Residents share their stories of juggling two or more jobs to supplement summer income or simply to stay busy year-round in a seasonal economy.
For year-round residents who are trying to make a living on Cape Cod, the ebb and flow of summer visitors presents a challenge. Each year, the Cape unemployment rate peaks in winter. In 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Barnstable County went from 5.1 percent in June to 9.2 percent in January. Paul Niedzwieki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, says “the seasonal economy and the year-round economy collide at the Cape Cod Canal.” To take advantage of the summer boom, some Cape residents juggle two – and sometimes more – jobs. While the seasonal economy can be challenging, at least some Cape Codders have managed to turn this liability into an asset, providing them an opportunity to explore their passions.
You hear her voice long before you see her. “Left leg, left leg, left leg! Chest open!” The voice booms out from beyond the red wood barns and stables. When you follow it, you find it belongs to a surprisingly slight woman. Jennifer Sullivan is a trainer at Grazing Fields Farm in Buzzards Bay. On any given summer day, the Falmouth resident is juggling clients and horses. “This is my passion,” says Sullivan, gesturing to the stables around her. “I feel so lucky. When I was in college, I double-majored in equine sports medicine and business management. I added the business major because I figured there was no way the horse thing would pan out.” She gave herself a few months after college to pursue the “horse thing.” She was pleasantly surprised to find that it indeed would work.
After some stints as a trainer in Florida and Greater Boston, she returned to the Cape. “I always thought I’d live off Cape,” she says, “but I kept finding myself closer and closer to the house I grew up in.” The work here is more seasonal than in the other places because many of her clients are summer residents. She coaches horseback riders about 60 hours a week in the summer. That number dips as low as 24 hours a week in the winter.
To supplement her lopsided income, Sullivan bartended for many years. Then, after an injury sidelined her in early 2013, she spent a lot of time on the couch watching “House Hunters.” She decided to get her real estate license, specializing in the sale of equine properties.
She’s flat-out busy from June through September, waking up every day at 5 a.m. for days that often last longer than 12 hours. “Last year, I think I went to the beach twice!” she says. If you point out that she has a tan without even having to go to the beach, she laughs. “It’s a farmer’s tan. I have a tanned face and a V-neck of tan. My shoulders and legs are completely pale!” Sure, she’d rather have more time at the beach in the sunny days of summer. But if it means she gets to pursue her passion, she’ll gladly give up the beach days.
When Nancy Scaglione-Peck was born, her older brother gave her a stuffed seal that she became devoted to. Perhaps that’s why she wanted to work with sea mammals since before she could talk. Back then, if asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she’d say, without hesitation, “A seal trainer.” She remembers that people would laugh.
After she graduated from college with a degree in marine biology and oceanography, she traveled the country looking for work as a marine mammal trainer while she volunteered at the New England Aquarium. After working at Sea World in Ohio and the now-defunct Cape Cod Aquarium, she found her dream job at Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium training beluga whales.
At the same time, she had fallen for Bob Peck, whom she had met while working at the Cape Cod Aquarium. For 2-1/2 years, it was a commuter relationship. Then he asked her to marry him and move to the Cape. It was the job of her dreams versus the man of her dreams.
Bob Peck won.
Nothing like the Mystic Aquarium existed on the Cape. But she knew she had the skills and experience needed to work as a naturalist on one of the whale watch boats. The problem was that it was so seasonal—very busy summers and some work on the shoulder seasons. She needed something to supplement her income. A science teacher seemed a natural fit. She had the science credentials. She earned her teacher’s certification at UMass Boston. For 16 years, she has taught science at Barnstable High School, primarily anatomy and marine biology classes.
Ten years ago, she added something else to her resume: B&B owner. She is almost fully booked all summer and has some spring and fall business as well. She makes light of the work involved. “I’m getting paid to clean my house. It’s easy money.” And, this year, she became a published author with her book, “The Adventurous Life of a Cape Cod Dog.”
But her true passion is the whales. In the summer months, she says, “I’m on a boat three or four days a week during the best time of the year. I see amazing things. People say to me, ‘This is your job?!’ They’re in awe. I am, too. I consider myself so lucky. Sometimes I find a corner when we’re steaming on the boat. I soak up the sky and weather. And I think, ‘How did I get so damn lucky?’”
Ken Merrill talks so fast it’s hard to keep up with him. It’s not surprising. He has to talk fast because he’s got so much on his plate. At the Riverview School in Sandwich, Merrill is the technology infusion specialist. But he doesn’t take the summer off. He simply adds to his plate with a mixture of summer school teaching and roofing.
A circuitous route led him to teaching computer skills. Early in his career, he was running a successful family roofing business with his brothers when he decided he wanted something more. It wasn’t more money. The roofing business, he says, provides “great money. My brothers made more money in their lives than I’ll ever make. I just wanted to do other things.”
Merrill went back to college to finish his degree at UMass Dartmouth. Since then, he’s balanced at least two, and sometimes more, jobs. Back in the ’90s, he says, “I was literally working 110 hours a week for four years straight.” Yet during that time, he still found time to coach his sons’ sports teams, even serving as president of the little league. “I’m crazy,” he concedes.
When he worked for Barnstable’s Job Training & Employment Corp. (“JTEC”), he learned computer skills from a teenager enrolled in the youth program. The high school dropout was “brilliant,” remembers Merrill. As he learned, Merrill became more involved with IT work at JTEC. He says, “I’m not an expert at any one thing, but I saw the big picture, took the initiative and did it. That’s how people know me: a jack-of-all-trades. If you want something done, come to me.” If you want many things done, you can also look to Merrill. He says, “At work, I’m a maniac. I’ll do a gazillion things. I multi-task really well. I don’t want to say no to anyone.” Merrill even took over the track program at Riverview because he wanted to stay involved after school. “I didn’t have to do that,” he says. But “I can’t help myself.”
He still has his own roofing business, Old Chatham Roofing, because it supplements the teaching and summer school work and, more importantly, it keeps him busy. Because that’s the way he likes it. It’s not surprising that when he does have some time off, he doesn’t sit still. He surfs all year round—almost daily in the summer. Not surprisingly, the best way to reach him is by phone as he’s driving from one of his jobs to the beach.
Vana Trudeau is passionate about both of her careers. Throughout the school year, she’s running the theater department at Cape Cod Community College. In the summer, she and her husband, Guy, are entrepreneurs with their business Essential Rentals, Inc. which provides vacation equipment for tourists in Dennisport. She relishes the very different roles she finds herself playing, depending on the season.
Essential Rentals was born about 10 years ago after the Trudeaus were traveling with their young children and trying to figure out how to lug the kids’ gear around. Husband and wife looked at each other and thought, “There’s gotta be an easier way.” They rented a crib from a company in the mid-Atlantic area and spent the next year creating a business plan, with projections and market research to bring a similar business to Cape Cod.
The Trudeaus both grew up on the Cape and they returned after college because they love the area, especially all the outdoor pleasures it has to offer. Ironically, they spend their summer running the business so that visitors can enjoy their time here. She notes, “It’s all-consuming. We have very little downtime. It’s not entirely unlike producing a show…very deadline driven. It’s a short time of high intensity.”
That’s why they make sure to enjoy the little spare time they have. They take the kids on particularly Cape-flavored outings: the local beaches, a whale watch, a day in Provincetown, a long kayak trip, a hike along the trails in the Marconi Beach area, and exploring the different main streets and downtowns. She says, “We make a special effort. There’s no summer vacation for us, for sure.”