Earlier this summer, my bride kicked me out of the house.
She said something about my being underfoot all the time and told me to get a job. So, I did.
I called Scott Larson, who wears dozens of hats as he oversees his gaggle of resorts, including Newagen Seaside Inn and Linekin Bay Resort. He said he had just the right position for me. Thus, I spent the summer as “Joe, The Bus Driver.”
My task was to shuttle a group of college-aged foreign students to and fro from their quarters at the old White Anchor Inn to their various jobs at Linekin Bay Resort.
I had a wonderful time chatting with young men and women who came from all over the world to spend the summer in my favorite community.
The summer workers came to the U.S. under the J1 visa program, which encourages cultural exchanges for some 300,000 visitors from 200 countries and territories per year.
So far, despite threats from the current administration in Washington, this program has escaped the chopping block.
It is one of the keys to our local economy, for they provide the waitstaff, kitchen help, housekeepers and maintenance staff for our resorts, motels and restaurants.
Those of you who have earned a bit of gray hair might remember when these jobs were coveted by American college students. For Midwesterners, like me, a chance to spend the summer waiting tables at a Maine coastal resort, and earn a bit of money, was a dream come true.
Fast forward to today. For many students, a college education is a year-round event, Many fall semesters begin in August and our summer season can last until the middle of October. This makes it difficult for innkeepers to rely on domestic help, forcing them to look elsewhere.
The J1 workers were a miniature United Nations.
There was a Chinese couple from Malaysia, a handful of Russians, a stern-faced native of Romania, an Albanian, one from Montenegro, one from Macedonia and several Turks. And, they were delightful and very, very bright.
Most of the young women were studying engineering and science, and one of the Russian women wanted to be a filmmaker and was studying the Chinese language. One of the young Russian men was collecting vinyl records of 1970s rock bands.
They didn’t talk politics, except for one who explained that his nation borrowed millions of euros from the E.U. then the leaders stole it.
When they signed on, they were promised full-time employment, but for them, that was just the start. It seemed they all were working second and, in some cases, third jobs.
One young man would bus tables at LBR during the lunch and dinner hours, then ride a bike to Hannaford’s Supermarket and stock shelves all night. He would ride the bike to the White Anchor at 6 a.m. At 10:15 he would be back on the shuttle van for another trip to LBR.
When I asked him what he did for fun, he said, “sleeping.”
In between working three jobs, the Chinese couple found time to go on a whale watch cruise and stop at Cabbage Island for a traditional shore dinner. The young man compared the Maine product to its Malaysian cousin, which is longer but has no claws. He seemed surprised when I explained that Maine lobster fishers measure their catch and throwback those that are too small or too big. Back home, he said, fishermen just keep everything.
When asked about her favorite American activity, the Chinese woman said she loved the food at LBR. After hours, many of the J1 workers from all parts of town hung out together. I don’t know what they were doing, but they all said they had a good time. One young woman told me she joined a dozen or so friends for a late-night swim at Knickerbocker Pond.
“The water was so warm, and it was so dark you could look up at thousands of stars. It was quiet, and you could hear the forest animals as they walked through the bushes,” she said.
A Russian woman who was known to be very frugal wanted to purchase a powerful Apple laptop so she could edit video. She figured out that if she bought it in New Hampshire, she would save money by avoiding sales tax.
Another of the Europeans said his nation was so impoverished that the wait staff could earn more money in our summer tourist season than they could make at home all year. No wonder they were working two and three jobs.
Our TV sets feature rented experts carping about immigrants. To this old scribbler, this summer’s crop of foreign students would be an asset to any community.