Monday, Dec. 20, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
It’s so tempting to focus on Las Vegas’ larger, dismal narratives — we’re tops in foreclosures! Bottom in education! America’s dumbest city! — that we can forget it’s a city of individual stories, too, some of them upbeat.
Meet Kathy Healey. She’s 64 years old and one for the ages. I looked her up when someone told me she worked nine jobs. Nine! Now that, I thought, is a pretty good Monday story.
And her job count is true, in a sense — she’s on-call as a banquet server at a bunch of casinos I won’t name, because I don’t feel like talking to that many casino publicists to clear her participation. But the obvious question (how do you juggle so many jobs?) had such an obvious answer (as an on-call worker, she only accepts the assignments she wants) that to dwell on that is to miss the stuff that makes this an even better Monday story.
“It’s kind of amazing that at 64, people still want to hire me,” she said, sounding not amazed at all. I could tell right away why, in a Strip ecosystem that privileges the young and the hot, Kathy would be in demand. She’s gregarious, but not in that brassy, annoying way; she’s eloquent, but not in a meaningless-small-talk sense. You can tell she’s put her years to good use.
“There are still a lot of Baby Boomers in existence,” she told me, “and they still have a lot of money, and sometimes they want to deal with someone their own age who can carry a conversation. Someone who’s 24 or 25 might not have a perspective on the things that interest them.”
Kathy picks up her perspective on the fly. As a retired airline employee, she said, she gets free or cheap air travel, and she frequently takes advantage of it. (Shortly after our talk, she was to fly to Philadelphia to have lunch with her mom.)
“I’ve been to 80 countries,” she said. She named a few: Morocco. Croatia. Madagascar. Italy. Brunei. To Britain, for Wimbledon. “And all 50 states,” she added. So wherever a customer comes from, chances are good Kathy can keep up a conversation about it.
Whatever age they are. “I can deal with you if you’re 25, 35 — 65. I’ve snowboarded, skied, sky dived, rafted the Amazon. “I guess I’m a little different from other servers in Las Vegas.”
This is more than a testament to the upside of free air travel (that would make it a good Friday story). It’s about an attitude toward life, toward work, toward cultivating a sense of daily adventure, toward the necessary evil of other people.
OK, that necessary-evil thing — that’s my cynicism seeping through, not Kathy’s. Working in Las Vegas, observing point-blank as people shed their inhibitions and indulge their tawdry clichés, can understandably impart to you a hard sense of human appraisal. An us-and-them sensibility toward tourists. In our talk, Kathy demonstrated none of that. She insisted that contact with strangers recycles her enthusiasm. In fact, she doesn’t have to work — her husband works in corporate aviation. She just likes people.
“I learn something new from everyone I meet,” she said. “That keeps me fresh. I get out of bed thinking, ‘What different can I do today?’ ”
So there’s a Monday sentiment for you, a little something to keep in mind as you trudge through your job in this city of downer headlines — 14.3 percent unemployment! Gaming recovery years away! — at the start of a week that will probably bring more.
Did I mention that she volunteers about 300 hours a year for various troubled-kid and medical causes? No? Well, I didn’t want to make her seem superhuman, although she just might be.