You can see the world unfolding in front of Jon Berberich. He’s got this little grin, it’s a half grin, a grin that says, Is this for real? He’s 18, and he’s a lifeguard on the Las Vegas Strip. Eighteen, with a cool haircut, sitting on a chair at The Mirage’s pool, surrounded by hot chicks in bikinis under a waterfall, being paid to jump in and perform CPR at a moment’s notice. Is this for real?
So Vegas. If you grow up in Anytown, USA, you’re a lucky kid if you land a job as a lifeguard at the community pool. You grow up in Vegas, you watch the Kardashians walking past your waterfall. Still, Berberich isn’t cocky about it. He’s a little demure. He fiddles with his ID lanyard when he talks. Hot girls? “It was different when I was 17. When I told them, that was it. They’d leave. But now, I’m 18 …” That little grin pops up again, and he quickly changes course. “No, no, I have a girlfriend.”
Berberich has felt at home at The Mirage for a lot longer than the two years he’s been watching the pool. His mom has been working here as a banquet server/bartender since the resort opened in 1989. Berberich is an only child, and he remembers coming to eat with his mom at Kokomo’s and see Siegfried & Roy when he was little. “It’s like a family here.”
When asked about his life, he runs down a list of accomplishments: varsity tennis captain, top 30 in his class at Coronado High, partial scholarship to UNLV. He plans to major in business and minor in economics, and he wants to own his own business, maybe something related to recycling. “The only thing I haven’t done is get Employee of the Month,” he says, with a quick glance to his supervisor.
When he landed the job as a lifeguard, he says, “I thought it would be like Superman.” A lifeguard swoops in to save the day, right?
“But at first you’re scared that something’s actually going to happen, that you’re going to have to save someone,” he says. “Then you loosen up and relax a little bit and scope out your environment. You learn how to interact with people and work as a team.”
So far, the major ordeal he’s had the pleasure of dealing with was escorting a drunk man out for medical care after the man had vomited in the pool—an experience slightly different than rescuing a beautiful girl. The pool had to be shut down and chemically shocked. Berberich shakes his head, gives that grin.
This afternoon, though, he’s standing at a lifeguard station, looking out at the crystal-clear water. There are no Kardashians here, no pukers. Just a bunch of happy tourists and a firmly grounded Vegas kid, a bright future now within reach.
Here’s a life that Vegas has guarded pretty well.