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Barney Vinson's World

14 June 2003

I grew up in Texas, and the nice thing about it was that everything was so... orderly. Working hours, for example. Everyone was off on Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of the week people went to work at 8 o'clock or so, took an hour off for lunch, went back to work until 5 o'clock, then went home.

The only exception I can remember was my uncle. I overheard him tell my aunt one day that he was working "graveyard" at the hospital. I was fairly young at the time, and the only thing I could figure was he was working in the graveyard behind the hospital.

Then I came to Las Vegas, and discovered that people worked all day, and other people worked all night. There was day shift, and swing shift, and—you guessed it—graveyard shift.

Being in the casino business, I worked all the different shifts. Graveyard shift was the worst. I'd get out of bed early in the morning while the rest of the world was fast asleep, take a shower, get dressed, drive to work. The streets were deserted, a heavy blanket of silence covering everything like wintry snow. Then I'd go inside the casino and the noise would hit me like an avalanche. Rock music blasting, people screaming, dice rattling, roulette wheels spinning, slot machines ringing, more people screaming. It was like being thrown into a pit of half-crazed crocodiles.

My biggest problem was that I never could figure out when I was supposed to sleep. Some people went straight to bed as soon as they got home, others stayed up until mid-afternoon and then slept until it was time to go back to work again. Some people slept for a while, got up for a while, slept for a while, then got up again. A few people, it seemed, never went to bed at all. Personally, I was so rummy by the time I got home I couldn't even concentrate, but I was still too wired to go to bed. My eyeballs were frozen open.

To make matters worse, my wife Debbie was wide awake. Sure, she'd been sleeping all night! I'd try to sleep and the phone would ring. I'd close my eyes again and here came the garbage trucks clanging down the street. I'd pull the pillow over my head and the dogs would bark. So I'd get up, stepping around cans of paint in the hallway, heading for the coffee pot.

Cans of paint?

"I'm painting the walls," Debbie said, "but I'm having trouble getting the high parts."

"There's—uh—ladder in thuh—garage," I mumbled.

"It's too rickety."

"Here, gimme the brush. I—can reach it. Any coffee?"

The most frightening time of my life was when I was working at the Dunes Hotel. A balding floorman named Jack was in charge of the schedule, and he held it over you like life and death. If you wanted special days off or anything, you had to go see Jack, and it was like walking that last mile to the electric chair. This was especially true in my case, since I got off on the wrong foot with him when I first started working there. He'd walked up to me on a dead game and said, "Your hair is fine, isn't it?" I replied, "Yes, and your hair is hard to find, isn't it?" I was just trying to make a joke, but he hated me from that day forward. Boy, talk about sensitive.

The schedule was a jumbled maze of staggered working hours, anyway. See if you can figure this one out. You started on the four to midnight shift. As your name moved down the schedule, your hours changed. Suddenly you were working six to two. Then it was eight p.m. to four a.m. Then midnight to eight. Then two a.m. to ten a.m. Two days off, and you started over. Four to midnight. Your body was in a constant state of shock.

I was working the two to ten shift, two in the morning until ten. It was around eleven at night and I decided to lie down on the couch and catch a little TV before I went to work. Well, of course I went right to sleep. The next thing you know the phone was ringing. Still groggy, I fumbled it to my ear. It was Johnny, the shift boss at the Dunes.

"Barney, it's Johnny."

"Oh, hi, Johnny."

"Are you coming to work tonight?"

"Of course I'm coming to work tonight."

"Well . . . where are you?"

Something wasn't right here, my foggy brain was trying to tell me. "Er, what time is it?"

"It's two o'clock!"

"In the morning?"

An expletive from him, and then the phone went dead. Johnny was cool, though. We even laughed about it later.

Have you ever noticed how people's personalities change when they're working different shifts? People on day shift seem to be practically normal. Their eyes are clear, they chart the stock market, they do crosswords in the newspapers. People on swing shift are more extroverted. They have suntans, they chart the pro football games, and they've always got some big deal going on the side. "I bought five acres out in Pahrump and I'm building a whole subdivision on it. I'm getting bids on dry wall next week. And I'll tell you something. This time next year I'll be rich, and you'll never see me in one of these gambling joints again."

People on graveyard seem to have one common goal: trying to stay awake when it counts. On their breaks, they settle into big deep easy chairs and fall instantly into a coma. Twenty minutes later, their eyes pop open and they're ready for another hour of wakefulness. No alarm clocks, no one shaking them from slumber, they just wake up. I never could figure out how they did it. The only thing I know is that graveyard shift is for zombies. Watch any old horror movie on TV, and who is the monster? Why, it's Count Dracula, or the Wolf Man. They work graveyard shift, too, sleeping all day and flitting around all night.

At my last casino job, I only worked graveyard shift for nine numbing months. Then I was transferred to swing shift, and life took on some semblance of normality. The only problem was my days off. I was getting Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, and Debbie (who landed a job with the County) was off on Saturdays and Sundays. The only time I saw her anymore was when someone died and we had to go to the funeral.

Still, it was better than what happened to my friend Rick. This poor sap had worked in so many different casinos that every shift boss in town knew him by name. He was a good dealer, but he couldn't get used to working graveyard. By the time he woke up, the sun would be streaming in the window, and that was the end of that job. He'd get hired in another casino, at the bottom of the totem pole, back on graveyard, then do the same thing again. I heard that one time he called the Golden Nugget and told the shift boss, "This is Rick. I won't be in today. I overslept."

The boss at the Nugget said, "You don't work here anymore. You're working at the Four Queens."

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson