Home / Books / Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist – Book Review

Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist – Book Review

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Lake of the Ozarks – The summer job is practically a rite of passage for teenagers who outgrew summer camp and would work anywhere in order to make some extra bucks for themselves; and their first summer jobs hold a special place in their collective memories about their baptismal of fire into the working world.

Personally speaking, that rite of passage came in the summer of 1976. I worked three separate jobs; first as the only warehouse worker (in a very small warehouse) for a bottle and cap company that was located in a newly-opened office building that was located at the end of the street where I lived in my hometown of Ville St. Laurent; then there was that brief stint as a sandwich board-wearing human billboard trolling St. Catherine Street West to promote a sale at the old 20/20 University mall the weekend before the 1976 Olympics started; and then a brief late summer stint in the stifling warehouse of my Uncle Barry’s clothing company “The French Connection”.

Best selling Author Bill Geist

For Bill Geist, best selling author and veteran correspondent for the CBS News Sunday Morning program (whose son Willie is following in his journalistic footsteps on MSNBC and as host of NBC’s “Sunday Today”), he spent most of his youthful, formative years (most of the 1960s) working a variety of duties – ranging from cesspool manager to bellhop – for the 41-room Arrowhead Lodge in the Lake of the Ozarks region of Missouri (before it was incorporated as a town in 1965).

Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist
Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist

Uncle Ed

Owned and operated by his Uncle Ed, a hard-drinking, bombastic, tough as nails World War II veteran with the Signal Corps, Geist experienced his summer time rite of passage working in a family-oriented vacation hotel in an era just before motel chains like Holiday Inn and Super 8 dotted practically every highway in North America, and an air of tackiness and eccentricity were the order of the day every summer that he worked there.

But no matter how many unusual situations and eccentric characters he encountered who doubled as fellow workers at the Arrowhead, Geist has an acute fondness and sense of nostalgia for being part of this vanishing aspect of the family road trip in the American heartland. And he brings it back to great effect in his latest book, the highly entertaining Lake of the Ozarks.

“Dirty Dancing” and “Meatballs”

Reading like a combination of “Dirty Dancing” and “Meatballs”, Geist’s book is a catalogue of fun memories and outrageous incidents that will make you wonder why he decided to spend so many formative summers there, and why he wouldn’t spend those summers anywhere else but at Arrowhead Lodge. There was 75-year-old Jim McTeagie, the overnight desk clerk who, according to Geist, would “sit behind the front desk for about an hour, doing nothing, then move to a comfortable chair nearby where he would continue to do nothing until he dozed off”; the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” world of the lodge’s Pow Wow Pub; the time when Bill and a female employee snuck off for a romantic tryst in a motel in nearby Jefferson City (in the guise of a salesman who was in the capitol city attending the Adhesives Expo), only to find out she couldn’t go through with it because she was Catholic (Geist ended up sleeping in a chair); and the chapters about the lodge’s hard-drinking Chef Glen and his wily kitchen assistant Annie Hicks (who responded to every situation with her catchphrase ”Shitfire”) will have you laughing until your sides literally ache.

Lake of the Ozarks will have you laughing and reminiscing

But no matter about the eccentric nature that surrounded the Arrowhead Lodge and its motley crew of employees, Geist credited his time there as a means of how it formed his writing and journalistic skills that ended up with an award-winning career for him (and that was thanks to his humorous poems about the people of Arrowhead Lodge that were posted around the facility).

Lake of the Ozarks will have you laughing and reminiscing about how your early summer job experiences – whether it be at a hotel, a store, a warehouse or a camp – was just as fulfilling for one’s personal and professional development as it was for one’s wallet (basically, it helped you earn life experiences on top of that much-needed pocket money). (Grand Central Publishing, $34)

By: Stuart Nulman – info@mtltimes.ca

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