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Longtime employees helped make memories at the Riviera

Closing time at the Riviera was less than four hours away, but Monday morning found Ernesto Caro in a familiar place at the once-fabulous Strip casino resort.

While visitors came and went, Caro sprayed glass cleaner on the mirrors of the men’s room located between the Java Shop coffee kiosk and the Riviera Grande Ballroom. Once the foam covered the glass, he worked the cloth with vigor: once, twice and a third time. He paused, then sprayed again and repeated the process until the mirror was shimmering and smudge-free.

Most people would consider cleaning a casino men’s room humble duty, or even beneath them, but it was obvious Caro took genuine pride in his work, even on his final day on the job. He arrived in Las Vegas in 1991 as an immigrant seeking employment and found it at the Riviera. He has remained loyal to his employer ever since.

It’s something that’s easy to miss amid the clatter and carnival of a casino: They are one part fantasy, one part factory. Tourists indulge their hedonistic sensibilities according to their bankrolls, and usually a bit beyond, and if the joints are run right and all do their jobs, the experience is memorable.

Although the corporate casino industry’s big names receive almost all the attention and credit for the Vegas experience, it’s the people who go about their work day all but unseen who actually make the factory function. Whatever its management and marketing over the years, the Riviera somehow maintained a sizable core of proud employees.

They are people a lot like Ernesto Caro. They serve the cocktails, make sure the steaks arrive hot, smile and commiserate whether you’re money ahead or down to your last $5. They wipe the tables, sweep the floors, make the beds and scrub the toilets, too.

However bright the Riviera shined in its 60 years, they’re the ones responsible.

There wasn’t much sentiment visible on the last morning. The famous Riviera Crazy Girls statue attracted only a few tourists to the most famous bronze derrieres in Strip history. There were a few selfies, a couple last plays at the slots.

Outside, the crew from All-Star Fence Co. was busy sealing off the perimeter in cyclone. Inside, slot technicians were methodically taking down machine after machine.

The hotel’s 2,075 rooms — a large number anywhere outside Las Vegas — were clearing out and nearly empty. Tamara Coen of Henderson enjoyed one of the rooms with a friend on the final night. She came away impressed by the accommodations despite the late date.

“I wish I would have stayed here before, because our room was fabulous,” Coen said. The air was filled with cigarette smoke and the sounds of Joe Cocker getting high with a little help from his friends. “It was awesome. I love the Riviera.”

She’d just finished a drink served by a bartender with 28 years on the job at the Riv. There were plenty of longtime workers like him. The Riviera’s looks faded like an old chorus girl, and it couldn’t begin to compete with the mega-resorts on the southern end of the Strip, but it still managed to engender immense loyalty from many of its workers.

In the final months, the casino’s walls were plastered with marvelous vintage photos of some of the many stars who have entertained there since 1955, when mob investors bankrolled another carpet joint on the bustling Boulevard. From Milton Berle and Liza Minnelli to Liberace and Sammy Davis Jr., it was home to many of the greatest performers in show business history.

It’s been home to Ernesto Caro, too.

“Today’s my last day,” he said in a thick accent. “I work here 25 years. Casino porter, whatever. I worker here. A couple people been here 45 years. Many people 30 years.”

On the last morning, not long before closing time, Ernesto Caro finished shining the men’s room mirrors.

Then he picked up his mop and bucket and with pride set back to work, cleaning the tile floors just one more time.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

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