The town's motto positions it as "your base camp to adventure," a transitory sense of adventure by proximity no doubt shared by the scores of teenagers growing up in a town where a visit to the nearest movie theater means an hour-and-a-half-long drive into Vegas. There is a bowling alley located deep within one of the local casinos, but, otherwise, the local high school students are generally out of luck in an entertainment scene tailored exclusively toward the 21-and-up crowd.
At the edge of town sits a giant, white plaster castle, a combination "gentleman's club" and massage parlor. Hang a left there, and you'll find yourself on Homestead, a long country road where men in beards and cowboy hats do controlled burns of brush in their front yards. The road ends a few miles out, dissolving into desert. Sheri's Ranch and the Chicken Ranch, sit where the desert meets the edge of the road, neighboring brothels, the latter of which proudly served as the inspiration for 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when it was located a few states to the east.
Paranormal radio host and world class conspiracy theorist Art Bell also calls the area home, setting up camp amongst a sea of giant antennas, which dot the landscape like a metallic forest. This is the "Land of Nye" he referenced ominously at the top of every episode, having gone so far off the grid that even his replacement host, George Noory, reportedly has trouble contacting him.
It's 160 that serves as the town's main drag, for a few minutes' drive, before filtering out again into the empty desert expanse. The street is lined with the town's three major casinos: Saddle West, the Pahrump Nugget and Terrible's – western themed; all of them. If any single entity runs this community, it may be the latter, its name shared with another sizable casino and a gas station at the edge of town.
The street is also home to a number of chain stores – a Radioshack, Home Depot, several fast food joints and a 24-hour Walmart, which seem to have decimated a good deal of the local businesses, serving as the current center of commerce for the city. A few mom-and-pops do seem to be thriving along the stretch, however, like the Pahrump Adult Superstore (which is roughly the size of a department store) and a number of fireworks emporiums, which seem to outnumber supermarkets in the town.
I meet Ron Wayne my first morning in town. He's waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel, a small man sinking into a leather couch, largely obscured by the newspaper he's reading. I greet him and he stands to shake my hand, "Mr. Heater, I presume." He's dressed sharply, with wire-rimmed glasses and a suit jacket over a V-neck sleeveless sweater, a large 70s-style collar jutting out over both. He'll wear this outfit both days, a quiet reminder of his former co-worker's fascination with the concept of a daily uniform. His white hair is brushed back, thin on the top and long in the back. He's in excellent spirits, that much is clear. And like that, as he puts it, "we're off like a pack of turtles."
I follow Wayne out to his car, a 2002 Chevy Malibu – the same year he left Florida and packed up for Nevada. The car has served him well, he explains. He's driven it across the country several times. There are a number of stickers lining the rear passenger window, including a small rainbow Apple logo.
There's not much in the way of small talk as we drive to breakfast. Wayne instead launches almost immediately into his current passion: economics. It's a subject that has fascinated him for his entire adult life, culminating with this year's publication of Insolence of Office. "If I have one legacy," he offers up as we exit the Malibu and walk toward the Pahrump Nugget in the cold Nevada morning air, "I hope it's that book."
Over the course of our two days together, we'll eat all of our meals at two different casinos – the Saddle West and the Nugget. Pahrump isn't much on fine dining. There's a steak house in the Nugget, a few coffee houses and a handful of Mexican restaurants, but, otherwise, the majority of the dining establishments in the town involve heating lamps and / or the word "buffet." Today we wind up at the Saddle West for breakfast, after our first choice proves surprisingly hopping on a Tuesday morning.
Wayne gets eggs and sausage from an exposed steam tray and jokes about his cardiologist's reaction, picking up where he left off in the discussion of global economics. It's a subject that truly requires Wayne to start from the beginning, tracing matters from the barter system to the advent of paper money, the abandonment of the gold standard and the pending global economic collapse. Wayne's history with the subject began around his twentieth year, a fascination he chalks up to growing up a child of a single mother in Cleveland during the Great Depression.
All roads lead to a single conclusion for Wayne: the necessity of investing in precious metals. It's a lesson he's actively attempting to impart on me and one he shared with a young Steve Jobs, who promptly sold his investment, once the value went up. "I'm not sure he entirely understood what I was trying to tell him," Wayne explains. Gold and silver aren't an investment for Wayne – they're security, a protection from a time in the future when the uselessness of non-metal-backed paper money becomes too apparent to ignore; when China does something to address the US' massive debt.
I wonder how many of us would have accepted the gift of life, if we'd first taken the trouble to read the fine print.
