Everybody knows about the American Dream, but there’s a Vegas Dream, too. No, I’m not talking about the Midwestern tourists who weekend here in hopes of winning big and marrying Britney Spears (not that we don’t love all of you). I’m talking about the Vegas Dream that’s for us locals only. It’s the hope of getting a decent job and settling down in a stucco house, no fancy education required. Come to think of it, the Vegas Dream is what the American Dream was 50 years ago, back before outsourcing and cheap foreign labor, when there was still some good to be gotten for the regular guy.
Recently, all breeds of dreams have taken a hit. Since I’m writing about applying to work at a swimming pool and not at a newsroom, I’ll leave the fact-gathering to the professionals. Suffice it to say that times are tough. Vegas tops the national foreclosure list. MGM Mirage just shed TI for a fire-sale price of $775 million. Our Savior Steve Wynn is cutting employee hours. Even the investors in Dubai have lost faith in the completion of CityCenter.
In the dread spring of ’09, a chance to work at a casino pool is the last hope for America. (That’s right Obama, Hope. For. America. So you can stop dogging Vegas now, thank you very much.)
For me, a person who tumbled into Nevada on the way to someplace else, my desire to work at a pool was a sign that I’d finally accepted my adopted heritage. But it was also more than that. It was also about the money and the chance to parade in a swimsuit for fun. Everybody has their own reasons. I’d say that mine were pretty typical.
Numbers, numbers everywhere and not a drop ...
I’ve never been good at math, and I don’t trust numbers. But I do trust the Internet. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , Nevada’s unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, which is 1.3 percent above the national average, and behind only Michigan (11.6 percent), South Carolina (10.4 percent), Rhode Island (10.3 percent), California (10.1 percent), Oregon (9.9 percent) and North Carolina (9.7 percent). Confusing, right? And yet oddly reassuring. Who knew both Carolinas had it worse than us? But I digress. If you want some stats about how bad things are (as if you haven’t already noticed), go find them yourself. The U.S. Department of Labor provides as many numbers as you can sink your teeth into, pretty much all of them bad.
Camera crews and free drink tickets
The Hard Rock kicked off the pool job fairs on the first weekend of February with its casting call for the Rehab Pool Party. Being the dead of winter, it was so cloudy and cold that I had a hard time motivating myself to don the required swimwear.
The auditions were held both Saturday and Sunday, and you had to apply on the casino’s website before showing up in person. Now if there’s one thing I hate, it’s filling out online casino job applications. I’ve had gynecologists that were less thorough. If there’s another thing I hate, it’s being cold. But I sucked it up. After two hours of application-filling and two hours of primping, I headed to the Hard Rock’s Festival Hall just in time to be one of the last applicants.
To my surprise and joy, they had no line and really simple job applications (with free drink tickets stapled to them). You pretty much only had to write your name and circle the positions you would like to fill. (I circled all of them except lifeguard.) I sat down in a room full of empty seats, save a few stragglers, and waited about five minutes for an interviewer to call my name. Every so often, I’d glimpse the camera crew for the Rehab reality show, but they never videotaped me.
The interview was short and sweet. Mainly questions like, “What was your favorite job?” and “Why do you want to work at Rehab?” I tried my best to look as professional as possible, despite the fact that my bikini was peeking through the top of my dress. Disappointingly, the lady seemed only vaguely interested in the fact that I had filled out an online application.
After the interview, the lady handed me the drink ticket and sent me to the photo area. Tall black curtains created a private photo area. And you could go behind the curtain if you needed to change. Some girls had brought complete changes of clothes, but I had streamlined the process by just wearing my bikini under a simple black dress. Off went the dress. Snap went the camera. And I was done.
The entire procedure happened so fast (about 20 minutes) that I had time to kill. As I stood in the hallway, feeling certain that the interview happily signaled that the economy was about to rebound, a couple of cute guys walked past. I smiled at them—cheery for the rebounding economy—and they stopped to talk to me. They invited me for a drink at the Circle Bar, and since a free drink ticket was burning a hole in my pocket, I agreed.
While drinking the golden concoction of giveaway alcohol and branded Rehab energy drink, one of the guys told me he’d worn a Speedo for his audition photo and how it made a great splash with the TV crew. The guy already had a good job, and he was only applying to Rehab because it was so fun. There was hope for America, after all. At the end of the afternoon, the guy asked me out. I reasoned to myself that even if I didn’t get the job, I got a pretty good deal: free drinks and a date for 20 minutes of “work.” I couldn’t wait for the next auditions.
By some odd coincidence, there were two auditions in one day (the Mirage and the Palms). Though the timing was a little tight, the logistics were awesome, because I was able to get a two-for-one on my time spent primping my hair and makeup.
Bare it all
Let’s pause for a moment and discuss the difficulty of choosing interview attire that doubles as a swimsuit cover-up. If you visualize a math graph that shows two things that don’t intersect at all, those two things would be professional job-interview attire and swimsuit cover-ups. However, it turns out those two lines do intersect in the center of Vegas.
