Have you ever been to a bar at 7:30 in the morning and found it open? Now I only know of one kind of a place in our country that you could find that: in a casino. I've been there regularly for the last 8 years. That's because I'm one of the bartenders at the Infinitie in Las Vegas. It's an interesting kind of life and, as probably any bartender will tell you, we meet some interesting people. But this isn't a story about our customers really; I want to tell you about one of the women I work with. She has become rather important in my life over the past few years.
Bree (Sabrina) was 23 when I met her. A slender 5'2 with shoulder length black hair, slanted brown eyes, caramel skin, and as cute as a button. (Jeez Mike, talk about a dumb comparison!) She worked in the same casino as I did. I was a 'service' bartender and she was one of the 'drinkgirls', both of us on the first shift. That meant we worked together on opposite sides of the bar. She and I and a staff of sometimes up to 5 others worked the shift in our department. Ben and I made the drinks that she and usually 3 other girls brought out to the 'customers' on their rounds.
Since we were working the 7 to 3 crowd we moved a lot of coffee, soft drinks and our signature iced tea or lemonade. Those were the 'freebies' provided by the casino to the active gamblers. Ben and I occasionally had someone sit at the bar but generally not before about 11 in the morning. Even the most dedicated gamblers had a difficult time calling for alcohol in the early morning unless they wanted a "breakfast" type drink like a mimosa. Occasionally I'd get a call for a screwdriver, probably because of the orange juice, but I've noticed that most people who do that don't ask for a second. I've been told that you can actually taste the vodka or gin in the morning when the taste buds had just awakened, whereas you wouldn't taste it at night.
Bree's crew consisted of 3 girls during the week and 5 or 6 on the weekends and holidays. Mary Laney was the crewboss. She was one of the crew on the weekend days and 3 days of the week. She would move her 'weekend' around according to the casino's planned special events. There actually were 4 regular girls beside her. She scheduled the other girls and the weekend crew, mixing the other 4 into the weekend work on a regular schedule. She was good at her job and Ben and I were happy to have her working with us.
Ben, Alfonse (Al), and I were the bartenders. Al only worked Mondays, weekends and some holidays - this was his second job. Ben and I alternated working the weekends. Ben was the boss at the bar, he's the one who made the schedules and did the ordering. He had been working at the Infinitie for the last 20 years.
Me, I'm a lot newer than that. At the time, I'd only been working at the casino for the past 5 years. I was a fifty-year-old drink-builder. This is a second career for me. I'd been a teacher for 20 years and when I won a lottery by accident I quit that job and went back to school. In the process I moved to Las Vegas. At school I studied two different lines of work. I learned to be a card dealer, which could be useful in this town if I needed a new job. And I went to bartending school. This is the second place I've tended bar regularly, but getting into this position was a sideways deal. And that's another story for another time.
This was a good, low pressure, job. We seldom had a 'rush'; we seldom had to deal with a drunk; and most of the time our service was complimentary to the players. That meant that we didn't handle much money. Heck, my biggest ring this year was $20.00. Over in the big restaurants they sometimes get rings of over $1000.00. Not here though, most of our 'customers' drank for free. Only the bar sitters paid.
At 'our bar' we pretty much ran things ourselves. Ben and Mary worked with the casino management, but we had little official contact with any of the others bars or other departments. We had a pretty good group of people to work with. As a crew we all got along quite well, and we sometimes got together after hours for socializing. Most of the time that involved a potluck or a barbecue at somebody's house every couple of months. We didn't limit these functions to our bar group exclusively but we usually formed the core group of the get-togethers. Most of the time the others who joined us were first shift floor workers like us - floor guards, dealers and pit crewmembers, and people in the regular food and beverage outlets. But, like I say, it was generally built around our core of first shift bartenders and drinkgirls. Not many of us worked other shifts with any regularity so we didn't get much mix from the other shifts.
