Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Holiday Inn: Hired

The second job I ever held was working at a Holiday Inn motel at Interstate 55 in Joliet, Il.    I started there at the beginning of June 1978, and worked there for about a year and a half. About the same length of time as my first job. But whenever I look back at my experience at Holiday Inn it always seems like I worked there much longer.
Partly because I ended up working so many different jobs, and also because so much happened while I was there.  Almost all of it fun. 

Let's face it, when you're a teenager growing up in the burbs ANY job you get is going to pay low wage.  Between paychecks, about enough for gas money and a trip to the record store. Maybe an Aerosmith concert.  So the attraction for any employment prospects to a 17 year old lie more in factors like;  "Is the work easy?", "Are the people cool?", "Is there a sweet employee discount?"  There HAVE to be some perks involved, however small.   
Sometimes those perks are inherent and obvious (Tasty Freeze job = free ice cream), sometimes they're less obvious and sublime. But when mined by creative and resourceful people, a seemingly boring place of business can become the gift that keeps on giving.

This particular place of business was a prime example of the latter.
To begin with, it had everything a major franchise motel could have.  The main building included an elegant full-menu restaurant with a fireplace, and an immense back kitchen that also catered to 3 banquet rooms for conventions and wedding receptions. A swanky bar lounge with a small stage and dance floor,  and a tastefully furnished lobby where guests would check in.  All of this, including the front desk and a handful of small offices, was laid out in a sprawling single-story building of stone, steel and glass.

All of the guest rooms were in 3 separate 2-story 'wings' that stood beyond the main building, framing a massive open courtyard with grassy lawns, manicured evergreens, and a patio area with heated pool and diving board.
All the rooms were outside access. And depending on which side of the wing you were staying on, your door opened to the parking lot (that ultimately surrounded the joint), or the center courtyard.  The end of one of these wings housed the laundry facilities, another held storage and maintenance.

Essentially, this was a full-service compound.  Everything needed to fully accommodate and entertain very large numbers of people.     

Another factor that played a part was that this Holiday Inn was old and used.
It was opened in the late 50s, and the mid-century style and decor reflected that.  It even had the classic neon 'Holiday Inn' sign, with the marquee that was changed by hand.  Now the place would be considered very retro and hip, but back in 1978 it was simply dated and showing signs of wear.  It had done tons of steady business over the past 20 years and was now a somewhat neglected workhorse in the chain. It looked a little weathered and faded, and could've used some remodeling.  But because of its convenient location it continued to endure the crowds.  Not only hosting road-weary vacationing families and truckers, but the restaurant, bar, and banquet rooms were frequently patronized by locals.

Holiday Inn at I55, Joliet Il. circa 1965

The management consisted of an 'Innkeeper', and day-managers for the restaurant/bar, banquet booking, grounds/maintenance, and housekeeping.  With few exceptions the entire place was run and operated by people in their teens and 20s. And as long as all the work was done those who were in any position of authority just turned a blind eye to any screwing off.   It wasn't that they didn't care about performance. They just understood these jobs paid shit, and sometimes it got slow and dull.  So as long as it didn't come back to bite them, whatever else was fine.  The bottom rule was;  keep the wheels greased and turning.  As long as the place looked clean, kept making a profit, and no guests complained, we stayed off corporate's radar.  Everybody wins.

Over the years this enabled a culture of mischief and debauchery that always rumbled beneath the surface. And everyone that worked there became complicit to some degree.  ..Everyone except the Innkeeper, who was hired by the corporate office. These poor company stiffs would get transferred from franchise to franchise, randomly like game pawns, and they were never around long enough to realize what was going on.
They couldn't be trusted, and had to be kept in the dark at all cost.

Of course I didn't know all of this when I applied for a job there. 
My pal Terry, who I worked with at Bogdan's, had a couple of friends who worked at the Inn.  ..Not that he knew much more than I, it just prompted the serendipitous visit that would affect both our destinies. 
We had been out riding around in Terry's car on an early evening in May, having had a few beers celebrating the end of the school term, and deciding to see my High School's graduation ceremony. A girl we worked with was getting her diploma, and we swung by to watch and say hi afterward.  We didn't have any plans beyond that, just driving around getting stoned and cranking some tunes, when he suggested dropping by the Inn. Just to see who was working that evening.
By the time we got there we were pretty baked, and I was feeling paranoid.  We both walked past the front desk and to the restaurant, where Terry knew the hostess; Kathy.  They chatted for a bit and he motioned for us both to go back into the kitchen area to see his friends, who were there washing dishes.

The first thing I noticed as we pushing through the doors was a cool mist swirling near the floor, rolling in from the back area.  Accompanying this was the sound of Black Sabbath's; Iron Man, that seemed to be echoing from a boombox. Terry and I round the corner to find his 2 friends standing around a floor drain, pouring a bucket of water over large chunks of dry ice.  There was thick fog everywhere back there,  as if they were trying to stage a rock show. 
The head cook made them stop short of turning off the lights and using flashlights as light-sabers.
But that was really enough for Terry and I and we both asked for job applications.
I remember both of us laughing uncontrollably for a moment while we filled them out.  After all, we already had fun jobs working at Bogdan's.  ..And we were both pretty trashed.  To top that, when Kathy handed us the applications, she could TELL we were both wasted.

But that's ultimately what sealed the deal, really.  Because when she asked us if we could start working there in a couple of weeks,  I realized she didn't care.
On some level, I knew Terry and I had just been invited to the party.

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