Graduation Year Summer

The summer after my senior year, I was looking hard for employment opportunities to help raise money for college. The best jobs available to young men who had graduated from high school were at Armco Steel. The ticket to those jobs was a connection that usually meant a dad who worked at the mill. Lacking that connection, I had to look elsewhere.

The first option was yard work, which I had done for neighbors for several years. Classmates Bob and Ed and I worked on several yards on Butler’s “Boulevard” where folks with some money were willing to pay to have their hedge borders dressed and their gutters cleaned while we listened to the radio play “There Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues”. After a few weeks of hard work we exhausted the job opportunities. Now I needed to look for another gig. Since I had no transportation, I was going to be somewhat hamstrung. Dad insisted I walk across the highway with a bucket of soapy water and start washing the cars at George Kelly’s Chevy dealership. According to Dad’s philosophy, such initiative could not be denied. I took a more traditional tact and went, sans bucket, to see Mr. Kelly himself. He listened to my offer, gave me a cigar-stuffed scowl, and a curt “No, Kid”.

The Pennsylvania State Employment Office offered jobs at the Butler Holiday Inn, a state of the art lodging located just down Route 8 beside the sewage plant.   Classmates Van and Kirk had already secured the jobs as assistants to Cliff, the maintenance man. The only position left was busboy/waiter/bellhop. Since it offered the wage of $1.25/hour and the prospect of some shared tips, how could I refuse?

On my first day, I arrived on time thanks to Howard Thompson, a neighbor who could take me to work on the way to his job driving for a car dealer in town. I reported to the manager who explained my duties and said I would be supervised by Ruth, the lead cook. Ruth was a friendly sort. She was short and round and had a distinct German accent. In reality I split my time between three main chores: bussing tables, washing dishes and waiting tables.  I moved from job to job as the situation dictated. I could do only so much to prep for lunch. I was never caught up with bussing during lunch. I faced a mountain of dishes just after lunch and was interrupted from that task mid-afternoon when I had to run out and take restaurant orders at the pool when the waitresses were leaving from the morning shift. My most distinct memory was the incessant clinking of glassware. How Larry Berg, a local radio personality, could conduct his radio talk show from the back of the dining room with all that clatter was a mystery to me. Perhaps it precluded dead air.

Chef Henri was the true master of the kitchen but was typically as distant as possible from my humble operations. Aside from his occasional rants, such as “Get this chicken shit otta here!”, he was simply an intimidating presence who exaggerated his very tall height with a very tall chef’s hat. His Gaulic-like personality ensured nothing done by anyone else was done to standard. He was a perpetual rain cloud.

On rare occasions I would have to assist the housekeeping staff in some manner. The maids were ruled by Jenny, a tyrant who valued no one’s work but her own. She made sure that none of her staff could ever enjoy a day at work. All in all, the Butler Holiday Inn was a primer in how not to run a workplace it was, therefore, a lesson if not a very lucrative job.

The further lesson was that leaving work and running around all night being up to no good was a path to getting run down. Eventually I contracted mono and had to leave the Holiday Inn. I also had to give up staying up until the hour hand was well into a descending position. I also had to forgo playing tennis (with no particular skill) with my girlfriend Donna.   When my friend Kirk asked if I wanted to go with him to Evans City to be an extra in some movie called “Night of the Living Dead”, I had to pass. When I arrived at college in September, I needed to be a peak condition. I was instead still dragging and the semesters that followed showed I was still carrying around the effects. Ahhh, youth! So arrogant and so stupid.