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Friday, July 13, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation

To the outsider, it doesn't really look like work. But there's more to working in a tourist county than meets the eye.

The five jobs we feature in this week's edition represent the type of work that people think of when they think of Walworth County in the summer.

There are few jobs like summer jobs in a tourist area, however. The product is making people happy, and being happy doing it. Easier said than done.

Other than this one, my favorite summer job was in the Wisconsin Dells, which is Lake Geneva dressed up in plaid golf pants.

I spent two summers there, after my second and third years of college.

I arrived there more as a reason not to go back home for another summer than to actually go to the Dells.

After my freshman year in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, I went back home to Kaukauna for the summer.

Most of my high school friends came back too, and we returned to the same jobs we had in high school. We picked up the same routines and drifted back into the lives we led. By mid-August, it seemed like going away to college had all been some sort of a dream.

As the next spring rolled around I decided it was time to set out for somewhere new. A friend on my dorm floor said he was going to the Dells for the summer, and jobs were easy to get there.

I answered an add for a photographer at an old-time photo studio-the ones where you dress up in costumes from the Old West or Roaring 20s and are captured in a sepia-toned nostalgic pose with friends or family.

It was my first full-time photography job.

There's an evolution that takes place in a tourist town, although this isn't really news to a lot of people around Walworth County.

In the Dells, the Iowans arrive in June. In July they come from Illinois and by August, the Wisconsinites venture out.

I didn't really know anyone in town when I took up residence at Marie Soma's boarding house across from the fire station downtown.

By the middle of week two, I was thinking I had made a big mistake. All work and no play was making Dan feel like a dull boy.

But by the end of June, as the college working crowd began to settle into their jobs, faces became familiar and the summer help began to find a routine of their own.

The hours were long-we'd open around 10 a.m., then close when the action died down. Sometimes 8 p.m., or midnight.

After that, growing groups of us would meet up at various places around town, relax and commiserate about our jobs.

On days off we'd meet at one of the secluded beaches along the river that only locals new about to cook out and lie in the sun.

Or we'd take in the attractions which were free if there was space available and you could show them a local pay stub.

I learned some things over those summers that my parents probably hoped I'd learn, although you didn't know it at the time.

I figured out how to pay my rent, save some for college and make the rest of my check last until the next payday.

Most importantly, you learn about people. The hospitality trade is a crash course in human nature. The quicker you figure it out, the more successful you become.

I went back the next summer, moving into a cabin near the river with friends I had met the year before.

The cycle began again, a rhythm still played out here in Walworth County. And along with it, new memories made and lessons learned.


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