Mountain towns have a rhythm — a beat felt nowhere else. This is the rhythm of the freeze and thaw, the touristy chaos and the tourist-less boredom, they grey and white and then green and brown, the thousand layers and the one light cardigan (because there is never a time to not at least carry an extra layer). And this annual cadence is punctuated by an influx of people from all corners and crevasses of the globe. As a waitress, I have front row seats to the concerto — and I get to experience, in painstaking detail, the temperaments of every member of the orchestra.
Typically, it goes like this… it’s fall, the leaves are blazing as if doused with Kerosene and lit and Summit County is quiet. So quiet, in fact, that you could hear a forgotten block of ski wax hit the wet pavement all the way from Denver. So quiet that the neon tall tee and flat brim your neighbor wears to take out the trash hurts your ears as well as your eyes. So quiet that you consider cutting off your hand and selling it on Ebay to pay rent — but then you realize you’re a waitress and you’ll need your hand again when all the ski tourists show up.
And show up they do. A brief flurry of them around Thanksgiving — like the first snowfall that paints the world white — and then the county is quiet until just before Christmas. And then it’s on, like the ice caps melting. The County is clouded with groups of Texans, Kansans, Iowans, Minnesotans, internationals and — every weekend — the weekend warriors from Denver and the Front Range who siege the mountain armed with skis and snowboards.
One thing you can expect, living here, is that your favorite bread will be nonexistent until mid-May and all the cage-free sale eggs will be expunged, like all the hotel rooms at Keystone and everyone’s manners. Winter tourists are loud and large — lots of US and foreign families, ski bums from neighboring counties and the Denver area. And they’re often masses with moolah to misuse. Tromping up the restaurant steps in their fancy ski boots and fur hoods, they’ll drop some dough on wine, appetizers and top sirloin and then drunkenly scribble a generous tip before the chilly night envelops them. The winter crowd, on the whole, is demanding but fun. They’re stoked to be in snowy paradise with their loud families and party animal friends.
And then March arrives and rolls out the spring break carpet. The large families multiply — tables full of annoyed parents and sullen teenagers focused on the latest iPads and Androids. Tables are abandoned looking as though they had been inhabited by rabid badgers instead of broods of Harvard graduates or Mexican aristocrats. Outside, snow falls like dandruff from a thousand gods and everyone is enchanted, sated for a moment.
Then mid-April rolls around, like the track of a Yamaha snowmobile on a freshly groomed trail. Ski areas close, traffic lessens, snow melts into mud and occasionally cage-free sale eggs are on grocery store shelves. Delicate buds erupt on branches only to be slapped into retreat by another wet, heavy snowstorm. And again, the County is quiet. So quiet, in fact that you can hear the emo pop blaring in the neon-wearing guy’s earphones in the grocery store as he reaches for the last carton of cage free sale eggs. So quiet you can hear all the dogs in Summit County whining to be let out in the mud with their Patagonia doggy sweaters.
And just before everyone expires of pure, inescapable ennui the summer crowd arrives. At first, they trickle in slowly, with sibilant sounds of disdain. And then the onslaught is a torrent, a great gushing of snobby East coast money and foreign swagger. This is a new breed of tourists, full of haughty demands and seeped with entitlement. The County sighs collectively, expelling months of stale, bored air. Immediately after, we guzzle a great lungful of fresh summer air — and we’ll need it. Our hands will be full with this crowd, brimming with alcohol and complicated special orders, all varnished with derision. My friend and fellow waitress summed it up perfectly:
“Just a thought,” she says. “Winter tourists treat us like people. Summer tourists treat us like slaves.”
The demands are static — tourists, in their uprooted, vacationing core are demanding. But the winter crowd more or less recognizes their servers as humans. The summer herds view their servers as a more or less invisible force that shuttles food and alcohol to their table in half a heartbeat. “Please” and “thank you” are scorned, left by the wayside like last year’s sailing garb.
And sailing is what many of these tourists do — they pile on sailboats and float the polar plumes of “lake” Dillon — a post-war effort at drowning a beautiful valley and calling it a lake. When hunger drives them to shore, they annex the metal patio chairs and lounge proudly, as if they are czars ruling the county and all its inhabitants. Like royalty, they demand their omelets made with eggbeaters, light cheese, no onion, extra tomato, extra crispy bacon, fruit cups with no bananas, dry wheat toast and butter on the side. When their orders are confused by the capable but swamped cooks, they scoff in disbelief, their sunburned faces besmirched with righteous anger.
When I approach a summer table of sailor types, haughty biker types (who rode all they way from Frisco to Dillon, about 7 miles) or high maintenance ladies, I rarely expect a salutation. Instead, it’s more likely an “I want” or nothing at all. In the latter case, I try to be as chipper as possible. Imagine, perchance, a table of women. All are bleach blond, sort of pinched-looking — like their plastic surgeons went to sleep mid-surgery, woke with a start, chugged six shots of espresso and finished everything with shaky, caffeinated hands. They’re wearing enough make-up in total to paint a three-story house inside and out, and their perfume clogs the air with a sickly sweet aroma akin to decomposing pumpkins.
Me: Good morning.
Me: Hey, ladies, how’s it going today?
One lady, quietly: Hi.
The rest of the ladies: …….
Me: Anybody want a beverage? We have some wonderful, homemade Bloody Marys (true), fresh-squeezed orange juice (embellished), fresh brewed iced tea (true), puppy blood (embellished).
Me: Anybody? It’s a great day for a drink on the patio!!!!
Same lady: I want a diet Coke… please.
The rest of the ladies: ……..
I pick my jaw off the dirty concrete after I hear the woman utter, “please,” quietly from her Botoxed, painted chops. The word “please,” may as well be a profanity, it’s used so gingerly. Of course — not every person that enters the hallowed perimeters of the restaurant is lacking in social niceties. The problem is that that jerks outweigh the nice ones like African elephants eclipse fire ants. Come July, most of us have forgotten how rewarding serving people can be. With a County of bad apples, it’s easier to find gold nuggets in your toilet bowl than to find politeness on the job.
Summertime. It elicits great feelings of joy amongst us all at the thought of trouncing up to alpine lakes, spinning up to Vail Pass and camping under the stars. But summer also escorts on its arm a figure of dread as we anticipate serving and enduring thousands of unofficial royalty. But the hoity-toity crowd is part of the rhythm here. They are the grinding bass notes that carry us away from the poverty of mud season. Their presence ensures both that our rent is paid and that we’ll have little or no hair left come October.
Then, in October the County will heave another collective sigh, toeing the waters of looming lassitude. Again it will be quiet — so quiet you have time to decipher the long, drawn out sentences of the neon bedecked stoners at the bar. So quiet that the road to Keystone Ski Resort looks like the Oregon Trail after everyone already arrived in Oregon. So quiet that you can hear the skin peeling off the arms of the last, scorched summer tourists. Quiet — at least until December.