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A January 1st, 1957 Adventure

Posted Dec 31 2012 3:24pm

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

As a Columbia College student in the late 1950’s I worked in a Catskill Mountain hotel resort as a waiter during the summers to earn money for college tuition and expenses.

My college tuition was $450 per semester.

I had a great job in a wonderful adult only hideaway hotel at the end of a winding country road. The tips were great. I was able to earn enough to pay for college tuition and some expenses each year.

Even in 1957 college kids did stupid things. The hotel was usually closed after Labor Day until the first week in June each year. I always started the first week in June.

The Catskill Mountains are a winter wonderland at Christmas time. Only Grossinger’s Hotel was open and had winter activities.

 The owner of my hotel decided to open the hotel Thanksgiving and the last two weeks in December. In 1957 New York City was beginning to close down the last two weeks in December. The owner felt she could fill the hotel even though winter activities were not yet in abundance in the Catskill Mountains.

She figured she could fill the hotel up by providing enough on activities at the hotel for the guests.

She was right.

The fall semester at Columbia College was over. My finals were finished. Spring Semester would start January 16th.

The owner invited me to work those two weeks. I jumped at the opportunity despite the protests of my parents. The only bad thing was I did not own a car. I did not look forward to taking the Greyhound Bus to Woodbourne New York.

I called around to a few of my friends who worked with me in the summer. Freddie W. had just gotten a car. He volunteered to drive me and two other friends. We were to pay for the gas.

I thought Freddie was great. We left New York City on December 17th 1956. It was an uneventful trip on a beautiful sunny cold day.

The hotel was gorgeous it the snow.  The snow emphasized its architectural beauty.

My waiting tables were full. The entertainment and activities were spectacular. Christmas Eve and New Years Eve were a knockout. Some guest had already made reservations for next year.  

The guest left after lunch New Years Day. We all cleaned up the dinning room and our serving stations and prepared to leave.

It was a cloudy cold day with snow and ice on the ground. I wanted to stay over until January 2nd. Freddie said he couldn’t. He had a date that evening. I couldn’t figure that out because we didn’t leave until 3.30 p.m. He had to have another reason.

About half way to New York City we encountered a snowstorm. The roads at that time were back roads, not highways.  

My father’s advice that was burned into my head about driving in snow was to  “Drive slowly in a snow storm. Try not to hit the brakes. Downshift and turn into a skid.”

The roads were very slippery. Freddie was cautious. However, he was a little less cautious than I would have been.  

I did not say anything because I knew Freddie would never listen.

We came to a bend in the road. We could not see anything beyond the bend. The visibility was poor because of the heavy snow.

I felt like telling him to stop until we could see a little better. I knew he wouldn’t listen. I kept my mouth shut.

As we turned the bend, we started going down a steep slippery hill. It was too late to stop and wait.

Freddie downshifted. The car did not hold. We were sliding downhill. The car was picking up speed as it skidded.

At that point it looked like everything was in slow motion.

There was a steep drop off on each side of this two-lane road. I could see Freddie was becoming nervous. The last thing I wanted to give him was advice.

 I could see him starting to move his foot toward the brake pedal. We were almost at the bottom of the hill.

I yelled. Freddie, “no brake and turn into the skid.”  Somehow he listened to me and gently turned into the skid.

In seconds we were at the bottom of the hill and on a flat road. We were safe!

The remaining drive was uneventful but slow. It snowed like crazy all the way into New York City.

We were shaken. Freddie dropped me off at my house.

As soon as I walked through the front door of my house my father asked how much money I made in tips during the two weeks of work.

My mother noticed how shaken I was. I was white. She came over and hugged her nineteen year old. She wished me a Happy New Year and told me she loved me. Then she asked why I was so shaken.

I told her and my father what happened. I immediately saw that my father wanted to take back his first question. The money was meaningless.

I told them tomorrow I was going to spend every penny I made on the best hi fi set could find. I said I thank god I am alive!

They both understood and approved.

Life is inches. It must be remembered. I promised myself that I would have to remember that I must enjoy every moment I am alive.  I believe I have.

  The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” are, mine and mine alone.

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