‘Hurry, you don’t want to be late!’ I told myself as I pulled into the parking lot for the Las Vegas Convention Center. We had been told to park in the back, and come in through the doors where the staging and equipment were delivered. There were nine of us plus our dresser and a hair and makeup artist. We would be modeling for a booth at the International Congress of Shopping Centers for the next three days, but we needed to get to the booth and set before the show opened.
It felt strange to me to be showing up with no makeup on. I rarely left the house without at least some makeup on my face. I had been told several times by Judi Moreo, the owner of the agency that I worked for that you should always leave the house as though you were going to meet someone important. There was no telling who you might run into and they could very well be someone interested in hiring you. Sandy, who was doing our hair and makeup, had asked me to come with hot rollers in my hair. I felt very unkempt and unready to be on stage when I first arrived at the convention center.
Quickly, Sandy applied our makeup and styled our hair. Judi dressed us in our first costume change and determined which group of girls would be on stage first. We would be performing as mannequins all day, and she was planning a number of rotations so that everyone would have time to rest. We would be on our platform for about twenty minutes at a time.
After my hair and makeup was complete, I felt much more like the model that I had been hired to be. It can be a lot of fun to work shows like this, but it is also a great deal of work. Unfortunately, it is not very steady.
The people running the booth were so nice to us. They had food stations set up for the convention attendees and so they fed us as well. We were asked to stay out of sight as much as possible when we were not on stage so as not to dispel the illusion that we were mannequins, but they certainly did not mind if we took plates back into our dressing room. I remember “made to order” omelets and bacon, nice sandwiches at lunch and King Crab legs around 3:00 in the afternoon when they began to serve cocktails to the attendees. I didn’t get to see much of the actual convention, but the booth was a great place to be so I didn’t mind not having the opportunity to check out the rest of the show.
Judi had brought in some male dancers to act as the stage hands that would move us into position. They knew how to lift and talked to us about how to move to help them. One at a time, we would step onto the dolly and be wheeled out to the stage. The men would position us and we would stay in that position until they came back to load us back onto the dolly. We would do our best while we were on stage to barely blink or move. It was great fun to watch people come up to us and try to figure out if we were real or not!
Some people would stand close to us and tell jokes or stories to try to get us to move or to laugh. We would joke about it when we were in the dressing room and enjoy the jokes then. All of us were very proud of our ability to stand perfectly still and appear to be dolls.
Modeling was a great experience for me and taught me a lot about myself. Some of it rang true while I was modeling and some of it has become clear over time. When I was young, I didn’t have the self confidence that I now possess. I was not comfortable in my own skin, and was constantly looking for the flaws and faults. It can be very difficult to maintain a good self image while working as a model, because you constantly feel that you are being compared to others. When someone else is picked and you are not, it can be very difficult not to take it personally or to realize that perhaps they were looking for a specific type. It is important to realize that not being hired is not a reflection on you or how you look. It’s just a matter of the client’s personal preference.
It might seem like a long way between modeling and maintenance and repair, but the journey did not seem to be that long to me. Modeling is sporadic employment, and I needed something more consistent. I worked in retail for a while, and then in offices. I wanted to make more than minimum wage, but thought that it would be difficult to go to college as I now had a toddler at home.
Then, an opportunity to test for an apprenticeship with the Operating Engineers became available. I knew they performed maintenance in casinos, hotels, hospitals, and other large facilities and they had good benefits and made a healthy wage. I took a day off from work so that I could test.
The test covered reading comprehension, math and mechanical comprehension. All of the phases were timed. There were quite a few people taking the test and we were told there would only be a few openings over the next two years. At the end of the two years, a new test would be administered. If we had not been placed, we would be welcome to re-test at that time.
I received a call later that week from the apprenticeship coordinator. I had scored well enough to be placed before the end of the year. He gave me a choice, and allowed me to decide if I wanted to serve my apprenticeship in a casino/hotel or at a hospital. After some discussion about the differences, I made the decision to wait until there was a casino opening. The casino where I would be placed had more differing types of equipment and I could get a better on-the-job education. There was one drawback to that choice, however. I would start school before I started working in the trade. I determined I would be able to do that, and looked forward to the opportunity.
When school started, I was working in administration at the Frontier Casino and Hotel. I was the administrative assistant for a manager of both the Bus Program and the new Player Rewards Club program. On school days, I would leave promptly at 4:00 p.m. to be on time for my 5:00 pm class. I was very excited to be learning a new trade and was looking forward to being placed at a property.
It quickly became apparent that the other apprentices had never seen anyone like me in trade school. I often wore a dress for my office job, and so would show up to school in a dress, heels and with my hair and makeup done when everyone else was in work boots and a uniform. I was one of only two women in the class. The other woman was working in the trade and had been a slot technician prior to becoming an apprentice. She came to school like everyone else, in her uniform. I certainly didn’t fit in!
I was determined to do well, though. In spite of some critics and opposition, I made up my mind I was going to be good at this. I applied myself, even though it was often very challenging for me. My first year was electrical, and in addition to the hands-on work, we were required to pass a county test on the National Electrical Code for journeyman status at the end of two semesters. If we didn’t pass the certification exam, we would not be allowed to continue school the next semester.
After about six weeks, I was finally placed. I would not receive my uniform until I had started, but I was supposed to show up to the job ready to go to work. That meant work clothes, work boots and some tools. I could wear jeans and a flannel shirt, but needed work boots and some tools. It was time to go shopping!
I thought to start with what I supposed would be the simplest part, work boots. While I was in high school, I had worked at Sears. I knew that they carried work boots, so I thought it would be a good place to start. I went to the shoe department and began looking at boots. The salesman came over to see if he could help me. I told him that I was looking for a pair of work boots, but they needed to fit a woman with a size six shoe. He started laughing, and then called another salesman over to tell him about it. The second salesman began laughing too, and they told me that they did not carry “little boys” boots that would fit my feet. They clearly didn’t think that I should be shopping for boots at all!
I tried several other stores at the mall, with similar results and no luck finding boots. Finally, I decided to try Red Wing. I knew that my father purchased his work boots there, so I hoped that they would be able to help me. I had much better luck there. They had boots in my size. They were very proud of the fact they had four styles of women’s boots! There were actually only two styles, but both came in a low top and a high top style. I purchased a pair of high top boots and at least I now had the proper attire.
Tools turned out to be the easy part. I had a list that had been provided by the apprenticeship, and it was easy to fill that at Sears. I purchased a tool pouch to carry them in and then the list of minimum recommended tools. I was ready for my first day of work!
I knew that it would be challenging, but I thought the hardest part would be the physical aspect of the work. I was greatly mistaken! I would have to grow as a person while I grew in the trade!
Before I continue the story, I would like to take some time to familiarize you with tools. The next chapter will cover some basic tools that you will want to own. The tool list that I started with was much more extensive, but this is an excellent start for you if you have never accumulated any tools. Let’s get started!