Thursday, June 11, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
A half-dozen tourists congregate at a bus-ticket-vending machine on the Strip, exasperated.
There’s the pasty-skinned Midwestern man with large-rim glasses and a fanny pack snug around his worn jean shorts, sighing deeply in frustration. Next to him, a few jittery women don’t understand that the midday glare extending over the machine is making it difficult for him to buy bus tickets. A 20-something European in a tiny red sundress, reading instructions on a panel, can’t figure out if an all-day pass means Sunday only, or a 24-hour period beginning at purchase.
And the double-decker bus — the Deuce — is approaching this stop on Las Vegas Boulevard, just north of MGM Grand.
Colby Laub — friendly face, high school cheerleader, transit ambassador — swoops into the knot of ticket buyers, offering to clear up their confusion.
“A lot of people think I’m trying to sell them something, then they look at my shirt,” he says of a baby blue T-shirt that states: “Be Cool, Ask Me How.”
The 17-year-old knows this machine by heart, so he doesn’t need to see the buttons to know where to press ‘one-way ticket.’ He hands the Midwesterners their tickets, then dashes around the other side of the machines to instruct boarding passengers to get their tickets out.
Change, he says, can’t be made by Deuce drivers. It’s one of several reasons RTC officials sought a concierge-type service for Deuce’s route along the Strip. Deuce launched in late 2005. This route carried 29,700 daily passengers in 2006, making it a rare moneymaker among transit services.
Laub has heard all the questions from tourists before: How does this machine work? How do I get to Circus Circus? Where’s the best buffet? Where are the Las Vegas Premium Outlets?
Allison Blankenship, a government affairs supervisor for the RTC, conceived the program early last year. She envisioned a program that would have appealed to her when she was in high school: A troupe of 15 charismatic teenagers enrolled in student council who want to sharpen their resumes and earn a respectable wage — about $9 an hour.
Some speak Spanish, one is fluent in French.
Down the street from Laub, there’s Nachely Martinez, a native of Cuba who hopes for a career in hotel management. There’s original ambassador Erika Zapanta, who is effortless at public speaking and has honed her quick wit. And there’s gregarious David Benson, who says he stammered the first time he approached tourists when he joined the group in March.
On weekends, up to eight ambassadors are staggered on the Strip. Only a few stations have machines, and most have some form of shade structure. On non-summer weekdays, generally three ambassadors work afternoon and early evening shifts.
Blankenship doesn’t assign shifts past dusk, for the same reason she instructs the ambassadors to hop on the next bus if someone spooks them: safety. Sometimes, she’ll get a text message from an ambassador saying “Creepy guy, I’m moving,” but that’s rare.
They usually deal with disoriented out-of-towners — and the occasional drag queen dressed as Cher. They smile and approach them all, and if they are thinking of careers in public relations, they’re well on their way.
Oh, and that one-day pass? The ambassadors will tell you that it’s good for a 24-hour period, not for a day of the week.