On the banks of Lake Champlain, the scars of floods and fires

lakeside-apartments-plattsburgh-nyPLATTSBURGH, N.Y.
Lakeside Apartments was already drowning. Hurricane Irene just held it under a minute to finish the job.

The brown, concrete complex on the edge of Plattsburgh was built in 1960 and has the open, geometric elements that are a hallmark of that time. One corner points toward Lake Champlain, looking for all the world like the nose of a ship at the edge of the beach. Only it has run aground.

I don’t know what it was like in the 1960s. No one talks about its heyday, if it had one, in which perhaps families arrived in slick, metal cars full of beach umbrellas and archaic societal attitudes.


The units were occupied by low-income, mostly short-term tenants when Lake Champlain flooded in May 2011, washing away the beach and flooding the property. Lakeside Apartments was evacuated of about 200 people who were told they’d be able to move back later that summer. But that wasn’t to happen.

First there was a fire, in the weeks following the flood, that damaged several units when a squatter is alleged to have left incense burning in a shrine.lakeside-apartments-plattsburgh-ny8Then, in August, Hurricane Irene. 

The Category 3 storm tore up the Caribbean, and eastern United States, killing at least 53 along the way. She flooded Long Island and devastated the Catskills. In the Adirondacks, she caused landslides on her way to Canada, where power lines and buildings were damaged as far inland as Montreal.

And, of course, the Lakeside Apartments would never recover.


“Right now it really is a distressed property,” Mayor James Calnon told the Press Republican last year. “We  want to get it out of distress, and we hope that will happen.”

“That” is a development project proposed when the land was sold in 2014 by Montreal businessman Collin Nieme, according to the Press Republican. If all goes well (though “goes well” is a matter of perspective), the land will be gentrified, with long-term leases and fancy hair salons.


The Lakeside, at last, might be out of distress. For now, it is broken and smells of ash and worse things. Though police are said to drive by when they think of it, no one stopped me from wandering around the property, though I had to avert my eyes when I turned the corner to the lake side and made eye contact with a woman carrying out some delicate business in the back seat of a car.



How to tip your chambermaid

Let’s talk about your chambermaid for a minute.

The word “chambermaid” has been in use at least since 1578, but if you’re not comfortable with the word, level up to housekeeper or room attendant.

Depending on how you travel, you might never see your housekeeper. You might not even think about her, unless there’s someone else’s sock in the closet or there’s no coffee beside the coffee maker. But she spent up to half an hour in your room long before you got there and she’ll spend that long after you’re gone, erasing all traces of you.

Her physically demanding job—hauling laundry, vacuuming, cleaning mirrors and folding towels in at least 16 rooms per shift—means using more than 8,000 different body postures a day, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

For all that, she gets an average of $12.67 an hour during her 20-year career and rarely a thank you, so please don’t forget to leave her a tip. While $2 is customary for average motels, this is not the time to cheap out. Leave $5 a day—and if you’re staying in the same place for a while, do leave a tip every day, because you might not have the same chambermaid all the time. (By the same token, remember that the maid you tip might not be the one who cleaned the room before you got there.)

Be obvious about your tipping. The housekeeper will not touch money you just leave lying around the room. She might have left an envelope with her name on it, but if she hasn’t, make your own or leave the money on a sheet of paper with a giant “thank you!”

I’ve had entire little conversations with chambermaids I’ve never met: “Thank you! Also, the remote doesn’t seem to be working. Batteries low?” “Batteries changed—have a great day!” You want to guarantee you get an extra chocolate on your pillow? Leave that little note, friends. I’m tellin’ ya.

I’m not a fan of the tipping culture, but it’s a fact of North American life and few workers deserve it more than the women and men who have to change your sheets and scrub your bathtub. Am I right? Damn straight I am.

Chances are you won’t see her, but if you do, spare her a smile, okay? Have a two-minute conversation with her and thank her for keeping your room nice. It’s only a second out of your day and about eighty-seven points for you, karmically speaking.