September 1, 2013: Route 66 Hotel


Ann is far left and Gene far right.  Scott and my brother, Matt, posed with us in front of the motel. 

I just turned 45.  That got my attention.  Not so much the getting old part; getting older has never bothered me.  A wise friend once told me after a comment on being yet another year older, “It’s better than the alternative.”  Yes, getting older is much better than the alternative.  What got my attention with this birthday was the “halfway point” in my life.  I am half way to 90; an age I hope to attain.  And by my calculations I am halfway through my career.  I have spent 22 years at Lutz and am sure I have another 20 good working years in me.

I was asked the question recently on which job experience was most valuable to me to date.  At my halfway age of 45, this was a bit of a loaded question.  It caused me to pause and give it some thought.  One would think my answer would clearly be related to my many years at Lutz as a partner in a large CPA firm.  But that wasn't my answer. My most valuable job experience to date was my 1988 summer job in Kingman, Arizona.  Although my initial job description at the Route 66 Motel was cleaning motel rooms, I advanced through the ranks that summer and held many positions as I learned the hospitality industry from the ground up.  It was a lesson in hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, trust, and the value of relationships.  There were lessons learned in the Arizona sun and under the watchful eyes of Midwestern business owners that will stay with me for a lifetime.

The summer of 1988 fell between Scott and my junior and senior years in college.  Being a strict follower of timelines, I knew this was the summer we needed internships in our designated fields.  For Scott this was law enforcement and for me, accounting.  We chose my parents home in Arizona as our summer destination of choice.  My dad’s resourcefulness and connections as a popular barber in Kingman helped Scott land his coveted summer internship with the Mohave County Probation Department.

The use of connections was less fruitful in the accounting world.  Pre-days of Internet searches, I relied on recommendations of my dad and the good-old-fashioned telephone book to write letters to every accounting firm in Kingman.  I soon learned that summer was bad time to find gainful employment in the accounting field and that CPA’s liked to take it easy over the summer.  With the summer quickly approaching and not even a single bite on a job, I turned back to my ever resourceful dad asking for an “in” to a summer job of any kind.  So my dad put out his feelers while going about his daily interactions with customers and pulled through with a lead.

My dad cut the hair of Gene Kramer.  Gene and his wife, Ann, owned the Route 66 Motel in Kingman.  They were North Dakota natives and with my dad’s roots in Iowa, the two men always shared this Midwestern connection.  When Dad explained to Gene that his daughter was having trouble securing a summer job, Gene quickly jumped on the opportunity of employing a Midwestern girl.  Gene had his fill of the less than ambitious work habits of recent help and chalked this up to bad upbringing.  He went on to tell my dad that he had a job for me immediately and that the girl from Iowa should look him up the minute I got to town.  So after a twenty-four hour car ride from Iowa to Arizona, a visit to the Route 66 Motel was my first stop.  I was hired on the spot.  My job was to clean their motel rooms.

A full view of the Route 66 Motel
Ann Kramer was in charge of running the rooms and Gene, the front desk.  They were both in their early sixties and had strong “Nort Dekoda” accents.  Ann was a straight shooter who ran a tight ship.  She wasn't one for small talk or unnecessary pleasantries.  She quickly ran me through the expectations of a room cleaning and the necessities of my cleaning cart.  I shadowed her on day one and she accessed my skills high enough to let me have it on my own on day two.  I was paid per room cleaned which was common in the industry.  They paid me $5 per room and there were twenty-two rooms in total.  Ann would help in the cleaning of the rooms, so earnings based on rate times room was dependent on my speed comparatively to Ann’s abilities.

I quickly learned that I was very good at not only cleaning the rooms, but also streamlining the steps involved in the start to finish room cleaning process.  Within days I was cleaning four rooms in an hour and they were pristine.  This was comparative to their prior help who took thirty-plus minutes to clean each room.  Ann would inspect my work as she couldn't believe my speed didn't equate to shoddy work.  But she couldn't find so much as a flick of dust left behind.  My time management and multi-tasking process skills were in high gear.  And my accounting mind quickly did the math that making $20 an hour and being done by noon was a good gig; especially considering this was in the eighties with minimum wage at $3.35 an hour.  I was earning more than 2.5 times then my counterparts working an eight hour shift.  My first lesson became one of motivation; motivated to work hard and deliver a good product.  In turn I earned a great wage.

Although Ann was initially exasperated with my over-enthusiasm, I quickly convinced her that this was a win-win situation.  Rooms were ready for their customers earlier which resulting in happier customers and a “no vacancy” sign that lit up earlier.  Ann’s time was better spent on the finances and other management duties and I was quietly out of their hair by lunch time.  As Gene and Ann compared this to their less enthusiastic help of the past, they quickly became fond of their Midwestern hire.  Soon they were inviting me to join them for lunch in their personal quarters following our mornings of joint cleaning.  After a couple of weeks, they asked me to watch to front desk and entrusted me with the cash register while they grabbed lunch at Bob Big Boy’s across the street.  I later learned that this was a luxury they rarely enjoyed.  Thus my next lesson; the value of earning one's trust.  As the summer wore on, I also learned the importance our holding this trust in high regard. 

Mom & I ~ check out my tan legs!
So my summer of cleaning motel rooms may sound quite domestic and frankly, quite horrible, when comparing it to a swanky accounting internship.  But it was actually just the opposite.  I learned quickly that I enjoyed a routine.  My routine of that summer included furiously cleaning motel rooms by morning and then after a lunch with or for the Kramers, I would go to the quiet home of my parents.  Scott was busy with his 8-5 internship and my parents; their full time jobs.  I would lay out in the sun for the early afternoon, watch Magnum P.I. reruns at 3:00 and then catch up on my reading until all of my summer housemates returned home.  Scott played on a slow-pitch softball team with other probation officers, so we had a social life with others of our like ages by night.  The summer of 1988 was a dream.

Although Ann did grow fond of me and appreciated my room cleaning abilities, she had a competitive streak of always wanting to outdo me in my room cleaning speed (iron chef hits hotel cleaning??…Perhaps).  Although she could never accomplish this feat, she didn't stop trying.  On one particular hot Arizona morning while the dueling cleaning carts were humming along the outside corridors, Ann needed to stop for a “potty break”.  Stops like these annoyed Ann as she was always aware of how many rooms I was ahead of her count.  After hustling in to do her business, she came out with the speed of light and ran to grab her cart and make up time.  From the top of her shorts, flowing from her jiggling behind floated an errant strip of toilet paper.  It was obvious that in her haste, the purportedly discarded paper stayed with her.  This was clearly evidenced by the unintentional tail following her speedy beeline.

After contemplating what to do and wondering exactly how to tell my boss that she had toilet paper hanging from the back of her shorts, I did what any responsible twenty-year-old would do; I got a severe case of the giggles.  I was laughing so hard that I could barely breathe, let alone talk.  So as I tried to stop Ann and point out her imperfection, she had no sense of my presence and just kept speeding ahead of me.  I can still picture how this had to look from the vantage point of a trucker in the parking lot awaiting a clean room; a tan laughing girl furiously chasing down and trying to grab toilet paper out of the behind of the portly gray-haired speed demon.  Eventually Ann noticed my shadowing her and asked in her North Dakotan drawl, “What da Hell is da matter wit ya??”.  Still unable to speak, I could only point to her tail with tears streaming down my face.  “Well, what da…?” she said with a smile and a pull, “now get ya back to work!”.  This was a moment that neither of us would forget anytime soon.  We laughed together as we retold our follies to Gene over our noon time lunch.

My handwork with the painted signage

By the end of the summer, I was promoted to front desk night detail checking in customers while Ann and Gene enjoyed an occasional dinner and night out together.  Late in the summer they picked up on my artistic skills and I was assigned the job of repainting the signage on their building and the bottom of the emptied swimming pool.  I was earning even more than my room rates with these new added duties and was flattered by their final request to babysit their granddaughters.  I had become their Midwestern Girl Friday of sorts who was up for any task thrown my way.  

Babysitting the Kramer granddaughters

But as with many good things in life, my summer full of life with the Kramer’s and working on my tan came to an end.  I finished my last day as we did most; with some pickled bologna sandwiches, hard cheese, and stale crackers over some noontime talk of the current hotel guests.  So with hugs and wishes of good luck for the college girl who they knew wouldn't be back in Arizona the following summer, I started my journey back to school and back to the Midwest.  I learned much about the importance of relationships that summer; my dad’s relationship with Gene that created the key initial introduction and the relationship I formed that started with a common work ethic, but grew into a sharing of their family with me.

I did have a chance run-in with the Kramer’s the following year.  Scott was wrestling at Nationals in Jameston, North Dakota.  Along with the rest of the team and cheerleaders, we filled a Burger King for an evening meal.  Although I thought about my friends, the Kramer’s, many times that trip; I never dreamt that I would run into them.  But that is exactly what happened as they walked into BK that night.  It was a Godwink by all accounts and a nice surprise full of hugs and welcomed life updates.  I never saw them again, but heard through my parents that they had sold the hotel just a few years after our summer together due to Ann’s health issues.  Their Midwest roots planted them back in North Dakota for their final years.  Both have since passed away; Ann first and then later Gene.

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