Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
If president-elect Barack Obama could have stepped out of the flat-screen TV on the wall of the Holiday Inn Express on Rainbow Boulevard on Monday, he would have come face to face with the stark reality of the economy.
As rain pelted the roads and Obama announced more Cabinet appointments, close to 500 people filed through the hotel lobby, hoping to get a job flipping or serving burgers.
Today more of the same is expected, meaning that by day’s end close to 1,000 will have applied for no more than 50 $10-an-hour jobs at an In-N-Out restaurant opening at Tropicana Avenue and Tee Pee Lane.
Some wore ties. Some wore their pants too low. Some were balding. Some owed two months of mortgage payments. Some spoke openly of suicide. Some asked this reporter for a job. Some asked the manager at the hotel hosting the event for a job.
Of the crowd, Blande Pittman, regional division manager for the chain, flatly observed, “We expected a high turnout, because of the economy and all.”
But Sharell Hewlett, who will be one of the managers of the new restaurant and had the frontline job of handing out applications, said she found the range of applicants, from teens to retirement age, “incredible.”
There was 42-year-old Freda Beckwith, who Wednesday observes three months of joblessness. Her resume ends at the Bellagio, where she was a cashier until Sept. 17, when she and 14 others in her department were stripped of their jobs.
Her curriculum vitae also includes nine years of cooking at New York-New York, a certificate that shows she was once employee of the month and another that shows she was never late or absent.
Her husband is disabled and brings in only $700 a month in Social Security disability payments, so they are now two months behind on payments on their house, she said.
She has applied for jobs at every hotel and casino on the Strip; she has filled out dozens of applications. She thinks younger people are getting the jobs.
“Sometimes I want to sit down and cry,” she allowed. “But what good would that do?”
Like others in the various lines — one to get an application, one to be called to cross the parking lot to the interview queue, the one to await an interview, and, for the lucky few, another to be interviewed a second time — Beckwith said she never imagined herself applying for a job at a burger joint.
One guy, also in his 40s, looked more corporate than most anyone who has ever taken an order for fries — floor-length wool coat, white shirt and blue tie. He turned a reporter’s questions immediately around.
“Does your newspaper need anybody? I studied communications in college and have that stuff down pat.”
He’s staying with friends until he can find his own place. He assures a listener he is “not going to give up. I’m not going to knock myself off.”
He was one of two people in line who brought up suicide.
And though he began the conversation by offering his hand and his name, he later left a message asking not to have his name printed.
“I don’t want my homies to know I’m not working,” he explained.
Grace Robinson, manager at the Holiday Inn Express, said she had never seen such an event draw so many applicants. She had to scramble to find extra rooms and chairs to allow the throng to come in out of the rain.
She said her hotel is not immune to the same conditions drawing those hundreds, however; with fewer guests, her staff works fewer hours now than in the past.
“Maybe this (event) will allow them to see how thankful they should be having the hours that they do,” Robinson observed.
A few enterprising would-be grill-tenders also approached Robinson. More than one had what she called “amazing resumes,” including a union carpenter who, at In-N-Out, would earn less than a third of his former salary.
“People want to work,” Robinson said. “There’s just no jobs.”
Among the applicants for the type of work that in the past largely belonged to teenagers was 22-year-old Javaris Pickard, who had sat on a bus for three hours to be number 283 in line early Monday afternoon.
He has been seeking work for four months. During that time, he said, he has passed written and physical exams for Metro Police, a job he said he would like so he could give back to the community where he grew up, the gritty streets surrounding Martin Luther King and Lake Mead Boulevards.
But he found his way to the Holiday Inn Express, he said, “because any income is better than none.”
Hewlett, who the applicants didn’t know was their potential future boss, made a trenchant observation after a series of grunts from applicants as they received or handed back the forms. Few matched Hewlett’s friendly banter.
“You know,” she said, “the experience is important, but we also train people in the system we use. What we look for is smiling people. We want their personalities to shine through, since they’re going to be dealing with customers every day.”
On Monday afternoon, smiles were as scarce as jobs.