by brock radke | January 24, 2012 | People
In Las Vegas, tourists can, famously, do what they want and be who they want, if only for a fun-filled weekend. But no matter how close one gets to a lifestyle others would envy, one can never really step into somebody else’s shoes and live another life for a day—unless you’re Rick Lax.
In his new book, I Get Paid For This, the witty writer/adventurer opens the door to his experiments in stunt journalism in Sin City. Lax has worked as a street performer on the Strip and a casino executive at The Mirage Resort and Casino. He has pumped iron with Mr. Olympia and slaved away for tips in a strip club restroom. He has seen Vegas from all angles—and he’s willing to tell those tales.
“Everyone is curious about Las Vegas and what goes on here,” he says. “A lot of the stories in this book are rooted in Vegas, but they’re not just about Vegas.”
As with Lax’s previous book, Fool Me Once, his latest endeavor is also Vegas-oriented. I Get Paid For This was born from writing immersive pieces for Las Vegas Weekly. Quickly, his writing duties expanded to include stories about normal Las Vegans. “I thought I could get a job on the Strip in order to walk a mile in their shoes, but I don’t like walking and a mile is very far,” he says. “So instead, what if I did a lot of jobs for a short period of time in the hopes of better learning about the people who make the city tick?”
His appreciation for the crazy, funny “work” of compiling these experiences explains the book’s title. “If you were a writer living anywhere else, you would have to go to all these places and seek these people out,” he says. “Working in Vegas, I have access to all these great groups.” Lax did it all, from cruising the casino with Mirage president Felix Rappaport to shucking oysters behind the busy bar at P.J. Clarke’s in The Forum Shops at Caesars. “It took me six minutes to shuck my first one,” he says. “I got it down to 45 seconds, but the restaurant shucker does eight per minute.” A lifelong magician, Lax enjoyed a day as a street performer, teaming up with “Jungle Josh” to earn a few bucks in front of Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas. Yet he doesn’t see himself in the world of professional poker. “I play poker a lot, but when you play for a living it’s different,” he says. “If I lose for a day, I’m sad. If I’m a professional and I lose, it could be disastrous.”
But while working at Studio Lites, Lax discovered a new and unusual talent. “The owner called me over and said, ‘Can you put this wig on for me?’” Lax recalls. “He thought if I wore the wig and looked good, a customer would get jealous and might be interested in buying it. So, yeah, I was there to help. But I like to think of myself as more than a wig model.” As the saying goes, Only in Vegas.
photography by seth olenick