Alpine Village Revisited

When Kish and I were in upstate New York in June, we decided to visit Alpine Village, the memorable Lake George resort where I worked during the summer of 1976.  I’m glad we visited, because it brought back some memories — but it made me sad at the same time.

I’m happy to report that Alpine Village is still there, ready to provide a great vacation to anyone who visits Lake George.  The resort is owned and operated by an energetic man who refurbished the main lobby pictured here, gave us a tour, and filled us in on fires, new buildings, and other developments in the 35 years since I’d last been there.

A lot has changed,and two changes in particular saddened me.  First, the long tables where guests used to sit for communal meals are gone.  Today’s guests simply will not sit with strangers; they insist on dining at their own tables — and, I think, living in their own, imperturbable worlds.  To me, the elimination of communal meals on the “American plan” eliminates some of the adventure in an Alpine Village vacation, and also reaffirms how Americans continue to withdraw from socializing with their fellow citizens.  This retreat is part of a fundamental change in a people who used to routinely join every imaginable social organization.  (Read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America if you don’t believe me.)  I don’t think this is a good development.

Second, when I told the proprietor how much I loved working in the dishwashing room, he shook his head sadly and said that he couldn’t find any American kids who were willing to do that job anymore.  The only applicants were immigrants who wanted to wash dishes as a second job.  Have our kids really gotten to the point where they won’t take jobs that are hot and dirty, but yield a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work?  If so, I am sorry for them, for they are missing out on an experience that could help them grow and learn — and have some fun, besides.

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My Alpine Village Summer of 1976 (Part II)

The grounds at Alpine Village

After a few weeks of washing dishes I got promoted to waiter.

Alpine Village operated on the “American plan,” so guests got breakfast and dinner served at specified times and ate whatever our cook decided to prepare.  The wait staff would carry in platters of scrambled eggs, meat loaf, pancakes, and Swiss steak and put them on the long, communal tables for everyone to share.  The dining room usually was filled with lively chatter as the wait staff weaved in and out, dropping off fresh, hot plates of food and clearing the dirty dishes.

The dining room at Alpine Village

I also worked as a lunch-time short order cook, flipping burgers and making grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes at the “Rathskeller” in the basement of the main lodge, and as back-up bartender at that same location in the evening hours.  For that summer, at least, I could make a tolerable Tom Collins or Harvey Wallbanger.

The workday stretched from 6:30 a.m. sharp to 9 p.m. or so.  When the day was over, the staff would party in the common area on the second floor of the barn, playing the Eagles and Jackson Browne albums on a battered communal stereo and drinking cases of beer, or take the Alpine Village speedboat across the lake to a local establishment that served ice-cold pitchers of beer and buckets of steamed clams.  Few things taste quite so good after a long, hot workday as a cold beer in a frosted glass and a hot steamed clam dipped in drawn butter.

I roomed with Jerry, the speedboat captain.  He was a fun-loving, 30ish Vietnam War veteran who was primarily interested in testing the virtue of the bored mothers who spent the long weeks at Alpine Village with their spoiled kids, waiting for their husbands to come up from the City on weekends.  My other great friends that wonderful summer were Sharon, the hilarious and acerbic bartender, and sharp-tongued Kate and good-hearted Ceal, who worked as waitresses and chambermaids.  Our bosses were Marilyn and Peter, the chain-smoking, highball-guzzling married couple who owned the resort.

There was no individual tipping at Alpine Village.  Instead, guests would leave envelopes for the staff as a whole, and if they wanted to reward a particular employee they could designate part of the money for that person.  We got the accumulated tips at the end of the summer.  Peter and Marilyn did it that way to prevent reckless staffers from irresponsibly blowing their pay as the summer progressed — and they were right.  I received several thousand dollars on my way out the door, which was a huge amount of money in those days.

When I left Alpine Village at the end of that summer, with money in my pocket and a sense of self-confidence from having succeeded, on my own, in that faraway job, I felt like I had taken a long step toward becoming an adult.

My Alpine Village Summer Of 1976 (Part I)

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.

The entrance to Alpine Village

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.

The dishwasher room at Alpine Village

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.

An American Scene

Paddle-wheel boats were a huge part of water-borne commerce in the United States in the 19th century and early 20th century, as they ferried passengers and cargo up and down American rivers and lakes.  Now they are seldom-seen relics that have become too slow for most people and too expensive to maintain.  Those that still operate cater mostly to passengers who want to experience a living piece of the past and ponder the days when the paddle-wheelers ruled the inland waterways.

It is always a treat to see one of these great ships that look like wedding cakes on water, as it churns the water and steams toward its destination.  The Minne-ha-ha pictured above plies its trade on the waters of Lake George, New York.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene