The summer of 1974 was another travel episode in my life which was to change me dramatically.
I was making bricks in a factory near Aberdeen – student summer job – when I was asked if I would like to spend the rest of the summer working in a 24 room beach hotel in Westhampton Beach, New York. I did not take any persuading.
Arrangements were made, and off I went on a BOAC Boeing 707 from Prestwick to Kennedy. It was the first time I had been to the USA.
Westhampton Beach is in the East End of Long Island, on the South Fork. It is 80 miles from Manhattan, and a popular summer weekend destination for the “new money” kind of affluent New Yorkers. The hotel was seasonal, opening in May and closing in mid-September.
I started out as a desk clerk, taking phone calls and dealing with guests checking in/out. The guests ranged from demanding to super unpleasant, with the occasional normal one thrown in just to catch you by surprise.
After a few weeks the manager was caught helping himself to money, and was out the door immediately. As the end of the season was only 4 weeks away, and recruiting a new manager would have been impossible, I was kicked upstairs.
Yes, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. A grubby labourer making bricks on a production line in Aberdeen in June. A hotel manager in the glitzy Hamptons in August.
I learned a lot and changed a lot just from working in another country. I had a brutal exposure to the USA’s work ethic to start with. It was my first real customer service job, so I learned a huge amount from that.
Needless to say I learned a lot about the hotel business, and the knowledge I gained has been invaluable in my own travels over the subsequent decades. It has made me a discerning – but not demanding – customer, and it also taught me to treat hotel staff well. Usually they are wanting to do their best, and if things are not the way a guest would like, either it is a management issue or unrealistic expectations from the customer.
During my stay I saw a lot of the Hamptons and the surrounding East End, plus plenty of the eastern half of Suffolk County. Beyond that – not much. I was working 6 days a week. I remember a couple of day trips into the City and one weekend trip to visit a friend in upstate Rochester.
1970s Rochester was the kind of city you would visit to see a friend, but not much else. On the other hand the 400 mile drive up the Hudson Valley and then skirting the Catskills and Finger Lakes was spectacular. We went to nearby Niagara Falls when in Rochester, and sadly my 2 hour jaunt over the border to Canada remains my only exposure to that country.
Even my brief excursion Upstate taught me a few things. First, the state is massive. Next, much of Upstate is beautiful – forest, lakes and mountains. Then, that the state has its grimy industrial parts to offset the riches of Manhattan and the Hamptons.
Finally, my Niagara Falls outing taught me to take care with visas. I had a single entry one for the USA, and used it on arrival at Kennedy. This was pointed out to me by the US Immigration official at Niagara Falls when I presented my passport returning from Canada. A bad moment.
This will sound bizarre now, but he just waved me through. Good guy.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2020