The People of El Cortez

Photo by Matilda Temperley

*This story originally appeared in Vegas Seven magazine on March 2016.

Whether you booked a room after a night of drinking on Fremont East or spent the afternoon at the $5 craps table, most Las Vegans have taken a stroll through El Cortez. Customers that fill the rows of slot and video poker machines are as much of a fixture as the dizzying floral carpet and the musky fragrance. Both the tourists and the regulars have an undeniable presence in the 75-year-old casino. Take a deeper look at those faces and they become less ambient and more human.

The faces and stories may change, but the spirit of the place remains so iconic, so Vegas.

Inspired by the social media phenomenon Humans of New York, for one night in the summer of 2015, British photojournalist Matilda Temperley—with the courtesy of El Cortez’s Alex Epstein, executive manager, and Katie Epstein, director of guest relations—pointed her lens on the patrons of this legendary establishment. Together we asked everyone in its path the (sometimes rhetorical) question: “Who are you?” Young, old, rich, poor, happy, sad—in one night we got them all.

Temperley and I encountered visitors such as Jane Haney and Sandy Farnsworth, who became friends five years ago after both their husbands passed away. “This is our first time [at El Cortez] together, but we’ve both been here with our husbands years ago.” Lorena and Cal came for a co-ed bachelor/bachelorette party, but originally met at Coachella. Larry Sabatini is a thyroid cancer survivor who built up the strength to start traveling again and wanted to test his luck on the slots.

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Photo by Matilda Temperley

Many have spent years in the casino either working or drinking and gambling. Linda Hunt has stood in the same spot every day for more than 20 years at the restaurant, punching in orders for prime rib or lobster tail. Robert Barth addresses each employee by name as he orders another mai tai in the casino lounge. Sal the Bomber, a seasoned card player, sits at the blackjack table sipping on a beer.

And just like the immutable décor, they will probably be there next time you walk through. The faces and stories may change, but the spirit of the place remains so iconic, so Vegas.

El Cortez Hotel & Casino celebrates its 75th anniversary this year as the longest continually running hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

Human Connection

People’s stories thrive on social media

In a city of 2 million people, with another 42 million making the trek to this strip of desert annually, the hum of human drama is ever present in Las Vegas. In this digital age, what better way to capture this than through social media? This was the thought behind the popular Humans of New York, which began as a blog and now boasts more than 17 million followers on Facebook, as well as a recently published book that reached No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list.

“We all carry something, we all have a story to tell. We live through joys and pains, tragedies and celebrations. And we all walk past each other not knowing what others are going through at that moment.” – Pavlina Edwards

Las Vegas also has its own Humans of Las Vegas Facebook page, which was founded by Pavlina Edwards in 2014. Edwards started the page during a difficult year, the third anniversary of the loss of her infant son, Matthew. “I remember going grocery shopping, to my kids’ school, to the post office, and being in so much pain and having to deal with everyday life. People were interacting with me as if nothing was happening. It made me realize one thing—we all carry something, we all have a story to tell. We live through joys and pains, tragedies and celebrations. And we all walk past each other not knowing what others are going through at that moment,” she says. “So I grabbed my camera, went to the streets and started our page. Vegas is full of stories.”

Just like HONY, Humans of Las Vegas is a snapshot of the lives of ordinary people. Each portrait, which Edwards takes herself, is accompanied by a quote or an anecdote—some tragic, some hopeful, some joyful and always all too human. “I laugh and I cry with the people I meet,” Edwards says. “When they go back in their life and think about what made them who they are, what changed them, what they are dealing with—if they are willing to open up and share with the world—we experience the most compelling moments of truth.”–Genevie D.

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