The year was 1984 and I lived on the east side of Las Vegas. Back then the population was probably around 80,000 where as today its close to 2 million! The city wasn’t developed like it is today and it wasn’t uncommon to see vacant desert lots between pockets of houses and shopping centers. Back then when it would sprinkle in town it would flood and it just so happened that my family and I lived in a duplex in one of the lowest points of the valley.
Needless to say we moved. We were now closer to downtown Las Vegas and took residency in a two story apartment that overlooked the back alley of a Smith’s Food King grocery store, a Sav-On Drugs store, and a 3 unit strip mall that had a hair salon, jewelery store, and copy store.
Smith’s had videogames adjacent to their produce section, and it was here that I’d eventually be introduced to the beauty that is Spy Hunter, Sky Shark, Donkey Kong Jr., Quartet, ChopLifter, Side Arms, and of course Double Dragon. Double Dragon was the first game I remember as having a continue feature that players actually used. Prior to that game I never saw anyone actually ‘continue’. To me, once you lost, you lost! Why would anyone want to continue where you died? Obviously you are at a more difficult point, and whatever game you’re playing is only going to get more difficult! For me it was more economical to move on to a new game, or start over. For me it was all about the amount of time I could play a game, and not necessarily how far I could get into a game.
I was intrigued to watch other kids, older kids, BAD KIDS, play Double Dragon. They were fanatics! Pumping quarter after quarter into the machine, arguing over which enemy each would take on. Back then Sky Shark was my game, and its awesome music was drowned out by the music of Double Dragon. But I didn’t mind! I thought the music was terrific! But as I watched the other kids play Double Dragon I started to notice something strangely familiar.
When I lived on the “east side” it was mostly a sheltered life. I never heard profanity. Never saw graffiti. Never saw a street gang. Moving closer to downtown I saw first hand the lower echelons of society. And from my vantage point of the two story apartment I witnessed Double Dragon live – from my patio – in the alley of the Smith’s and Sav-Ons.
To the left is the alley. The area that is inset is where the strip mall was. The Sav-On’s was the bigger building toward the south, and Smith’s was the bigger one to the north. To the right is a long thin wall, and on the other side of the wall is the apartment where I lived.
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It wasn’t uncommon to see street fights in this alley from rival gangs. Although I never saw stabbings, whippings, or large rocks tossed about I did see trash barrels used as weapons. There was plenty of fresh graffiti in that alley and in the late afternoon hours it would frequented by prostitutes, addicts, and would serve as a convenient place for the homeless to void their bowels.
As I got older I would visit the Smith’s simply to play those games. I’d hop the wall, travel the ‘gangland’, dump my quarters then travel back. All the while imagining the Williams, Rowpers, Linda’s, and Abobos that would have a field day in this alley… until they stepped in a fresh crap.