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Economy: Making tourism work

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

In the kitchen: Bubba Smalls

The morning sun is peeking over the horizon when Bubba Smalls gets to work at Drunken Jack’s restaurant in Murrells Inlet. He has just over four hours until customers begin arriving for lunch to start a day that will see some of them waiting two hours for a dinner table.

Smalls begins his day in the restaurant’s battleship gray and stainless steel kitchen. Managing partner David McMillan calls this “setting up the line.” Smalls has done most of these jobs, from dish washing to cooking, and has the routine down cold. He works quickly because delivery trucks will begin arriving soon to restock the freezers, refrigerators and pantries for the weekend, and he’s in charge of the incoming inventory. “I’ve been all around,” he said. “Then we got the billy goats. I feed them every day.” The goats live on an island in the creek and Smalls takes a boat for their daily feeding.

The restaurant’s night crew has left the kitchen clean, but Smalls still wipes the stainless steel counters with a hand towel before he begins rattling pots and pans. “I keep my stuff clean,” he said. “Mama always said, ‘Don’t ever leave home dirty.’ That’s how I work. I try to work clean. You got to look out for your fellow workers, but they’ll tell you don’t make me mad, don’t throw a box on that floor.”

Lorenzo Jerome Smalls, 51, is the 15th of 16 children born to Arlene Nesbitt Smalls and Thomas Myers Smalls. His mother cooked at Oliver’s Lodge for 55 years, and his father worked as a shell fisherman at Morse Landing for over 20 years despite losing his left arm in a car accident at age 18. People called him One-Armed Marchy. Bubba began helping his mother at Oliver’s Lodge at age 9. He picked figs for Teeny Oliver, who owned the restaurant with her husband, Mack.

Sisters gave Lorenzo the name Bubba, and he continued to collect nicknames: Brim for the brimmed hats he wore to school, Chillio from his DJ days in high school, Big Papa Puff for his attraction to big women and the one most people know, Bubba Love. He got that one years ago after a request from an elderly woman for a barbecue sauce that wasn’t too spicy. She tasted it and asked how it was made. “With love,” he said. The name stuck.

“He’s quite a character,” McMillan said. “Bubba not only works very hard, he could be the mayor of Murrells Inlet. Everybody knows Bubba. Everybody loves Bubba. He’s a lot of fun, got a big heart. It’s not unusual to find Bubba in here buying T-shirts for kids, people who may have struck a chord with him in years past. That’s the kind of heart he’s got.”

Bubba Love seems to be everywhere on the north end of the Marsh Walk. There’s Bubba’s Love Shack, a former gazebo bar beside Dave’s Dockside that’s been enclosed and named for him. There’s the Bubba Love statue sitting on a bench overlooking the inlet.

But nothing measures up to the man himself and his constant motion and chatter. He orders his drink, a “One-And-One” consisting of a shot of Grand Marnier and a Bud Light. The liqueur’s name sounds like “Grandma” when he says it. His friends all speak “Bubbanese,” McMillan said. “Bubba works hard, plays hard.” He took a fireman’s boot and raised over $2,000 on the Marsh Walk for the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Dept. by proclaiming “Let me give you the 411 on the 911.”

On this Friday, Smalls has come to work with one of the headaches that has plagued him since he was in a car wreck near the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base nearly 30 years ago. “They never found what was wrong,” he said. Smalls shakes it off and keeps going. Delivery trucks are rolling in. Driver Jason Harrelson backs his U.S. Foods tractor-trailer into position to unload. “We call each other Bo,” Smalls said. Harrelson has been delivering to Drunken Jack’s for four years. He knows where everything goes, smoothing out the work. “We are in the restaurant business, but we’re also in the relationship business,” McMillan said. “Our suppliers are like extended family.”

The kitchen begins to hum by mid-morning in anticipation of lunch. Tubs of chopped salad stand at the ready. Big pots of Smalls’ special clam chowder and she crab soup are on the steam table. It’s not as good as his mama’s, Smalls admits, but there are signs with Velcro backings at the ready that warn the soups are running low.