After much deliberation, I chose a minimalist (cloth-wise) brown dress that matched my brown bikini and stilettos. To bring the look together, I chose a business jacket. Unfortunately, I only had non-matching black business jackets. My second choice, a leather jacket, made the outfit look oddly slutty. So I went with my jean jacket, which gave the ensemble a wholesome all-American look, but didn’t do much to make me look like a businesswoman.
I hit Light Group’s Bare Pool audition at Jet in the Mirage first because it started and ended an hour earlier than N9NE Group’s Palms Pool interview.
You couldn’t just wait in line directly—you had to sign in first, which led to some confusion. Despite the fact that we were only an hour into the auditions, the lady passing out forms was already stressed. She kept repeating in a loud, annoyed voice, “You can only sign up for one job. Pick the one you think you are best qualified for.” The list of available jobs was posted on a tri-fold piece of white cardboard, the same used for elementary-school science projects. A lot of the positions were already filled; I hovered in front of the list, trying to decided whether I’d more likely get hired if I picked food runner or cabana host. Why couldn’t I apply for all of them, like at the Hard Rock? The lady wasn’t having any of my indecision. Having limited service experience, I went with food runner, which seemed the lowest common denominator. My humble choice skipped me directly to the application process inside the club. I gasped at the size of the crowd. After filling out an onerous form, I was told that they weren’t doing interviews for the lowly position of food server; they would call me. I handed in my application and rushed off to the Palms pool audition.
Attack of the killer line
The utter absurdity of the line for the Palms pool audition was the reason I got roped into writing this. Walking in from the parking lot, I immediately encountered the monstrosity. I stared at the line with incredulity. It was like watching a car wreck of people’s hopes and dreams. The nice people in line behind me held my place as I scoped out the scene. I followed the line from the parking garage all the way to the entrance of Rain. It was beyond belief.
I should have gone home when I realized that the line of job hopefuls sneaked around an empty Garduno’s. (The people holding my place had already split.) Whenever there are more job-seekers than consumers, it’s a sure sign of a lost cause.
Instead, I resumed my place and called my friend to complain. She suggested I write about the experience, saying that as an applicant I had a unique perspective. Whatever. At that very moment, there were about 500 people sharing my “unique perspective.” But I agreed to her idea on the condition of anonymity, as it occurred to us that telling this story might hurt my chances of being hired. And no, the model on the cover is not me. I’m way hotter.
Truth in advertising
Everybody advised me to lie when applying for bar jobs. I’m not sure why all this lying is necessary, except that if everybody does it, there must be one hell of an inflated-resume arms race. I was determined to be absolutely honest about my service experience. But after I’d waited four hours in line, I felt I deserved to add an extra six months to my resume—I’d earned it by waiting so long.
By interview time, I think all parties involved were ready to wave the white flag. I limped through the interview.
The saddest part is that I never got around to filling out the online application, but I still carry around a business card with the application’s website address, like the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Gender politics of the model/bartender
After only six months in vegas, my apple-given shame of nakedness has ceased to exist. Locals see so much skin here that we’ve attained the coolly reassuring bedside manner of a plastic surgeon. Skin is just skin. It’s like we’re Europeans or back in the Garden of Eden. So I don’t think critically about auditioning in a bikini anymore. Honestly, I like the idea of the human body as a value-neutral thing. It feels cleaner, more moral that way.
So imagine my surprise when one of my friends, who happens to be a longtime Vegas resident, responded with shock at my plans. “But isn’t that degrading?” he asked.
“Are we in the same Vegas?” I should have asked. But I was too surprised by his response to think of something witty.
We’ve had enough waves of feminism to fill a wave pool, and yet people are shocked by the fact that a swimming-pool cocktail waitress is expected to look good in a bikini. Personally, I’ve never understood feminism in today’s American society. It’s like a baseball team with no opponent. Everybody’s swinging their bats, but nobody’s pitching problems. And how come when gender differences benefit men, it’s considered sexist against women, yet when they benefit women, it’s degrading? It seems neither gender can win on this one. Just to see if I was missing anything, I checked out feminism on Wikipedia. No mention of the correct way to handle this situation.
Yes, yes, it’s discrimination. For better or worse, discrimination is what makes Vegas so fantastical. It’s why people come here. I love the fantasy. Nobody in the world expects the mayor to make appearances with fat, ugly showgirls. Even the thought is horrifying. In the same vein, casinos got the equality loophole to advertise for model/bartenders.
While I’m certainly happy to get a leg up on the competition by using my female beauty, I did feel bad for the older male bartender whom I shared a “table” with while waiting inside Rain for my interview. It just seemed so unfair to him. While I enjoy the advantage, I hate that somebody else has a disadvantage at my expense. Also, he seemed so down on his luck, yet also so persistent. He had to have known that he was going in for a lost cause.