These are subjects tackled by Insolence of Office
, a 260-page treatise on shielding oneself from the impending economic and societal collapse, featuring chapters with titles like, "The End of the Republic," "Morality and Sexual Preference" and "Illegal Destruction of Fixed Currencies in the United States." The book opens with a rhetorical question: "I wonder how many of us would have accepted the gift of life, if we'd first taken the trouble to read the fine print." It's a question that could apply to Wayne's own rollercoaster-like existence.Insolence
was published earlier this year by 512k Entertainment, the company behind Wayne's recent autobiography. Its founders first approached Wayne to be interviewed in their 2009 documentary, Welcome to Macintosh
, an appearance he agreed to make with one major caveat: that they read his magnum opus and consider the possibility of using it as the basis for their next film. The manuscript, however, was too dry for such things, according to Wayne. Eventually, though, another mutually beneficial deal was struck between the two parties, with 512k agreeing to publish Insolence, if Wayne agreed to write an autobiography for the company.
The result was Adventures of an Apple Founder
– the title, Wayne happily confesses, was his own, an attempt to capitalize on an increased interest in recent years regarding his brief role with the company. In spite of such titles, however, the book only devotes roughly a dozen or so pages to exploring Wayne's role with Apple, spending far more time on subjects like his time at Atari – the place where he was working when he first encountered a young Wozniak and Jobs. It also delves a fair amount into his lifelong interest in the world of slot machines, a key aspect of Wayne's life seemingly at odds with the value he places on money and a large part of the reason he wound up here in Pahrump.
For his part, Wozniak graciously wrote the foreword to Adventures
– something Jobs outright refused to participate in, telling Wayne, bluntly, "I don't think you're a founder of the company," in an email – it was their first communication since 2000, and it would ultimately prove to be their last.
"[Wozniak] was extremely generous in that writing in terms of what he regarded as my contribution to the front end of the thing," Wayne explains, taking a break from his plate of scrambled eggs. "It was much more so than I ever considered myself. I regard Steve Wozniak as, not only a whimsical character - he's a delightful person to know and be with - but as one of the most gracious men I've ever met in my life. I remember when this meeting occurred at the Macworld Convention in San Francisco, there he was and from across the room he greets me like a long lost brother."
As for Jobs' personality, Wayne is similarly candid, saying with a smile, "I always tell people that if you had to choose between Steve Jobs and an ice cube, you'd stand next to the ice cube for warmth."
I really believe I will probably wind up as a footnote in history because I happened to have known someone.
Wayne regards the fascination surrounding his time at Apple with similar amusement. "Every couple of years or so, somebody will suddenly wake up and say 'Oh, Mr. Wayne, let's find out about him,'" he explains. "And of course every time anything significant happens with the Apple Corporation, here come guys after the 'unknown founder.' To me it's a mystery. I really believe I will probably wind up as a footnote in history because I happened to have known someone. The reality is that I was a co-founder with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs of the Apple Computer Company. I had absolutely nothing to do with the corporation that followed."
Wayne traces such interest back to 1994's The Mac Bathroom Reader
, a curious little book of Apple trivia with a cover featuring a rubber ducky and a roll of toilet paper. The book's author, Owen Linzmayer, happily cast Wayne as the "forgotten founder," borrowing that phrase for the first chapter of 1999's Apple Confidential
Our conversation is interrupted by an older gentleman, who stops by to shake Wayne's hand. He explains the situation to the man with a customary sense of humility and levity, as though he's still not entirely sure why I have ventured this far to talk to him. The man shakes my hand as well and is on his way. He's a fellow hobbyist, Wayne explains, a buyer of coins.
In spite of having lived in Pahrump since 2002, Wayne doesn't really know all that many people around town. His social engagements are largely limited to clients and a poetry club that meets for two hours the first Saturday of every month at the Pahrump Library, where Wayne indulges the group with one of a number of his creative hobbies, including his most ambitious work, Grecian Treasure. The mystery story is comprised of 26 sonnets, opening, "On damp, dark streets of London's night, a lonely click of footsteps sound, attendant to a common sight... an average man, now homeward bound."
Wayne freely admits that he leaves his house as seldom as possible, a fact that has gone a ways toward furthering this perception of him as a mysterious figure in Apple's history. It's also, apparently, given him an air of mystery around Pahrump. When I pop into a small, newly opened computer store a few days later, I ask the owners if they know Wayne. "Ron Wayne?" one asks. Is he a local politician?"
"No," I answer. "He's one of three co-founders of Apple. And he lives here in Pahrump."
"Oh," responds the other, "he was on the local news recently, after Steve Jobs died. He's a bit of a recluse."
In part, Wayne chalks his sedentary nature up to the fact that he works from home, making himself available to clients who call his house throughout the day, hoping to swing by to make a deal. Wayne deals in coins and stamps, a hobby of sorts that supplements his Social Security checks in his semi-retirement. At one point, the hobby was a full-time business, taking the form of a shop in Milpitas, California, but Wayne prefers the low overheads of his current setup -- a home-field advantage that lands him in the proverbial "catbird seat," as he puts it.