“You are only as good as your people,” McMillan said. Young people are harder to motivate these days. “That’s not my job,” is a popular response. “That’s not the way we were brought up,” McMillan said. “Our first job as managers is to be teachers and mentors.”

He’s comfortable that Smalls will always follow the advice posted between the doors leading from the kitchen to the dining room: “Speak with love. Act with kindness.”

On the fairway: John Myzick

John Myzick starts his John Deere mower and heads to the first fairway of Caledonia Golf and Fish Club a half-hour before the first golfers tee off.

The rolling hills sparkle beautifully in the morning dew, but the fairway grass needs to be a half-inch when play begins on Caledonia, the course at the top of any serious vacationing golfer’s bucket list. Caledonia and its sister course across Kings River Road, True Blue, are regulars on golf magazines’ lists of best places to play.

Myzick has been tending to Caledonia almost since it opened in 1994. He drives from beyond Andrews to mow fairways, set pins and do anything needed to keep the course looking its best. “I know golfers are coming to play,” he said. “I don’t want them to come and find a bunch of mowers on the fairway. I try to get through with what I got to do so they can enjoy playing. That’s why I get out there in the morning.”

Myzick and his co-workers begin mowing fairways and greens at 6:30 a.m. He cuts a 4-foot swath with each pass from tee to green, back and forth, overlapping the edges and double-cutting most of it. He swings the blades along the edges of the rough, which is cut twice a week so it won’t gobble up golf balls or be too difficult to escape.

As soon as Myzick finishes mowing the first fairway, he goes to No. 10. Golfers starting on the back nine will be on this tee shortly. It takes nearly 40 minutes to mow the 10th, a par 5 with a slight dogleg right and a green at the bottom of a hill. Myzick said he has a system to stay ahead of players and not be a distraction. “When you are out there on that mower,” he said, “they think you are in a zone. It’s not so much a zone, but, you know what, you have time to think.”

That pride in maintaining the course, said Bob Seganti, director of operations at Caledonia and True Blue, starts with owners, Ponderosa Inc., and general manager John Springs.

“We have a full-time horticulturalist, a full-time arborist, and director of agronomy Jackson Clemmons has a reasonable budget to maintain the golf course,” he said. “We are a premium course, and we draw players from all over the world and they expect manicured and impeccable conditions. Caledonia is one of the places where if you don’t play your best golf that day you can still enjoy it. Folks who come here not only appreciate the golf course but the visual aspects off the fairway. The sheer visual beauty of the property is second to none.”

Clemmons said Myzick is “a good Christian fellow.” He has deepened his commitment to Christ recently by accepting the job as pastor of his church, Starlite Holiness. The bishop promoted Myzick from elder when the church’s pastor died. Myzick thinks about his sermons while he mows. “Keep your mind on the Lord Jesus,” he said. “You got his word, and he speaks to your heart that which he wants you to repeat.”

Myzick, 60, is the son of the late Isaac and Pearl Grant Myzick. His father was from Georgetown and worked in construction and at the Navy Yard in Charleston. His mother was from Pawleys Island and did domestic work. His wife, Brenda, will retire from the energy company SCANA soon. He has two grown stepchildren, Sean and Shaunta, and they each have three children.

After completing study at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in 1975, Myzick moved to Connecticut. He came back the year after Hurricane Hugo, 1990, and remembers the devastation that remained at his grandparents’ property in McClellanville. He worked for two years at Heritage Golf Club and went to Oneita Knitting in Andrews and worked there until the plant closed.

His former boss at Heritage, Freddie Travis, saw Myzick on the street and asked if he was working. Travis had moved over to Caledonia and offered him a job when he was ready. “I started working here a little after it opened,” Myzick said, “and I’ve been here ever since.”

Myzick has not played golf since he tried nine holes at Heritage in 1993. He prefers fishing in the Black River and the Intracoastal Waterway.

