Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Alonzo Langstaff was pushing a luggage cart through the old International Hotel on the way to the property’s elevator on this day in the 1970s.
When the door opened, Langstaff saw none other than Elvis Presley already inside. Langstaff this week is marking 50 years of work at the property, now called the Westgate Las Vegas, and can proudly rehash stories of run-ins with the likes of Elvis and Liberace.
Yes, it’s been a wild career working as a bellman, especially that night meeting the “Memphis Flash.”
“I saw him in the corner (of the elevator) with that white outfit on,” Langstaff said. “He was thin then, and he had his guys with him. I started to back away, but he said I should come right in. He told me he was going to have a hot dog and that I was working, and he didn’t want to stop me from doing my work.” So, Presley moved over to allow room for the luggage cart.
“We got off on the same floor, then went opposite ways and that was it,” Langstaff said. “Back then, entertainers were more approachable. Elvis was very nice. Entertainers today, some don’t want you to even look at them. I’ve met a lot of entertainers over the years.”
Langstaff, 71, started at the resort on Oct. 12, 1971, and has seen it go through many changes of ownership and remodeling. And he’s not the only employee celebrating the 50-year milestone this week, as close friend and fellow bellman Earl Manson started two days after, Oct. 14.
“That’s still something I have to hear about,” Manson said with a laugh while standing near the main entrance of the Westgate last week. “When you have 50 years in, what’s two days? I don’t envy him.”
Resort officials said the pair are so well-liked by customers that some repeat guests have been requesting one or the other to handle their bags for years.
More than 60 employees have worked at the property for at least 40 years, which is a testament to the resort’s management, Langstaff said.
Langstaff said a big reason for that is the connection between employees and management. They treat everyone like family and let the employees do their jobs, he said.
“They’ve treated me very well here over the years; there’s never been a reason for me to leave,” Langstaff said. “Ownership is ownership. It’s changed over the years. We started as the International, then we were the Las Vegas Hilton and the Las Vegas Hotel. The management is good here. We have probably the best president right now that we’ve ever had.”
That would be Cami Christensen, who started at the resort as an employee at the hotel desk two decades ago and has worked her way up the property’s leadership ladder. She took over as president and general manager of the Westgate three years ago.
Perhaps it’s partly because all three are from rural states — Christensen from Iowa, Langstaff from Arkansas, and Manson from Louisiana — or perhaps they all just clicked, but the three talk fondly of each other.
When Manson came in to handle some business on one of his days off recently, Christensen didn’t hesitate before greeting him at first sight with a warm hug.
“We watched (Christensen) come up through the ranks,” said Manson, who is affectionately known as “Pops” around the resort. “She’s always admired what we do and praised us. She never forgot about us.”
Christensen said it’s always been important for Westgate management to foster a family atmosphere.
“In today’s age, nobody thinks about making a 50-year commitment to a place, but that’s what Pops and Alonzo have done,” she said. “That’s utterly astounding. There’s something special here, which is why I’ve stayed so long.”
That longevity has led to some memorable encounters.
Elvis, Liberace, Barbara Streisand and Wayne Newton were all regular performers at different times at the property’s International Theater. Barry Manilow still performs there. Langstaff once drove Liberace home following a show.
And for two years in the 1970s, it was Manson’s job to take Presley’s concert outfits to the cleaners every day. Those uniforms, he said, were usually soaked with sweat.
“Nobody wanted to do it because he worked so hard on stage, those uniforms would stink,” Manson said. “I said I’ll do it. In those days, those uniforms were heavy; they might have weighed about 25 pounds.”
Manson has been single since his wife died in 1978, making his work family especially significant to him. They gave him plenty of guidance in raising his three adult children.
“I live off people. I love talking to people and hearing their stories,” Manson said. “I’ll do this job until my body tells me I can’t.”
Like Manson, Langstaff said he’s not sure how much longer he’ll work. He knows it won’t be forever, but 50 years in, he’s not planning his retirement party anytime soon.
“I’ve always been a working man, never wanted to wear a suit and tie,” Langstaff said. “I’ve had opportunities to go into management over the years, but that wasn’t for me. I’d rather work for eight hours, then go home. When the Lord tells me I don’t have to come in anymore, I’ll stop coming in. Otherwise, I’ll be here.”