happily about a jackpot. There were, quite literally, more than 100 text messages. I also received an unusually large number of voice mail messages. Facebook Messenger delivered another exceptionally high number of private messages.
I picked up the phone and the first notification I saw through sleepy and bewildered eyes was from Eric Winter, a long-time friend and colleague.
“Please tell me you are OK.”
It surprised me, because I had no idea what he was talking about. I wondered if I’d slept through an earthquake. But I awakened quickly as message after message expressed the same sentiment. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew something bad — really bad — had happened.
I was soon to learn that a madman who was staying at the wonderful Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with a slew of guns opened fire on concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. It was a tragedy of epic proportions. People were sitting ducks, with no shelter and nowhere to go, as this murderer opened fire on them. Fifty-eight people died. More than 800 were injured.
For one night, Las Vegas was a broken city.
But one year later, we are #VegasStrong. This city rallied in the face of tragedy like anyone who has lived here for a while knew it would. There was an urgent need for blood, so I went to a United Blood Services location to donate. I didn’t know my blood type — I still don’t — but they were in need of blood of all types, so I went over.
The first challenge was finding a parking spot. The place was overflowing with cars. The second was finding the end of the line. So many folks had turned out that the line extended longer than I could see.
I was in line for several hours, and was still a few hours at a least from getting inside to be able to donate, when we were told to leave, that at that point, they had enough blood.
The reports of heroism began to come out, at first in a trickle and then in a flood. The acts of heroism, of police officers and fire fighters and ambulance drivers and security officers and EMTs and just plain folks risked their lives to try to save others.
For 10 minutes, from 10:05 until 10:15 p.m., Las Vegas was a war zone, as the shooter forever altered the lives of so many. But what he also did was to show the heart of this community, one that has been derided by so many for so long.
Las Vegans banded together and helped each other, in ways big and small. It was a public expression of what those of us who have lived here for so long already knew: This is a wonderful city made up of special people.
The Vegas Golden Knights at each game during their inaugural NHL season would honor what they called, “The Vegas Strong Hero of the Game.” It might have been a doctor, or a nurse, or a police officer, who had gone above and beyond to help others. Each night, the reaction to the hero was the same: The Las Vegas crowd would rise as one and roar its approval. It went on for the rest of October, and then November and December, as well.
It never stopped. Even in the Stanley Cup Finals, when the Knights were inexplicably one step from a world title in their first year, Las Vegans honored those who had given so much to help their neighbors in their time of need.
I love the three primary cities I’ve lived in during my life: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and anyone who knows me knows full well how much passion I have for Pittsburgh. I spent nearly a decade in Burlington, Vt., where I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. And now, it’s three decades in Las Vegas and my heart has long since been won over by what some call a gambling Mecca.
If you choose to think of Las Vegas as a gambling Mecca, that’s fine.
But it is far, far more than that. It is a city with a heart and a spirit unmatched, and a place I’m so proud to call home. I don’t know where life will take me, but I know this: I am forever a Las Vegan.
No Golden Knights player will ever wear the number 58, as it was retired and raised to the rafters of T-Mobile Arena last year in a touching ceremony that honored the 58 people who died senselessly in the shooting. The banner has 58 stars as well as each victim’s name.
The words “Vegas Strong” aren’t a hash tag thought up by a clever marketing executive. They instead represent what this city is about, caring, loving people who find a way to succeed and overcome whatever obstacles we find.
Now and forever, I’ll say it loud and I’ll say it proud: Viva, Las Vegas.