LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Working for a living. Even people who reach the top remember what it was like when they were starting out in the working world.
We asked some leaders and well-known Southern Nevadans to tell us about their first jobs, and we got some “very Vegas” responses along with advice, memories of hard work and one answer from Penn Jillette that’s just plain funny.
This Labor Day, let workers know you appreciate their effort and talk with your friends and family about your first working experience. You might find you have a lot in common.
Ted Pappageorge, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union
“My first job was when I was 15 years old. I went to work as a busboy in the Sands Hotel in the Garden Room coffee shop,” says the leader of Southern Nevada’s most powerful union. “Back then, your parents could sign a permission form to work before you were 16. I got that job because I was eager to save up money for a car. I couldn’t wait to drive to high school and impress all of my friends.”
“I remember that the head hostesses in the coffee shop would run the shop floor. They made the schedules, did the interviews, and the hiring — it was quite a different time. Because the Sands was unionized, this job also gave me my first experience with the Culinary Union and what it meant to be a union member in Las Vegas,” Pappageorge said.
“After my first month working as a busboy, I was able to save up $500. My uncle Joe, who was visiting from back East, took me to buy a 1965 Mustang out of a “Nifty Nickel” paper ad for $500. The car had a blue racing stripe down the middle, the passenger door didn’t work, and the driver’s door had a dent in it. When we got home we took a 2×4 and a sledgehammer and we banged out the dent so I could open the driver’s door to drive it. It took a lot of work and a few more checks to make the car look good, but it was totally worth it when I pulled up to school in the car,” he said.
“I learned a few lessons from my first union job: When you work in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas, you better learn to move your butt or you wouldn’t make it. I also learned about the Culinary Union and the importance of being a union member. When you are part of a union you are able to have job security, the best health care, a pension so you can retire with dignity, and so much more thanks to a union contract,” Pappageorge said. “These lessons showed me what real leaders look like, why it’s important to be involved in my community, and contributed to the leader that I am today.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman
“I was a camp counselor at the Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund Summer Camp for 10- to 15-year-old children in New York,” the mayor said. “The camp brings children from New York City to upstate New York to experience summer camp.
Goodman remembers doing loads and loads of summer camper laundry in a huge tub of cold water.
While she didn’t make much money — “probably less than $120 for the whole summer” — she said it was a good experience. “Life can always be fun no matter what situation you are in,” Goodman said.
Comedian/actor/magician Penn Jillette
“Hard to remember my real first job,” said the vocal leader of the Penn & Teller act. “I was ‘route supervisor’ (corporate rat) for a throwaway newspaper called The Town Cryer, and I think I hoed (note the spelling) cucumbers, but the first job in showbiz was changing the local movie theater’s marquee. It was the most showbiz job in my hometown.”
“I got into all the movies free and free popcorn. I couldn’t work the candy counter, or ticket booth because my hair was too long, but the marquee was changed in the middle of the night,” he said.
“The lesson that stuck with me, is if you’re out of “I’s” and they tell you to fake it and the movie is “Dirty Harry” with Clint Eastwood and you decide that the “L” and the “I” can be replaced with a “U,” You’ll get fired.”
“After that I juggled in talent shows and made prize money. All my money went for a Rogers drum set, that I bought myself,“ Jillette said.
Jennifer Togliatti, Chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission
“My first job was as a pool attendant at the Golden Nugget Hotel, back in the old days before the pool was remodeled. I started around 1982, when I was almost 15, and continued to work there into my college years at UNLV,” Togliatti said. “I do not recall how much I was paid, but it was a lot more than my allowance, so at the time I got the job it seemed like I had won the lottery.” She said she has always been a saver, so she didn’t splurge.
“I worked year-round and even remember vacuuming the pool one weekend morning while it was snowing outside. In addition to light pool maintenance, back then the pool attendants also did light gardening when the pool area was slow. The pool director used to have us pull the dead-heads off of hundreds and hundreds of marigolds surrounding the pool several times a year. My fingers were stained yellow and smelled like marigolds for over 4 years,” Togliatti said.
“My very important takeaways from that job were to keep the chlorine away from the Muratic acid, and to wear sunblock,” she said. “I wish the harmful effects of significant sun exposure were more emphasized back in my day. I hazard to guess my kids wish it were less emphasized by me now.”
Derek Stevens, CEO of Circa Resort & Casino, The D Las Vegas, Golden Gate Hotel and Casino
A driving force in downtown Las Vegas, Stevens got his start packaging auto parts. He made $3.35 an hour — but he worked 50 hours a week.
His most vivid memory of the job? “Punching a clock for the first time and realizing how tired you are after working a shift,” he said.
Looking back on the experience, Stevens offers this advice for people just entering the workforce: “Show up early, stay late, and figure out a way to become relevant.”
Kristina Swallow, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation
The woman who runs NDOT remembers working as a babysitter and hostessing at Applebee’s, but she thinks of her first job out of college as her real first job.
“I remember moving to Vegas at a time when the need for engineers was great. The company I started with was small and the opportunity to learn was unlimited. I was fortunate to have colleagues at my firm and at other firms who were willing to help me learn,” Swallow said.
She was an engineering intern, making $14.50 an hour.
“My first boss switched firms about a year after I started, so I quickly learned that I needed to be responsible for my own learning and growth in the field and not solely rely on co-workers to help. I remember not knowing how to do a specific calculation and calling an engineer from a competitor to help walk me through it. He did. We have a very small community and it’s amazing how we all support each other throughout our careers,” she said.