Michael Sweet rushed to the door of Harveys Resort and Casino last week and held it open for a pair of newly arrived hotel guests.
“They’re waiting for you in there,” he said, using his signature brand of humor with a chuckle. “Good luck.”
To many tourists, the lake is probably the first thing they see upon arriving in the South Shore, followed by the towering casinos, then Sweet.
Sweet, 51, has been working as a valet at Harveys for 25 years. He greets guests when they get out of their cars, unloads their luggage, holds the door open for them and wishes them luck before they hit the casino floor.
In many cases, he’s the first person tourists come into contact with while they vacation in the basin. So Sweet does what he can to make their first impression a positive one.
“That’s something I always enjoy,” he said. “If someone’s upset from a bad trip, you can help turn their day around by saying something nice or being kind to them.”
Sweet, a South Tahoe High School graduate, started working at the casino in 1989. He had applied for two jobs at the time — one as a valet and one as a bus driver for the Douglas County School District — and landed them both.
Initially, he was only trying to make a few bucks before moving on. But his satisfaction with the job, and his love for Tahoe, made him stay.
Along with keeping his valet job, Sweet still works as a bus driver the school district part-time.
“It’s been a whole lifetime,” he said. “I never could have imagined.”
The Tahoe local said one of the best parts of his job is meeting new people every day. Visitors come from as close as the Bay Area and as far away as Israel, Iran, Japan and the United Kingdom.
He also enjoys meeting celebrities, and has met his fair share over the years, including Burt Reynolds, Loni Anderson, John Denver, Sonny Bono, Charlton Heston, Betty White, Jim Plunkett, Bill Cosby and Kenny Loggins.
One of Sweet’s memories at the casino is of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak driving around on a Segway at the hotel, handing out $2 bills.
“It’s fun just meeting the stars and seeing who they really are when you meet them on a one-on-one basis,” he said.
Mostly, though, Sweet said he has stuck around because he simply enjoys helping people in “beautiful” Lake Tahoe.
“I guess that’s what has kept me here. I enjoy helping people and getting to know their families,” he said, adding. “It’s a special place.”