Remembering colorful cab man Ray Chenoweth in an evolving Las Vegas taxi industry By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports October 3, 2019 at 6:30 pm The Nevada Taxicab Commission last week embarked on a bold set of changes in the McCarran International Airport-to-the-Las Vegas Strip ride fare structure. Setting fares in the tourist corridor makes sense at a time cab companies are losing riders to Uber and Lyft. While not an answer to every challenge facing the business, the new structure sounds like a good idea that’s pro-active and is sure to shake up an industry facing unprecedented competition. Ray Chenowith But, naturally, I wanted to know what venerable cab company owner Ray Chenoweth had to say about it. Ray had come up through the industry’s bare-knuckle era at a time running a taxi company came with risks. He survived the Las Vegas cab wars of the 1960s and turned a single-car outfit into a multimillion-dollar concern, all while managing to keep his sense of humor. Despite its many changes and current evolution, I know the cab industry is going to miss him. He was among the last of a generation of operators from an extremely wild era of Las Vegas. The founder and longtime owner of Nellis Cab Co. died Sept. 2 after a long battle with a series of medical maladies. He was 85 and left a loving family and a generation of working people who helped make the great Las Vegas tourism machine hum on all cylinders. Chenoweth was born in St. Louis but broke into the cab racket in San Diego. When he and wife Elaine moved to Las Vegas, he took a tips-only job as a valet attendant at the Stardust and his bride worked as a showgirl at the Desert Inn. In his spare time, he worked on making his dream of owning his own cab company come true. “The Cabby and the Showgirl” was the kind of scenario that was only possible in a place like Las Vegas. His wife’s dancing job was easy. Breaking into the cab business in 1962 was harder than cracking granite. “That was just about unheard of,” he said in an interview for my 2014 book Vegas Voices: Conversations with Great Las Vegas Characters. “Believe me, the companies that were here didn’t want any competition.” Some things never change, right? When Las Vegas business officials turned him down for a license, he moved across the line to North Las Vegas and had slightly more success. He received approval for one cab, which he drove day and night until he could afford to add a driver. His company grew to hundreds of vehicles and employees before he sold out and moved into semi-retirement a few years ago. But invariably our conversations returned to the Las Vegas that was. My conversations with Ray over the years were wild rides down memory lane. He knew everything about his fellow owners and the local and state politicians he’d battled and befriended in five decades. He was a driving encyclopedia of that era of Las Vegas history when many of the casinos’ real owners weren’t on any paperwork. Listening to him for a while, and it was easy to believe he was just as comfortable swimming with the sharks as strolling down the Strip. Imagine a Las Vegas that once looked like this during any given week: “Vegas was a whole different down then. It was a weekend-only town. Fridays and Saturdays were busy, but the rest of the week there was nothing. All the hotels had big parking lots in front of their places that ran all the way out to the street. You could walk from one to another or drive easy. Now it takes you longer to get your car out of valet that it does to drive from one hotel to another.” Chenoweth built up considerable personal wealth, but I always got the feeling that what he wanted most was the chance to do it all over again. He loved the work and the action of being part of a booming community. Laughing about the lack of warm reception by cab company owners and store-bought politicians he received when he first made his intentions known, Chenoweth recalled, “They looked at it as if you’re in the business of taking money out of their pocket. And they weren’t going to sit still for that. We won in the long run, even though we got limited, and castrated in a number of ways, but we did win. I did better than I ever thought I would. I mean, who would imagine I would have all this? #commentary – Remembering colorful cab man Ray Chenoweth in an evolving Las Vegas taxi industry. – @jlnevadasmith, CDC Gaming Reports. https://t.co/Tuzn0mR4JB #CDCgaming — CDC Gaming Reports (@CDCNewswire) October 4, 2019 “… It’s been a long and winding road with lots of ups and downs, but I have no regrets. Looking back, I don’t have a thing to complain about. I’ve been more successful than my wildest dreams, and I haven’t forgotten where I came from.” And in the end of life’s shift, who can ask for more? John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.