The first story I want to tell begins at one of those barbecues. This one was at Al's home on the southwest side of the city. There were about 15 of us from the casino and with the spouses and kids thrown in there were probably about 35 to 40 of us. Al and I were cooking the meat (as usual) while some of the women put everything else together. Ben, Al and I usually brought the meat for the gang while the rest of them divided up all the rest of the food and plates and cups and drinks and all that other stuff you need for a good feed. I always felt that it was a good deal for me because I got a darn good meal with drinks and good company for the price of one expensive date for dinner. And I had no obligations afterwards.
This particular time we were doing slabs of ribs. Al had picked them up yesterday and had smoked them (with his own special rub) in his smoker starting at 9 o'clock this morning. What we were doing now was called 'finishing'. It involved two big gas grills, about 10 slabs on each, some tinfoil for the thin spots on the slabs, and lots and lots of sauce. Actually, the two of us had it down pretty well, having done BBQ about 4 times a year at somebody's house for the past several years. We had experimented at first, but now we followed our established procedures. Because he was the 'ex-barbecue caterer' and since we were at his place, he was 'the boss'. Mostly that meant that I had to bring the 'beer for the cooks' to the 'cue.
We had just moved the meat to the grills and painted on the first coat of sauce. We were about an hour from being ready to serve when Al got a phone call from his daughter. I could see as he took the call in the kitchen that he was becoming more and more agitated. When he hung up he stepped out on the patio and said that we had to talk. He hollered for Mary to come over and when she arrived he explained that he had to leave, probably for the rest of the evening. He wanted Mary to keep an eye on the people in the pool and to tell someone off to set up the tables for serving the rest of the food. He told me that I was in charge of getting the 'cue finished and served, but that he'd send 'that girl' over to help me out. Clean up had always been an automatic thing in the group so he wasn't concerned about that part. He asked me to lock up after everybody was done and out.
Of course we agreed and asked if we could help with anything else. He hadn't told us what was taking him away from us and he didn't now. Al just said, "you take care of all of that and I'll appreciate it." About 5 minutes later he called to me from the kitchen door, flipped me a spare house key and with a wave, left us to our fates.
As the word went around through the group people were asking what had happened and, of course, Mary and I had to say we didn't know. As usual with this group everybody pitched in to keep the pool safe and to get the tables set up for serving and for eating. Washrags (we were going to eat ribs, remember, ) bone plates and garbage cans were set up and placed out. Mary was getting help to get everything all set up. And most important to me, Al's 'that girl' showed up to help me. I had given Mary a schedule of about 45 minutes before the meat would be ready. If I had to do all of the finishing by myself I wouldn't make it and I didn't know who Al was sending over until she arrived. While I waited I painted a second coat of sauce on the ribs. This was Al's special 'Hot 'n' Sweet' sauce. We'd used it before and it was quite a favorite with our group.
Here came Sabrina. I don't know why I was surprised but I was. Her first words to me were "Hi Mike, Uncle Al said I should come and help you out." Now I know Al well enough to know that he doesn't have any nieces, especially ones who work at the casino with us. When I looked at her funny she said "What, you can't see the family resemblance?"
We'd only had business contact since she came to work at the 'house' (the casino) about 6 months ago. She was a good worker, always pleasant but we hadn't had the opportunity to get real well acquainted. I'd thought she was pretty good looking but had never thought to hit on her because of our obvious age difference. But, what the heck, I felt safe enough to make a reply in the same spirit as hers.
I responded that "Uncle Al is an only child, so aside from the obvious, no I don't see the family resemblance." The obvious was that they sort of shared the same skin color; she just had a unique oriental twist to her appearance. Her grin indicated that I was right and that she didn't take offense at my comment.
"Yep! That and the fact that I used to work for him in his catering business. People always thought I was his daughter, but Shawna didn't like that so we started saying that I was his niece. He's been Uncle Al since then. He helped me get the job at the 'house'. Now - what do you want me to do?"
.... There is more of this story ...