A Summer Job at the Grove

This is an account of a summer job a few years ago at the Bohemian Grove. It was written by a college-age woman who requested anonymity. Copyright © 1997.

I heard of Bohemian Grove by word of mouth, through stories of high school friends who worked there. Lots of students apply each summer, and come back, returning even while in college. A very kind, organized, middle-aged woman does the hiring, calling, and assigning of jobs. There are jobs in the "dining circle," where there are maybe 30 large picnic tables in wood chips under redwoods, each table lit by gas candles and lanterns. I didn't have an interview, although some may have. There is a parking staff, people who work at the trapshooting range, (where a friend of mine told of meeting Ronald Reagan - or was it Bush - one of those noteworthy gentlemen), kitchen work, and probably plenty of other jobs I didn't hear about since I was confined to the little "bus" between the employee parking lot and the dining circle, and then the circle itself.

The application is pretty standard, and we are required to present some alternative photo identification on the first day of work. Employees wear a white shirt, black pants, closed-toed shoes, and a red smock is provided. I think the hiring process is on a first-come, first-served basis mostly; not much experience is needed. There are many workers from San Francisco who are part of a union (we were not). They live in bunk houses during the whole encampment. Workers are all ages and of many backgrounds. There are long-time employees (some 20-30 years.)

Orientation happens either at "Spring Jinx" (a three day pre-camp in May) or by coming early the first few days. There are meetings before each meal, to make announcements and explain the menu. The pay starts at $11.20 an hour for the dining circle, I believe. There are wine servers, who make a little more. Tips are not allowed. The Grove wants members to be at ease, not worry about money, they say. I imagine the other reason is some "gentlemen" may be inclined to tip well to pretty flirtatious female servers, and this could lead to inappropriate conduct from both sides.

Food servers basically meet every need of the campers as they come to dinner, bringing special orders and any condiments. A reason for the high pay is that the climax of a meal can be extremely stressful. The food is brought out to two serving lines against the building, facing the dining circle. Here meals are assembled and frantic kitchen workers run back and forth changing pans, throwing on garnishes, yelling out orders. Workers get pushy, trying to meet the needs of their tables as quickly as possible. There are always a few supervisors: the head supervisor who is very hard to please, cynical, condescending and unapproachable; then a few younger supervisors, some with huge power trips, who say to do anything necessary to please the members, but don't seem to care much about morale among employees.

Most of us worked split shifts, such as a 7 to 11 AM breakfast, then 5 to 9 PM dinner. We punched in at a little shed near the employee parking lot, then boarded the red shuttle, an old truck with benches built into the back. We were limited to the parking lot and the dining circle, nowhere in between. It was strictly prohibited to try to walk back to our cars. The shuttle took us past cabins, past the little lake, past the stage where plays and events took place. Lots of curious workers craned their heads to see while packed tightly onto a shuttle after an evening shift, devouring food they'd been clever enough to hide under their smocks. (Employees were not allowed to take any leftover food from the tables, although many couldn't resist - it was to be thrown away, otherwise.) Fruit baskets, cheese plates, and assortments of rolls were always on the tables, and when an entree got cold under its plastic cover it was sent back to the kitchen to be tossed. Dinner and breakfast were served for the employees, however, before each shift started. It was never the same food as the members were served, but well-made and often quite good.

The campers... Several could be recognized. They were just there with their buddies. Most men were older, late 40's through 60's, I'd say. There were a few young proteges, some eccentric ones (one man - a regular - always wore a funny beret and this plaid jacket, and was very exacting about his meals. He needed precisely the eggs cooked a certain way, to come after his hot cereal. He was quite difficult, and sour.) Mostly men came in groups, or looked around for someone to sit with like any camper. They wore their expensive outdoor clothing and obviously really felt they were "roughing it." Some would spout poetry about the majestic redwoods, some showed real affection for each other. They loved the idea of male bonding, without nagging wives, they said. And yes, they liked to treat each other to the best wines. (Wine was the one thing they did put on a tab to be paid at the end of their visit), so as an evening went on they would get increasingly more playful and ridiculous.

It really was quite an array of people. Some showed genuine interest in us workers; wanted to know how we got the job, where we went to school, what our plans were for the future, where we lived, etc. They related us to their kids, I think. Others were very disrespectful and demanding, even rude, always dissatisfied. Some had long conversations with the servers, others took offense at being called "guys" rather than "gentlemen." Some bordered on being "fresh," telling each other how pretty their server was, her smile, etc., or requesting a particular girl to wait their table. I did hear tell of one man being asked to leave the encampment -sent home really - for some kind of harassment. Mostly, though, the Bohemian Grove was very clear that we were to report any behavior that made us uncomfortable, and the members themselves were warned against saying or doing anything offensive or at all sexual.

I would not say the job was enjoyable but definitely interesting. I didn't feel workers were respected by supervisors or each other. Conditions were stressful, so tension was created among people that could have been avoided otherwise. Some of the gentlemen were indeed pleasant and encouraging, very polite and genuine. Many really enjoyed a chance to be with their male friends, uninhibited and free of other obligations. Some, of course were pompous and disrespectful, or thought the Grove gave them an excuse to drink too much and put down women.

As a worker, I wasn't aware of the functions or speakers most of the time, although word did get out occasionally. There was quite a bit we were unaware of, I am sure, but I never felt threatened or extremely uncomfortable. The secretiveness is a bit creepy, the way guests are spoiled at the expense of workers, and I don't intend to return. It is hard to give up the kind of money they pay.