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Chuck Bowling still steady as Mandalay Bay reopens on Las Vegas Strip

Updated July 1, 2020 - 8:39 pm

Chuck Bowling is still figuring out how to keep his mask in place, and over his nose, while talking. It’s a process, similar to peeling away the face cover to eat or drink, then putting it back.

“I’m hoping we don’t have to be good at it for too long,” the Mandalay Bay president said with (I think) a smile during a chat in the lobby of his hotel. “But it is what we’re doing. … Right now, it’s whatever it takes to get us going again.”

Mandalay Bay and Aria have returned to business for MGM Resorts International, reopening at 11 a.m. Wednesday with 50-percent room capacity and many amenities activated. Such tourist favorites as Mandalay Bay Beach, Shark Reef, Stripsteak, House of Blues restaurant and Wolfgang Puck and Border Grill are all again serving guests and no the sharks aren’t masked.

Everyone else is, though, including Bowling. The world has once again turned over for the veteran resort exec, who during the lockdown was assigned stewardship over Luxor along with Mandalay Bay, where he’s served for a decade. In April, Bowling stepped in for Cliff Atkinson to run Luxor, as MGM Resorts consolidated its upper-management lineup after the COVID shutdown.

Until COVID-19, Bowling had never trained, or led any training, for pandemic preparation in his career or his schooling at Georgia State University in Atlanta. As he jokes, “I might have slept through that class. I don’t remember that one, no.”

But Bowling has real-time experience in crisis management, having been in place at Mandalay Bay in the arduous recovery from the Oct. 1 shootings.

“I realized that you can’t be alone. I have leaned on so many people in the past, here at Mandalay Bay and throughout MGM Resorts, time and time again,” he said. “That is something I’m drawing on today. As much as I want to be everywhere, I can’t. But I know everyone’s got my back.”

Entering the July 4 weekend, Las Vegas is under scruitiny across the country because of its very tourist appeal. The city’s casinos, taverns and pool parties are reopening. During the holiday, we can watch for eyebrow-raising pics on social media of folks milling and swilling at close distance.

I asked Bowling how he and his staff could effectively monitor guests’ conduct when they are in Vegas Mode. Enforcing face coverings is a start.

“We have masks for everyone,” Bowling said as he worked to keep his own cover in place while talking. “At this point in time, 95 percent of the people coming in are wearing masks. Unfornately, we have some people who won’t wear them, and they’re not welcome here.”

Bowling has the message down: “Come in, have fun, laugh a lot, play a lot, but be safe.” That final message is the most important, and fit for a face mask.

Tall drink o’ water

Brad Garrett has been sober since April 1997, having given up the drink sometime after falling from a double-decker bus while touring with Julio Iglesias.

“I was getting off and I was on the top level,” Garrett recalled during our chat Tuesday night on the R-J’s Instagram Live page. “But I thought I was on the bottom level.”

Garrett stopped drinking in his second season on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and stayed away from stand-up for nearly seven years. He was reluctant to re-enter live comedy, in part because he wasn’t confident he could be funny while sober.

“A performer, a comic, a musician — anybody in the arts, a painter, their first fear of getting clean is they will lose their craft,” Garrett said. “I won’t be as loose, I won’t be as fluid, I won’t be as reckless. That was my biggest fear.”

Garrett returned to the stage when series star and good friend Ray Romano invited him to the stage, unannounced, one night at the Mirage.

“Ray said, ‘Come on out and make fun of me,’ and I hadn’t been onstage in 6 1/2 years,” Garrett said. “I was never a good monologist, I was never a great writer. My thing was always improv. In the old days when I would open for the big acts, my act didn’t take off until I started making fun of the crowd. I did that with Ray, and I was bit again.”

Garrett and Romano co-headlined at the Mirage for a few years before Garrett opened his original Vegas club at Tropicana in 2009. He’s been at the MGM Grand Underground since 2012. He credits Romano, who has twice appeared at the club, for the re-igniting his stand-up career.

“After Ray blew up in three years on ‘Raymond,’ he never changed,” Garrett said. “He’s a rare, rare guy. … He didn’t change, at all. He has the same friends he went to high school with, he’s a family guy. It’s just more reason to love this guy, no pun intended.”

Garrett plans a new podcast, “No Prisoners,” on July 6. The show focuses on such real-life issues as mental health, depression and addiction. It’s not a comedy show. Garrett is saving that for the stage.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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