The summer of 1966 may not have been the hottest summer on record in Pennsylvania as far as weather records are concerned, but for me it was the long hot summer. I graduated from college in 1966 and since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I decided to continue my education by going to graduate school.
I was accepted at a couple of universities, but chose to attend Lehigh University. Since my undergraduate education had mostly been paid by scholarships, I found myself in the unique position of having to fund my graduate education. What to do? What to do? My parents were living just outside of Lebanon, PA, where my father was the minister of a church. Since I was living with them (also a unique experience since most of my teen years were spent away from them), I began hunting for a local job.
I put in an application at Indiantown Gap, a nearby military institution. I went to local factories, I tried stores. But for whatever reasons, none of these places had a job for me. Finally, I turned to that time-honored work for young people—I would work in a restaurant waiting on tables. I was immediately hired by a place called the Lincoln Diner, on the eastern edge of Lebanon. The diner was across from a thriving Bethlehem Steel plant, and since I pulled the night shift as a waitress, I looked forward to lots of customers.
And they came. Many of the guys who worked at the steel plant stopped in at the end of their shifts. I was serving breakfasts as fast as I could. The diner also got the late night theater going customers. And we got the drunks. I recall one man who came in so inebriated he literally could not stay upright on the counter stool. He sat down, and soon began listing like the leaning Tower of Pisa. Over he went with a loud CLUNK landing smack on the floor. The thing that amazed me was that the fall never even disturbed his alcohol induced sleep.
Since I was the lone server on the night shift, I had to seek the cook’s help to set the man back up. When he fell a second time, the cook called the police who hauled the drunk off presumably to the jail to sleep off his hangover.
The sounds of that summer were the top 100 songs of the year. The diner had a juke box, and over and over customers would play the hits. The Beatles’ “Yesterday” was embedded in my brain, along with Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Over and over and over. It didn’t take long for two perfectly wonderful songs to get ruined for me. I filled sugar containers, salt shakes, and catsup bottles to endless repetitions of these songs. If some other songs were popular, I certainly don’t recall them.
What really made this the long hot summer for me was sleeping during the day. For all those of you who have ever worked the night shift, you know what a challenge it is to sleep during the day. My parents lived in the parsonage next to the church. For whatever reasons, the whole lot of land had almost been completely cleared of trees. There were just a few around the parsonage itself, but not enough to really provide cooling shade. And, of course, air-conditioning was not as ubiquitous as it is now. So, I would drive home, take off my restaurant smelling, catsup stained uniforms and tumble into my bed.
I slept with the windows open, and a fan whirring away. The church was located right next to a busy highway, and even though the parsonage was behind the church, the road sounds were a constant backdrop to my sleeping. I recall sleeping fitfully most days, tossing, sweating, trying to keep the bright sunlight out of my eyes.
Of course, I made it through the summer. I earned enough money with salary and tips to pay for most of my graduate school. (There is no way I or anyone could do that now, given the incredible rise in college tuition.) I never returned to waiting tables, but I have a permanent deep seated respect for the people who do wait tables. Like most everyone I know who has ever waited on tables, I tend to tip generously. I know how hard wait staff work. And, who knows, maybe they have to go home to try to sleep in over-heated rooms.
For me, well, yesterday—all my troubles seemed so far away when I was serving strangers in the night, exchanging glances—during the long hot summer.