He's come across the majority of his fellow traders by way of a now-defunct swap meet in the area or two small, text-only ads in the back of the local Nifty Nickel
– "Buying old stamp collections, US & World, pre-1950 also coins, coin collections & unused bulk postage," reads one, in part, measuring roughly an inch across.
Having significantly overstayed our welcome, we jump back in the Malibu and are once again off like the proverbial "pack of turtles." It's a bit of a drive to Wayne's house. "You need a car to live here," he tells me, adding, "Though you see more and more people on bicycles, these days. I think you're going to see more and more of them in the future. We're headed toward dark times."
Like many in the area, Wayne's house is of the small, pre-fabricated variety. It's covered in blue vinyl siding, with a small adjacent garage, which Wayne converted into a workspace, when his adopted family moved in with him. Two large carports sit out in front, protecting their vehicles from the oppressive desert sun. Out back, another mobile home and a trailer form a triangle with a small plastic swing set and a lawn of yellowed grass in the middle, a casualty of the poor desert soil, where not a whole lot of anything grows naturally.
Two dogs bark furiously behind an iron gate – Mica, a large black mixed breed and Hercules, a fierce little Chihuahua with a Napoleon complex that needs to be locked up in a bedroom when strange reporters come to town. There are five dogs in all living at the house, according to Wayne's estimate – though he can't be entirely sure that the number is correct. They are "beloved pets," according to Wayne, but they'll certainly give a start to strange reporters or anyone else who might approach the home.
Make it past the over-excited pack of dogs, and you'll be greeted by a Jennings Star Chief, a vintage quarter machine with a big brass Indian head sitting above the coin hopper. It's an immediate reminder of one of Wayne's other passions: slot machines, a long time love that certainly played a role in his decision to relocate to Nevada. He settled into the industry after a stint working at the Lawrence Livermore Labs and a number of shop jobs. The questionable business practices he encountered working in that industry earlier in life also played a part in his decision to walk away from Jobs and Wozniak early on.
As with most other subjects, Wayne starts at the very beginning when describing what precisely drew him to the machines in the first place. "They have a character to them," he explains. "They have a history to them going all the way back to Charlie Fey in San Francisco in 1895, selling bar supplies, and in his garage, he tinkers together the first slot machine. The mechanics of it, the mathematics of it, the symbolization that he had mastery of that fascinated me."
It's a sort of mastery Wayne believes has been drained out of most mechanical fields. But as with so many other areas, the world of slots left Wayne behind. The machines have since moved to what he's deemed a "paper in, paper out" system, printing out slips with small amounts of money, instead of the tangible coin drop – a not so subtle reminder, perhaps, of his larger concern with a society-wide move toward paper currency.
Manufacturers have also moved toward microprocessors as a way of beefing up security, deeming the more traditional machines too easy to manipulate. "All they did was shifted the realm of theft. Instead of someone coming in and cheating the machine for twenty or thirty bucks they've got guys who come in and cheat the machine for ten million dollars," he says. "The level of theft has gone up and become more sophisticated."
The move toward more sophisticated electronics has also made it easier for the casinos themselves to game the system. "It's bad enough when a game of spinning reels isn't being decided by the random stop of the reels but is being decided instead by an electronic set of reels that are telling the reels where to stop," Wayne explains with a fair amount of passion. "It's worse when you are looking at a 20-stop mechanical wheel being driven by a 256-stop electronic reel and you think you're playing against 8,000-to-one odds and you're playing against 16,000,000-to-one odds."
Though such unevening of odds has, over the years, afforded Wayne the opportunity to turn the tables from time to time. "I was packed up and leaving [a Las Vegas hotel] and right next to the register they had this bank of these Twenty-One machines," he says, beginning what is clearly a favorite anecdote. "So I went up to the first machine and loaded it full, played it and won. I won about five or six hands, the first hand I lost. I go on to the next machine and did exactly the same thing, I went right down the row. I looked like Captain Kangaroo as I was going out the door with my pockets full of quarters. That was one instance when I had recognized what was going on."
Wayne is full of such stories, a close study, he's spent decades wandering casinos, looking for patterns, recognizing and taking advantage of attract modes designed to draw overzealous gamers to machines. He still frequents a local casino a few times each week, a rare regular excursion from the familiar scenery of his home / office, finding himself in the dimly lit confines of the Mountain View, a small casino far from the relatively fast pace of the highway 160 casinos, between 11:30PM and 2AM. He hits the Kenny Rogers Gambler and Cleopatra, machines with decent payouts, both.