LAS VEGAS — Ah, what a good feeling to start a column with a Las Vegas dateline. This has been one of the longest spans away from my favorite place to visit.

How do I keep track of something like that?

Well, every time I come to Vegas, I go to the Indian cigar store down the street from the California Hotel, where I always stay. I usually buy two packages, each with 25 cigars.

Since I usually chew on one cigar a day, that means that it’s been 50 days since I was here last. Well, actually, over 50 days since I ran out of cigars about five days ago.

So, for the past week I’ve been chewing on a wooden chopstick just so I would have something stuck in my mouth.

Hey, the owner of the Indian cigar store even asked me, “Where have you been?”

Business must be slow if he remembers the last time I dropped into his shop.

The weather here was warm when we left Gardena on Sunday, which is nice because the last time the worry was whether Highway 15 over the Cajon Pass would be snowed in.

One thing we changed on the drive to Vegas was our usual stopover in Victorville for breakfast. For many years we would stop at the Green Tree Inn for our breakfast, but it was getting a bit too expensive there so we decided to dine at Denny’s across the street.

Our usual breakfast at the Green Tree Inn used to be about $15 for the three of us. In recent times, it soared to over 20 bucks.

We can get almost the same breakfast at Denny’s for about $11.

Yeah, I know, some of you are thinking, “You’re going to Vegas to throw your money away and you’re worried about $10?”

As I always say, blame it on old age.

Needless to say, the California Hotel is bustling as usual. The folks from Hawaii always keep the popular Sam Boyd property humming

Yes, so do the JAs from the L.A. area. I ran into a few familiar faces as I always do. They all tell me the same thing, “There’s nothing else to do in L.A.”

So, like me, they jump in their cars and come here.

I bumped into Editor Gwen before I left L.A. and she said she was up here last week during the Kentucky Derby. Nope, she didn’t win either.

I guess if I want to play the races, I’ll have to walk over to the Fremont. They don’t take racing bets here at the Cal.

In the old days, walking the one block to the Fremont was no problem, but these days, I have to drive the short distance. Yeah, as I say too often, blame it on old age.

The traffic on Highway 15 wasn’t too bad.

Maybe it’s the higher cost of gasoline that is keeping a lot of people from driving these days.

The gas was a little lower on this trip than the last. Still, it cost about 50 bucks to fill up my tank.

Gee, remember when we could fill up the tank for about $15?

Oh well, I guess we’ll never see those days again.

Since gas is cheaper here than in L.A., I guess I will be able to fill up for about 20 bucks on our return trip.

Yeah, as always, I brought along my mail bag, which always keeps my fingers moving on the keyboard and helps fill space as well as providing interesting information. First one from reader Betty Watanabe, who wrote:

“I was saddened to read you are contemplating moving out to the pasture. Not a good thing. As difficult as it must be to fill your column twice a week, you have unfinished business and commitment to your people as you are the voice of the JA community, whether you know it or not.

“Everyone reads your column and there is much discussion about your thoughts. You are unafraid to tackle unpopular subject matters, especially to do with certain community leaders or community-funded organizations.

“The ‘shikata ga nai’ syndrome that is prevalent in our culture allows individuals and organizations to do many of the things they have gotten away with. People talk to each other about what is bothering them in the community but rarely will confront their concerns at the proper level. That is why we need someone like you who owes no allegiance to anyone, has honesty and integrity, and is gutsy enough to put in print what his convictions are. You keep us abreast and even provide much-needed jocularity.

“The readers need you, The Rafu Shimpo needs you, you need us — it’s a symbiotic relationship. Age is relative and you are relatively young. Thank you for all that you have done for us and will do for us.”

Thank you, Betty. Your letter certainly inspires me. Because of readers like you, I have tossed aside, at least for now, my thoughts of throwing in the towel in June and will keep pecking away on my keyboard, even it it’s from Las Vegas.

Another letter, this one from a reader who doesn’t want his name published. Okay.

Here’s his short note: “Horse, I was dumbfounded by your comment in a recent column that you are not a fan of Norm Mineta. How can a newspaper person writing for a Japanese newspaper make a statement like that?

“I’ll bet there isn’t a single Japanese American who can make such a statement about someone like Mineta, who has contributed so much for we JAs.

“Maybe you should retire.”

Thanks to Anonymous for his thoughts. There’s no doubt about Mineta’s contributions to the Japanese American community, but he’s also been a contributor to the Mineta community.

What other Japanese American has a city airport named after him? If you travel via air to San Jose, the in-flight announcement will say, “You will be landing soon at Mineta Airport.”

