One thing that has struck me during my first few weeks as a Las Vegas resident is the great suspicion that a large number of clerks and cashiers have about the bona fides of $20 bills. Perceiving a trend, as an experiment I started paying for every purchase I could using twenties and observing a la Margaret Mead.
Time and time again I watched as someone at a cash register looked at the Andrew Jackson I tendered, held it up to a light, ran a finger over its presidential image, folded the bill once or twice and otherwise scrutinized it.
In the past 45 years I’ve moved 16 times into the four continental time zones, and abroad. I’ve been in all 50 states. Excluding gold bugs like Ron Paul, I’ve never seen such widespread paranoia about paper money as what I’m witnessing in Vegas.
What’s going on, I asked one Wal-Mart clerk after she gave my $20 bill yet another third degree. She actually had an answer.
“In Vegas,” she said, “everyone’s working a scam.”
New to Las Vegas, I haven’t been here long enough to know how true this is, but a lot of folks hereabouts seem to believe it. One of my new neighbors actually warned me about signing any contract or piece of paper, no matter how innocuous, without first reading it closely. “There is a lot of corruption here,” I was told.
Having grown up in New Jersey, where I worked a long time ago for a decade as a newspaper reporter, I know that Las Vegas hardly has a monopoly on chicanery. Nor can I find any official data showing that counterfeit currency is a bigger problem in Nevada than other places.
But there still might be some unique local factors at work. That Wal-Mart clerk attributed the problem with twenties to the dominant gambling industry and the need of desperate gamblers to cover their losses.
Then there are my other personal experiences in the space of barely two weeks.
An air conditioning repair company quoted me a $200 price for uncovered work on a home protection warranty policy at my new place of habitual abode, then at the last minute–with the temperature 112 degrees–tried to triple that to $600. Although sweating profusely, I stood my ground, and got the lower price.
Then I was scammed by none other than The Wall Street Journal. Without notice for the first time in my four decades as a daily newspaper subscriber, I was thrown a day-old paper. That’s right; I got the same edition two days in a row. Now, I know the newspaper industry is having a hard time, and Donald J. Trump is always on the front page, anyway, but this was ridiculous. After a complaint, I got a form-letter email apology.
I already can tell living in Las Vegas will be interesting. With or without my Jacksons.