Las Vegas offers a collection of entertainment, dining and attractions unlike anyplace on earth — smack-dab in the middle of a desert.
Keeping this 24-7 town running smoothly requires a unique workforce. Thousands of Las Vegas workers are public ambassadors for our town, interacting with visitors and locals on every shift. Others toil behind the scenes.
In honor of Labor Day, we shine the spotlight on five people who labor to make Las Vegas the city we know and love.
Engineer, Mirage volcano
While he was in high school, Shreiner’s father brought the California native to Las Vegas to work on the Mirage volcano. His dad worked for the company that designed the attraction for the Mirage’s 1989 opening. At the time, Clint maintained the lighting and built some brackets.
“Nothing major,” he says of his first Las Vegas job. But he had the chance to “get to know the show and see it a few times.”
Today he oversees the entire show, which includes more than 200 water shooters, 152 fire shooters and a perimeter of electric eyes to make sure tourists don’t venture too close when an “eruption” is in progress.
“I would say maybe every other month somebody would break the beam, come across and jump into the water, maybe to get some coins or try to take a picture,” he says of his time working night shifts, when the volcano is in operation.
He now spends his day shifts in a sprawling underground complex of tunnels and workshops, monitoring natural gas pressure, balancing the pH of the water to reduce both algae and corrosion of equipment, and repairing that equipment when it does corrode — which it always does. When necessary, however, he can dart up a ladder to the top of the man-made mountain, and radio for a test firing of any flame that needs a firsthand look.
Bar ambassador, High Roller
“All right guys, let’s start drinking!” Heaford announces to his 23 customers on a recent Thursday afternoon, shortly after checking everyone’s ID.
A ride on the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel, takes 30 minutes for a single rotation. Heaford’s job is to make guests feel that extra $13 to $15 they’ve spent to ride in an open-bar cabin was money well spent, while also ensuring everyone drinks responsibly.
Between the first and second rounds, as the cabin ascends the north side of its orbit, he takes a head count of those who will down a shot at the apex. As the ride reaches its 15-minute mark, he distributes those shots just in time to lead a 10-second countdown to the group toast. And on the descent, between refills, he gathers various groups in the southwest corner of the compartment and takes turns shooting photos against the perfect skyline with guests’ cameras.
As the crowd unloads, it looks like a smaller group will board for the next go-round, which Heaford hopes will give him more chance to interact and play tour guide.
“That’s what’s fun about this job,” he says of the more intimate rides, “telling them about good restaurants and good shows, things like that.”
Manuel Ontal Jr.
Director of purchasing, fresh and live seafood, Supreme Lobster
Ontal’s work day starts at about 5 a.m. at Supreme Lobster’s warehouse complex just west of Interstate 15. Truckloads of seafood have arrived, 40 to 50 workers are busy scaling and fileting salmon, sawing apart crabs and breaking down various other delicacies. As Ontal makes his first phone calls to the East Coast to order tomorrow’s catch, one of the company’s trucks heads to McCarran International Airport for the first of six or seven daily pickups of fish and shellfish that have hitched rides to the desert aboard commercial jets.
Supreme Lobster is the largest seafood distributor in Las Vegas, serving restaurants on and off the Strip as well as Glazier’s Food Marketplace. In a slow week they’ll process 300,000 pounds of seafood, including 100,000 pounds of shrimp. Ontal is in charge of all fresh and live products, coordinating a small army of suppliers and transportation professionals, and often dealing with the same type of weather issues or human error faced by travelers coming to our city.
“I might have a shipment coming in, and everything is perfect with the paperwork,” he explains. “But the (fish) land in Florida.”
When an airline loses his luggage, it’s up to him to find something on hand that his chef customers can put in its place on their menus.
“We’re big enough that we can do that,” he says proudly.
Chief musical instruments technician, Blue Man Group
For thousands of Las Vegas locals and visitors every week, Blue Man Group provides a little more than 90 minutes of mind-blowing sights, sounds, music and art. For the cast, however, it’s a well-choreographed production of an international phenomenon, now in its 18th year in Las Vegas. It’s Hall’s job to make sure it sounds the same at each of its 14 weekly performances at the Luxor. Considering that 23 performers rotate in and out of the eight on-stage roles, playing instruments as diverse as electric guitars, paint-coated drums, PVC tubing and electric zithers, that consistency is a constant challenge.
“I can’t do anything about the way people play their instrument, how hard they attack or how hard they hit their drums,” Hall says. “But I try to maintain the sound aesthetic of this show. Coming off stage and into the microphones, it has to sound the same every day.”
That means that every backup of every instrument needs to sound the same as its counterparts, feel the same in an artist’s hands and be tuned the same. That can be as simple as stocking up on the preferred drum sticks (2,500 pair per year), or as time-consuming as cloning an antique amplifier or building an out-of-production guitar pickup by hand. But he says his most important skill is relating to the performers as artists.
“Nothing in my job description involves a heartbeat,” he muses in the theater lobby. “But it all very much does, because of the heartbeats of the guys laying these instruments, and what it takes to make them happy.”
Range safety officer, Shoot Las Vegas
Wirsch’s title doesn’t do justice to the full range of duties she performs. From the moment she picks up guests at their hotels to drive them to a 100-acre desert canyon outside of Jean, she’s the face and personality of Shoot Las Vegas.
Her day can include tasks ranging from changing a tire on the company limo to strapping a junker car with up to 10 pounds of tannerite so it will explode when hit with a round from a sniper rifle. Her most important responsibility, however, is familiarizing guests with their choice of 70 guns and making sure they stay safe.
“A lot of the people that we have shooting have never seen a firearm in their life. So I show them how to hold it, where their feet should be, how to line up the sights, all that stuff, and how to properly handle it when it’s going off.”
Wirsch, 22, was a restaurant hostess before landing her first gun range job. And while her outgoing personality makes her a natural to deal with the public, she knew absolutely nothing about guns at the time.
“I had less knowledge than the tourists I train today,” she admits. “I didn’t know what a caliber was. I’d never seen an indoor range.”
Today, after extensive experience and NRA training, she says “this is my passion.” And every day she gets to share that passion with firearms neophytes.
Contact Al Mancini at amancini @reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.