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A taste of juice

My favorite repairs were at showrooms. The upper-level bar at Zumanity, for example, had an open view of the show, so after I fixed whatever was broken — usually something as simple as replacing an empty bag-in-the-box the bar back forgot to change — I would hang out at the bar to, you know, “make sure the machine didn’t break again,” and catch the rest of the performance.

Once while watching David Copperfield at the MGM, I almost became part of the show. Copperfield was doing a disappearing act in which he would climb into a box on stage and then miraculously “appear” moments later in the audience. When he came sprinting out of a side door to sneak into the crowd for his reappearance, he was as surprised to see a repair guy (me) blocking his path. (After that incident, I was no longer allowed to watch shows in the Hollywood Theater. Luckily, I still had Le Reve, Crazy Girls, and countless others.)

I was a college student with the world’s greatest job: I worked in the juice department for a major liquor distributor, repairing juice and soda systems as well as frozen cocktail machines. Tuesday through Friday nights, I’d travel up and down the Strip, hopping behind bars at some of the hottest spots in town, replacing motors on margarita machines, cleaning pulp from juice guns, getting zapped by electrical circuitry that I never really figured out. Sure, I was a twenty-something kid making twenty-something wages, but I also got a taste of the Vegas high life — both on and off the clock — that might otherwise have been out of a blue-collar Joe’s reach. It was thanks to the magical stuff that greases so many wheels in Las Vegas: juice. Not the type of juice I helped peddle at work. The juice high-rollers and VIPs traffic in to get what they want.

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If there wasn’t a show to catch, I could be found grabbing post-repair dinner in employee dining rooms — feasting on made-to-order burgers or hand-churned ice cream. Properties like Bellagio and Wynn had employee dining rooms that were better than most hotels’ buffets! For a poor college student, it was heavenly.

But the part of fixing bar equipment that paid the greatest dividends would come while I was off the clock. Fast and friendly fixes put me in the good graces of bartenders and bar managers. Eventually the magic moment happened: On a night off, I was facing down a long line to get into a wildly popular bar at a major Strip resort. I called in a favor from the beverage manager, and within a few minutes, I was being walked past the line, meeting the doorman and glad-handing the bartender. “This round’s on the house!” the boss said. After a few more visits, the doormen knew me by name and the bartender was giving me nearly everything free. That hook-up became so solid that whole groups of friends would come in with me and drink all night, spending only (very generous) tips. I cultivated similar relationships at other bars. Before I knew it, I was being treated like a high-roller all over the Strip. I’d belly up to the bar, get a smile and a hello from the bartender, and a round of drinks on the house. It was intoxicating in more ways than one.

Eventually, though, I had to grow up. I traded in my shiny clubwear shirts for the pale blue collar of my current job as a mailman. Shortly thereafter, I met the woman who would become my wife. On our first date, I treated her to a trip past the velvet ropes and a few rounds of prompt, free drinks — thanks, again, to connections I’d made while keeping the Strip’s bars up and running. A marriage made in Las Vegas. The secret ingredient: juice.