Since we all waited so long, I got his full story. The laid-off bartender had already applied to CityCenter and couldn’t apply to any other MGM casinos, which rules out half the Strip. Since CityCenter won’t open until December at the earliest, I suggested he rescind his application and apply for currently open jobs. He said that if he did, he would forfeit his union benefits of getting in on the ground floor. Catch-22.
Another girl at our table was a certified model. Instead of desperate or hopeful, she seemed more annoyed by the inconvenience of it all, an expression I imagine models maintain anytime a less-than-glamorous situation presents itself. Between jobs, she cocktailed at a casino nightclub on the Strip. But due to the economy, they had cut her hours to only one or two nights a week. She said that she wouldn’t be applying for the pool job at all, if the club she already worked at could afford to pay her regular hours.
I really hope that guy gets the job. As for the chick, she can take care of herself.
Zen and the art of the casting call
Without resorting to clichés, the Tao Beach casting call was an island of zen in the stormy waters of pool job fairs. First off, they spread the auditions over two weeks, so the procedure was never backlogged. Seriously, they had the process down to a science, and I wanted to personally shake the hand of the person who set it up. Thank you.
Because nightclubs aren’t set up for office-style lighting, somebody had lit the room with creepy spotlights. Perhaps the feeling of a police spotlight helps end the resume cushioning.
Even the photo process was systematic. Two black lines on the floor dictated the required poses for all genders (only females wore swimwear): front close-up, front full-body, profile and rear. The photos didn’t bother me. Just par for the course, by this point. In fact, I’d even abandoned my jacket altogether.
After the photos, it was back to sitting and waiting for the interview. The Tao casting call happened a full month after the Rehab casting, and while I won’t get back into counting numbers, it was clear to see that employment opportunities had taken a turn for the desperate in the past month.
The strains of piano and a sad female vocalist bled over from Tao restaurant. The melancholy seemed to match the serious feeling of the room. The party atmosphere was gone. The only conversation I overheard included the words “Great Depression.” Pulled down by the atmosphere, I felt I didn’t even have a chance.
I’m not sure why or how, but things perked up during my interview. I explained to the man that I only marked food runner because I knew I had no chance as a cocktail server. For the first time, the interviewer was encouraging. He scratched out “food runner” and wrote “cocktail” on my application. Then he asked me to name four or five top-shelf vodkas. I blanked after Grey Goose. Still, he was patient. He told me that I would learn. And boy would I! But considering that I haven’t heard back, it seems that I may not have much hope, after all.
Dreams of a pool job
“Quit your day job and find your dream job …” That was the tagline of the ad for the Daydream Pool Club at M Resort casting call. Yes. This was exactly what I was thinking of when I imagined the Vegas Dream. And here it was calling out to me.
The first time I went to the M Resort was for the audition. I imagine the same was true for most the other applicants. I think the newness reinvigorated the hopefuls. These auditions felt more like the original Hard Rock ones. Approaching, I could hear the chatter of the other applicants. It sounded like the lunchroom on the first day of school.
Certainly there was the infuriating issue with the photo process, where you had to wait to have your photo print on the world’s slowest portable printer. But what they lacked in organization, the newest pool on the block made up for in amenities. Uniformed men kept a tub of water bottles on ice for us hopefuls.
While I was waiting in line, three veteran bartenders were in full gossip mode in front of me. It was freaking me out, and I wanted to go home. Flashbacks to high school. Fears of cocktail inadequacy. One of them was as beautiful as a ray of sunshine, so pretty I was afraid to talk to her. She was nice to me, but then it scared me when she turned around and gossiped. Another girl walked past carrying a Barbie purse that read, “When you look this good, who cares if you’re plastic.” Interesting mantra. I also heard several young, attractive guys complaining about how this process favored women. Their tone sounded dejected.
After a couple of hours of waiting, I was so hungry that I no longer cared if eating lunch would swell my stomach. Feeling like an old pro at something, I went up to the casino-floor deli and ate a very satisfying turkey sandwich by myself. When I got back, I even had the wherewithal to Google “top-shelf vodkas” before going in for my interview. But all to no avail. Las Vegas Nightlife Group, who also runs Blush at the Wynn, was kind enough to send a prompt rejection e-mail.
It’s not sour grapes or anything, but it would have been a long drive to get to work. Also, I’m not sure how I felt about the mandatory pool promotions. I doubt my friends back home would want weekly MySpace updates on cabana specials. Still, it would’ve been nice to have the job.
Another day, Another pool audition
Unemployment statistics don’t include people who would like to work given the opportunity, but have abandoned the search. Each time I thought I was done, another audition would creep up. By the time No. 6 popped up, the Venus Pool Club at Caesars Palace, I was wiped out, and I skipped it. But hey, there’s still another chance: Sapphire Pool at the Rio is taking applications as I write this. If I can finish typing and primp quickly, all I have to do is be there by 3 p.m. for another chance at the Dream. Not to be cheesy or anything, but I’m thinking this story is less about the failure of the American Dream than about its resilience in this dark hour. That very resilience is what makes America so great. Gotta go, my curling iron just warmed up.