Bill Budelman loves the variety that comes with bartending at a year-round tavern in a tourist town. He serves visitors and locals, couples and families, loner die-hards and lone singles out for a party. For the most part, he sees people at their best, the Bayside Tavern’s longtime daytime bartender told me in late July.
“They’re on vacation. They’re excited and happy,” he said. “It’s hard to explain the vibe to people. You have the spring vacationers. The summer vacationers.”
But what Budelman really loves is the change that comes with the seasons.
“The fall. Ahhhh, the fall,” he said wistfully from his perch at the high point of the season. “The fall visitors are very different from the summer visitors. Just when you’re sick of the summer vacationers, you get a totally different customer. There’s no children, for one. Right now there’s about two to three more weeks of vacationers with children. I can feel the fall just a little bit, and I just can’t wait.”
Budelman first worked at the Bayside during the summer of 1993, but he’s been there full time since 2006 – long enough to see the highs and lows of many seasons in Fish Creek. Even though fall isn’t the respite it once was, he said it still slows a bit. He gets older couples and a little time to pause and talk to them.
“Those weekdays during the fall when people aren’t here for festivals, but just because it’s truly beautiful,” Budelman said. “I love that.”
The true lull – or loneliness, depending on your perspective – has been pushed back on the calendar further and further with time. It may actually arrive now, as December rolls in and brings with it those weekdays (glorious to the burnt out, scary to the ones paying the bills) when the door opens but a few times during a shift, and one learns to tell the clientele not by looking up, but by the swiftness of the push on the door.
“I love a dead Tuesday in January,” Budelman said. He laughed, but he wasn’t kidding. “Because you really don’t know what you’re going to get hit with. A person will walk through the door and change the tone of the day.”
But even during the summer, he occasionally gets those better moments.
“We all forget just how important this place is to people,” he said. “A couple came in last week for their 67th wedding anniversary. They met at the Alpine working for the summer. They both came back that next summer, hoping the other person was coming back. And by the end of that summer, he proposed.
“We lose sight of the fact that people come up here for really meaningful reasons. Those fall days are so much more conducive to those conversations, but sometimes you can get them in summer.”
That’s one reason Budelman doesn’t dwell on those tough shifts at the season’s zenith, but there’s another reason that comes with “winter rules.”
“I can’t complain about a worst day in July because I have five months to recuperate,” he said. “I know that I’m going to have a big chunk of time where I know it’s not going to be crazy most of the time. That’s enough to get me through a summer day.”
That chunk of time is finally here.