What’s most common question visitors ask?

Las Vegas has close to a dozen mini-marts, places where motorists can make a pit stop, get some gas, a soft drink and a burrito.
     Working at a convenience store involves much more than simply tallying the purchases. A key part of any employee’s job is giving information.
     So we set out to interview clerks and cashiers at convenience stores in the area, and posed the following question: “What do customers ask you about the most?”


     Almost all of the clerks had a ready answer: “Tourists want to know how to get to such-and-such a highway.” Fair enough, but which highways?
     Strangely, most of those who ask directions have trouble finding State Highway 518. Apparently, those who have visited Las Vegas before remember it was Highway No. 3 that goes to Mora and Taos. The renumbering of the highway was big mistake to some.
     Josephine Herrera, a cashier at Pino’s Truck Stop on north Grand, has all the routes memorized; she can cite the numbers for all three Las Vegas exits. She said most of the inquiries are about distances: how far is it to Albuquerque, or Denver? She also said tourists ask her about downtown and Storrie Lake.
     Even though Storrie may soon be renamed Storrie Pond, people ask directions year-round, some perhaps just to see how far the level has sunk. Another reason people may ask directions is that Storrie is not prominently displayed on highway signs until one gets into town.
     Ross One-Stop, at University and Grand, near the middle exit, is a magnet for tourist inquiries. Bernabe Jaramillo, one of the clerks, says a large part of his shift is devoted to fielding questions. Along with fellow cashier Roberta Smith, he patiently explains where people can find McDonalds and Wal Mart. To be sure, a number of inquiries concern the Santa Rosa turnoff, as well as Highway 518.
     Jaramillo and Smith say they would like to see the nearby Las Vegas Museum open Saturdays, as the bulk of tourists traverse our town on that day and often leave disappointed. To be sure, tourists inquire about the Montezuma Castle, Charlie’s Spic and Span, the Plaza and the hot springs, Smith said.
     Frances Lujan, a clerk at the Allsup’s on South Grand, says most questions concern Interstate 40, the closest route of which is through Santa Rosa, and Highway 104, to Conchas Dam and Tucumcari.
     Lujan’s Allsup’s counterparts, Esther Martinez on Mills, and Cilia Romero at the store on Seventh and Dalbey, say they answer a steady stream of questions about restaurants and motels in the area.
     Lorenzo Sanchez, a cashier at the Las Vegas Chevron Xpress on Seventh Street, said he’s amazed at how many people already on 518 want to know how to get there. “I try to tell them, politely, that all they need to do is stay on the road, and they’re there,” he said.
     Jerree Gallegos, a clerk at Better Stop on north Grand, says her crew gets swamped with questions, most of which are about the Plaza.
     The long-term, major construction project on 518, designed to accommodate many more vehicles upon its completion, apparently is a concern for tourists who often need to stop for a flag-person. Kraig Jaramillo, of Franken’s Station on Seventh and Mountain View, says he gets constant questions about when the project will be completed.
     Debra Lovato, a long-time clerk at Allsup’s on Grand and University, constantly fields questions on 518 to Taos or I-25. “We get all kinds of questions,” she said, “but mostly about roads.”
     The Polk Oil Mini-Mart at Seventh and Grand apparently attracts scores of tourists who ask anything from, “Why is the gas so expensive?” to “Where’s the Belaggio?” and “Can you tell me where to find a good blackjack table?” Clerk Louie Montano, who really appears to love his job, says tourists inquire about restaurants, drugstores, directions to I-25 and 518, as well as Wal Mart and McDonalds. “We get Anglos thinking they’re in Mexico, and they try to speak Spanish and seem surprised that I know English,” Montano said. “I tell them, ‘Yes, we even have telephones and indoor plumbing.'”
     This totally unscientific survey, taken during the cooler months, nevertheless shows a huge number of tourists coming to and through Las Vegas.
     A consensus among some convenience clerks and tourists interviewed is that Vegas could attract more tourism if directions were clearer. One passerby, a resident of Longmont, Colo., for example, said there’s a fear that limited lighting at the north and south interchanges make it difficult to spot Las Vegas at night. For some reason, the middle interchange is well-lit, whereas the others are, well, spotty.
     So on two occasions we tested the theory, and though we’re quite familiar with the terrain, we found it difficult to negotiate the turns at the north exit. On that night most of the street lights—which are supposed to have a different hue and make the interchange stand out—were on injured reserve.
     Then we drove, on two different nights, to the south exit and found a random pattern of illuminated and extinguished highway lights. Wednesday night, all three interchanges were well-illuminated, except for a couple of extinguished poles at the north interchange.
     If experienced drivers, who know every roadway by heart, have difficulty negotiating curves on certain interchanges, how much more difficult must it be for strangers?
     If the dream of the average Las Vegan is to increase revenue, and if the more people who stop here tend to spend more money, part of the solution is obvious. We could start by assuring ALL our freeway lights are working.
     And with that new-found prosperity, convenience store clerks—who willingly provide information and are often the visitors’ only face-to-face contact with Las Vegas—ought to get raises.

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