Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hidden Worlds

Behind the facade of our everyday world are hidden byways that make modern living possible. I had written of the seasonal workers in the Catskill resorts. They were part of the "behind the scenes" operations that enabled the resorts to run. Here are some more:

The Jersey Shore has its own hidden world that the summer visitors never see. The seasonal businesses rely on making their money between the end of May and the beginning of September. Memorial Day and Labor Day are the end caps on the traditional Summer Season at the Shore. The few who trickle in early or linger a little while afterward are too small in number to make a notable difference.

The off-season lifestyle was very different a few decades ago. Areas of the Shore have become more residential. As late as the 80s, many of those properties had been summer rental bungalows. Back then, there were many fewer year-round residents at the Shore and fewer all-season businesses. For year-round residents, there were hardware stores, several of which were also general stores. There might be a bakery in town and a shop selling newspapesr and coffee. Schools were relatively small and some were shared by several communities. Where there had been throngs in Summer, one saw empty places.

The pavilions on the boardwalk would all be boarded up until May. So were many of the restaurants and the businesses on the street that ran alongside the beach. Shops that peddled everything from deep-fried snack food to plastic beach toys were padlocked, their windows covered with plywood. Most of the hotels and motels were also closed for the season.

For the few motels that were open, there was a way to make a few dollars in the off season. To ensure folks would attend in person, ballgames were not broadcast within 25 miles of there they were being played. You could not see them on TV. The trick was to go outside that area to see the games. Small groups of men would head for the Shore, rent a room for the day and watch the ballgame on TV. Depending on where the motel was, it could work both ways. The innkeepers could expect to get both the Philadelphia and New York fans. That meant a little income for basketball, football and Spring-season baseball. Smart motel managers worked out a discount for the room, and so ensured repeat clientele for the off-season ballgames.


Ever wonder why you do not see many maintenance men or delivery people in big city buildings? Many buildings have a hidden set of elevators, corridors and entrances used by service personnel and delivery men. Many do not permit these people to use the main entrance or the elevators used by visitors, staff and employees. This allows the people who work and do business to pass unimpeded by delivery folks, and vice versa

The hidden corridors are usually painted an industrial green or grey. The lower four feet of the walls are covered in thick plywood, so as to absorb the bumps and scrapes of delivery carts. Plain doors give egress to doors or outside corridors where deliveries are actually made. They are placed and painted in such a way that they are ignored by folks passing by outside.

Most places with freight elevators had entrances in back. Yes, there were alleys behind the buildings, parallel to the streets, from which the freight elevators were accessible. The alleys were also where they placed their dumpsters. Most folks passed by them without giving them a glance.

Some buildings had a ramp into which one could drive a truck right up to a loading dock. Rockefeller Center took this a step further. There were two long freight elevators that could easily hold a 40-foot trailer. A truck would drive right on to the elevator and drive off onto one of two basement levels with several loading platforms. From there, one could unload and take a smaller freight elevator to the necessary floor. There was an easy solution to help people find a location, too. Rockefeller Center employed a small army of young men in sharp brown uniforms who would take you right to the place

The World Trade Center’s basement entailed a drive down a long causeway ramp to get to one of the basements. It was big, but Rockefeller Center was easier.

Loading docks in New York were only open for a limited time. Most opened between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning and closed between 4:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon. Very few were open until 6:00 or later. Calling ahead that you might be late worked in a few buildings, but not many. To get a full day’s work of deliveries, an outfit would have to have their truck on the road by 7:30 and hit their first stop between 8:00 and 8:30.

Aside from a look at something few ever notice, you might get some ideas here for your trackside scenery.


One fellow thought being boss was making the rules and doing as he pleased. He usually showed up as his warehouse between 9:00 and 11:30, which meant his trucks got out anywhere from 10:00 to Noon. The man thought he could make up the time by working later. However, as most loading docks closed when they did, he was getting a mere four hours work done instead of a full day. Being the kind of person he was, he took it out on his employees. Suffice to say that within two weeks, he always had different workers. The man did not learn a simple fact about being boss. The boss does not make rules to suit his whims. The boss sees that the existing conditions are met so as to succeed and prosper. In other words, the rules are made by the job’s demands and conditions. In New York City, that means getting your trucks on the road by 7:30 at the latest.

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