It was the summer of 1976. It was the year of the Bicentennial, the year after I graduated from high school, when the tall ships came to New York harbor and the Fourth of July was celebrated with a special, round-number, multiple-century vigor. I spent that summer working at the Alpine Village resort in Lake George, New York. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.
I wanted to get away from Columbus. I was looking for work at a resort-style place, where the position would include room and board so I wouldn’t have to pay for an apartment. Alpine Village was perfect. It was a small resort located right on Lake George that employed about 15 staffers who performed every imaginable job. Most of us — men and women, teenagers and twenty-somethings, clerks and blue-collar types — shared small rooms on the second floor of a barn-like structure on the grounds. We were supervised by Peter and Marilyn, the chain-smoking, highball-drinking, often feuding married couple that ran the place.
I started the summer as the dishwasher, working in a small room with a huge steel dishwashing machine and a nozzle that fired superheated water. You rinsed the dirty plates with the nozzle, filled plastic racks with the rinsed dishes, slid the racks into the machine, closed the metal sheathing, and started the washing cycle. While the machine hummed away, you worked on the next stack of dirty dishes and glasses. When the machine was done you removed the cleaned rack amidst billowing clouds of scalding steam, slid in the next rack, started the process over again, and stacked the cleaned dishes, still hot to the touch, on the shelves.
I loved working in that little room, managing things myself. During slack time, I cleaned and polished the steel counter where the dirty dishes were stacked and — best of all — practiced my skill at squirting streams of superheated water at doomed ants who couldn’t resist the scent of the leftover food. I worked with lightning speed in that steamy room, keeping the metal surfaces bright and gleaming, trying to keep ahead of the waitresses who dropped off the dirty plates and cutlery.
Sure, I was working in a small room in a little-known resort in a small resort town — but what did I care? I was 19 years old, and on my own.