He gets a sense of satisfaction from keeping Caledonia beautiful but remains humble. “It’s been good to us,” he said. “We try to keep it looking its best.”

At the resort: Clementine Sanders

People leave the darndest things in their motel rooms. Clementine Sanders has seen it all in her 35 years of cleaning tourists’ rooms at the beach. She’s found a laptop computer, cell phones and especially their chargers, wet bathing suits, jewelry, toys and even something she can’t bear to tell about. She laughs and covers her mouth at the thought of it. She agrees that it was an “unmentionable” and lets it go at that.

Sanders, 59, drives from Andrews to her job at Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort. She’s worked as far north as the Hampton Inn at 76th Avenue North, Myrtle Beach. Those were the days when she rode the Williamsburg Transit bus for $6 a day. She would catch the bus at 6:30 in the morning and get home around 5 p.m. Driving her own car is more expensive, she said, but worth it. She doesn’t have to stand in the rain any more. “That’s where the jobs are,” she said.

Sanders first went to work at Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort more than 20 years ago when the hotel was called the Waccamaw House. She was recently named employee of the month, facilities manager Marilyn McHone said. Regular guests request her service from year to year and regularly rate her work a “10,” on surveys.

Sanders’ husband, Benjamin, works at Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort too, but their schedules don’t allow them to ride together very often. He works both nights and days, keeping an eye on the pools, picking up after guests and delivering extra towels to rooms.

Their schedules have become even more jumbled since Clementine and Benjamin adopted a 16-month-old nephew, Eddie Lee. “It’s changed life a whole lot,” she said. “He’s very busy.” They hire a baby sitter when both are working at the same time. The family attends Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Andrews, where the Rev. Herman Ford Jr. is pastor. Clementine and Benjamin enjoy fishing in the Black River every now and then, she said.

A typical day starts around 9 a.m. for the maids at Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort. Checkout isn’t until 11 a.m. so they knock on guests’ doors carefully in order to provide them fresh towels or bath products. Sanders passes by a room with its “Do Not Disturb” sign out and another with the inside bolt latched.

She can’t find a room to clean and turns her big cart around to return to the service room. Assistant manager of housekeeping Tara Ray sends her to the fifth floor of the oceanfront Bridgewater Building. Guests in a two-bedroom condo have already checked out, and the owners are coming for the weekend. They get what is called “extended service,” an extra good cleaning. Sanders is happy to see the vacationers have left the condo neat. The refrigerator is empty and the dishes have been washed and put away. There’s a twenty dollar tip in a dish on the counter for her. That’s the way it usually goes, she said. The best guests leave tips, and the worst ones leave a mess.

She’s seen beach sand dumped into bathtubs, hair dye on bathroom sinks and sunscreen on mirrors and windows. Guests will help themselves to clean towels, toilet paper and soap from an unattended cart. No matter what, Sanders said, the maids “just smile and keep going.” If they ask about a nice place to eat, maids give them a list of restaurants. If guests leave belongings in the room, the maids report it, and a manager will call and tell the owner that the resort will hold it for the rest of the rental season. If there’s something broken, maids tell their boss downstairs. If guests have been smoking in the room, there is additional cleaning required.

Sanders dusts, vacuums, mops and cleans the windows and mirrors before calling in a supervisor to check the room. “Seeing and knowing that it’s clean makes your stay that much better,” Ray said. “You are free to go and do whatever you want, not worrying that somebody is coming back in to clean. Overall, it just gives everybody a good feeling.”

Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort has 101 rental rooms, and the staff works full-time during the summer when they are nearly always full. Hours are cut for the four full-time maids in the winter, allowing them to draw partial unemployment. Full-time jobs are not easy to find, as are people willing to make a career of working behind the scenes.

“The front-line folks cleaning houses and hotels are so important to us,” said Lauren Joseph, county tourism director. “If somebody has a bad experience in an accommodation, it may put them off to Georgetown County completely. Everybody who owns a hotel or a restaurant depend on those folks to make it the best vacation ever.”

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