And there is a freeway that runs on the outskirts of San Jose named Mineta Highway.

Sure, there are a lot of city airports that carry names of famous people: JFK Airport in New York. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.

Now a final letter. This one is from reader Michiko (Murayama) Washlow, who writes:

“I am a Nisei and all of my life I have pronounced the number 7 in Japanese as ‘hichi.’ But recently learned that ‘shichi’ is correct and not ‘hichi.’

“Could the difference come from where our parents came from? What prefecture?

“I do know that some places north of Tokyo (forgot the name of the ken) use ‘zu-zu-ben’ or dialect. Your opinion on this subject would be appreciated.”

Well, Michiko, I’m certainly not an expert in the Japanese language, but people from different prefectures do have their own way of pronouncing words.

My parents came from Kumamoto-ken, and when I moved to Japan to work back in the early ’60s, I used a lot of “Kumamoto-ken Nihongo,” and the people of Tokyo used to laugh.

They used to kid me with stuff like, “Where did you learn such crude Japanese?”

I guess it’s like Californians laughing at the people from the Deep South for their use of the English language.

Thanks for your thoughts, Michiko. I know a few experts on the Japanese language whom I will ask about your comments.

Let me get back to Vegas and what’s happening here.

If I were to ask people whom they think is the fastest-growing ethnic group in Vegas, most would probably answer, “Koreans” or “Chinese.”

Well, according to the latest report, those would be the wrong answers.

The fastest-growing ethnic group is the Filipinos. Over the past ten years, the population of Filipinos has doubled.

This past week, with the growth of the Filipino population, their community leaders launched the first nonpartisan political organization dedicated to Nevada’s Filipino Americans.

Heading the group will be Amie Belmonte, its newly elected president, who launched the movement at a luncheon at a Filipino restaurant, Salo-Salo.

I didn’t know they had a Filipino restaurant in Vegas. Maybe I’ll drop by and give it a try.

Belmonte, who has lived in Vegas since 1997, said there has been tremendous growth — most Filipinos were limited in their employment opportunities, but now they are represented in every industry in Las Vegas.

The president said her organization will strive to advocate on behalf of Filipino Americans, educate Filipinos on political candidates and issues, and offer assistance to Filipinos of any party who wish to seek public office.

She said her organization will also advocate for legislation that benefits Filipino Americans and set up job banks for Filipinos who would like to be on the staff of elected officials.

Filipinos constitute a great enough portion of Clark County’s population for the registrar of voters to require that all ballot materials be translated into the main language of the Philippines, Tagalog.

Belmonte said, “It’s time to make the case that Filipino Americans will make a difference in this year’s election.”

Wow! The next mayor of Las Vegas a Filipino?

Hello, Japanese Americans, where are you?

Speaking of Japanese Americans, I wonder how many might consider moving to Vegas now that the price of housing has dropped so dramatically.

Consider this:

A three-bedroom house can now be purchased for $168,000.

Back when real estate was booming, you couldn’t even buy a one-bedroom condo for that kind of money.

You can’t find a three-bedroom house in Gardena for such a low price.

Our neighbor is selling his house, a small two-bedroom house, and the price tag is a heck of a lot more than the current Vegas average listed in above.

Maybe if I were a little younger, I might consider buying a house in Vegas and moving the Horse’s Mouth here. Heh, heh.

Oh well, enough for now. When I get back on Wednesday, I hope I can pick up enough  tidbits on this trip to fill my Saturday column.

In the meantime, time to laugh:

Most of us Nisei want to watch our weight, so here’s something called “Diet rules for cheaters.”

• If you eat something and no one sees you eat it, it has no calories.

• If you drink a diet soda with a candy bar, the calories in the candy bar are canceled out by the diet soda.

• When you eat with someone else, calories don’t count if you don’t eat more than they do.

• Food used for medical purposes never counts, such as hot chocolate, brandy, toast and Sara Lee cheesecake.

• If you fatten up everyone else around you, then you look thinner.

• Movie-related foods (Milk Duds, buttered popcorn, Junior Mints, Red Hots, Tootsie Rolls, etc.) do not have additional calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one’s personal fuel.

• Cookie pieces contain no fat — the process of breaking causes fat leakage.

• Things licked off knives and spoons have no calories if they are in the process of preparing something. Examples: peanut butter on a knife making a sandwich and ice cream on a spoon making a sundae.

Note: Chocolate is a universal color and may be substituted for any other food color.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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