By Grant McGee
That big fireworks display, “Smoke on the Water” is at Greene Acres Park this Sunday. Clovis’ Tom Martin sparkplugs the event every year.
Tom and I have something in common: Our fathers were both hotel managers.
Hotels. Fireworks. Fourth of July. These things whirl around in my mind and I remember my best Fourth of July.
It was July 4, 1976, the bicentennial. I was working at Mountain Lake Hotel, high in the Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia.
That hotel would become famous in the ’80s as the backdrop for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” People would come, money would flow and the place would get a facelift. It went from being open only in the summer to being open all year.
In 1976, Mountain Lake Hotel was a rustic, cool place for a recent high school graduate to live and be the evening desk clerk six days a week. I made $11 a day before taxes. Room and board came with the job.
The employee’s rooms were in a long, wooden, mice-infested building that was splitting in half. Mitch the bellhop was my roommate. At the end of the day it wasn’t uncommon for Mitch to be kicking back on his side of the room reading a comic book, me on my side reading a “Rolling Stone” and a mouse in the middle of the room on its back haunches, holding its little feet like little hands, sniffing the air as if to say, “hey, you got any peanut butter?”
The hotel had one television, in the lobby. Phone calls were connected to rooms by an ancient plug-in switchboard.
It had been a hot sticky summer, something the mountaintop resort was not known for.
As the summer wore on, the employee rations were kind of skimpy. One week we were fed only corn dogs — corn dogs for breakfast, corn dogs for lunch, corn dogs for dinner. About the fifth day of corn dogs one guy tried syrup on his breakfast corn dogs.
The morning of July 4, 1976, dawned bright, clear and cool, nice after all the mugginess.
By the early afternoon under a bright blue sky, the chef had put together a giant grilled T-bone steak feast by the lake for the guests.
When the guests had their fill, there was enough left over for all the employees. We gorged ourselves on the steaks and stuff. After corn dogs and imitation pork cutlets, the grilled beef was a joy.
That evening guests and employees gathered on the lakeside verandah of the hotel to watch a few fireworks set off over the lake. Even though we didn’t know each other, the air was filled with camaraderie and laughter as guests and hotel staff enjoyed the moment — the fireworks, that post-cookout filled feeling, the cool evening, the lake, the mountaintop, the pines, our country’s 200th birthday.
That’s what I like about “Smoke on the Water.” It pulls a lot of us out of our Clovis homes and we come to Greene Acres Lake and get together. Maybe it fosters a sense of community.
Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: