The spa treatment

It could easily be my time working graveyard shift on a Texas oil rig. Or I could relate my stint scrubbing out the 8-foot tall, commercial bread ovens at Rudy's Bakery in Boulder. And there are always those ever popular six days over four years that I spent neutering male cattle.

However, when asked recently about my worst job ever, I went to the source, the heart of suffering my eight-hour shift in the spa at the Telluride luxury hotel currently called the Peaks.

Just prior to sophomore year Christmas break, my mom phoned me from Telluride with good news. She had scored me a gravy job cleaning the pool at the new super resort/spa in the new upper-end ski area development known as the Mountain Village.

"Mountain Village?" I asked. "I thought that was just a real estate pipe dream."

No, the Mountain Village was not mere speculation, she informed me. This was the Telluride of the future, and the resort would happily pay me $15/hour to put chemicals in the pool, an unheard of figure in the Telluride of the past. I signed up second-hand. No interview would be necessary.

Weeks later, a guy named Chip in his second winter in Telluride met me in the lobby of the hotel with an eager handshake. The first stop was Human Resources for my uniform. "I can see you didn't wear your white tennis shoes," Chip reprimanded me tenderly. "That's OK. You can bring them tomorrow."

After a whirlwind discussion of sizes, Chip and I were wearing the same outfit short khaki shorts, white tube socks and a green polo shirt. The green apparently made the get-up December-appropriate. To round out my ensemble, Chip passed me a name tag reading "Larry" and grinned, "just until we get yours printed."

I replied, "Alright, which way is the pool?"

Chip was stunned, "Pool?! Oh, they didn't tell you. That position was filled. You're going to be helping out in the spa."

Swimming in visions of toweling down Hollywood actresses, we made our way to the spa and Chip made idle chit-chat. "So you grew up in Telluride. That's cool. I'm sure you know David."

In fact, I did know David, and I recognized him immediately when I joined him at the desk placed inside the men's locker room (my post). There was no time for reunions, however. David was engaged with a client--a slight, middle-aged man with his hair slicked back in a pony tail. I stumbled in as the man smiled, "So David, I was wondering if you'd like to join me for dinner this evening."

Fast but casual on the draw, David replied, "Oh no thank you, Mr. Jacobs. My girlfriend and I already have a prior engagement."

As Mr. Jacobs walked over to his locker, Chip reintroduced David and me and explained my new job. I would be responsible for assigning locker numbers, taking clients to their lockers and collecting them when their spa appointments were ready. "Remember the client is boss," Chip told me. "It's simple. Do what they want and you'll get tips."

During the next eight hours, I assigned 18 lockers, escorted bankers to their pedicures, helped stock brokers prepare for their hot stone massage and pointed Hollywood production gurus in the direction of their facials. I jimmied open stuck lockers, took towels with dark stains to the laundry and brought one man a martini as he lounged in the whirlpool.

And in hindsight, I can say with certainty that one of the more disturbing sights on the planet is a 290-pound man in his 60s, stark naked except for three thick gold chains, and parboiled pink from an extended soak. I can say that I've seen butt cracks the size of my arm, tied one grown man's shoes for him and endured heckling from a geezer wearing a mud mask and shouting "Larry, what's this on my towel?" And I'm sad to report that after my day in those Caligula-like conditions, I boasted not a single dollar in tip money. The Telluride of the future had been a little hard to swallow.

When 5 p.m. finally hit, Mr. Jacobs was hanging around the counter again and a chipper Chip came my way and uttered, "Alright, we'll see you first thing tomorrow and don't forget the tennies."

With a blank look on my face, I handed him the "Larry" name tag and with no humor in my voice, answered, "I don't think I'll be bringing my tennies in tomorrow."

Truth be told, working on the deck of the oil rig and castrating animals were considerably tougher jobs. Hell, my average Tuesday night at the Telegraph is much more onerous than a day of pampering the wealthy. But that eight-hour shift in the spa confirmed my worst fears about the place where I was brought up. It was the final message that the hippie dream that was Telluride had ended, and it stung.

The town I had known was one where ski bums, anarchists and dreamers had sniffed out and descended on a silver mining town gone bust. They populated its classic shacks and filled its streets and bars, opened and operated its new ski lifts and then they rewrote the rules.

At that time, the ski bums hadn't traded in their restaurant jobs for real estate licenses. Hang gliders still outnumbered private planes. The health food co-op proudly occupied a space that would later become a gallery. And the only thing resembling a spa was an all-nude, coed bathhouse named the Boiler Room a subterranean haunt that was strictly off limits.

This in mind, I've always listened with curiosity as Durangoans express their fears of becoming another Telluride. For me, the answer is simple. All I need to do is conjure up images of that spa, that super hotel and Telluride's Mountain Village, a place that has been populated by Oprahs, Cruises and Stones.

Personally, I'm comfortable with Durango's future. I have no intention of laying eyes on that 290-pounder ever again.

Will Sands




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