It was absolutely the coolest job for a teen to have at the time. As a crew member of the S.S.Admiral, you were being paid to be in attendance at the biggest weekend party in the area. Oh sure, the work was hard; having to get all the supplies from the delivery trucks on the levee up to the fourth deck by hand truck and freight elevator, then getting everything prepared beforehand, and then staying to clean up after everyone else left, but the payoff was pretty awesome. You were a part of one of St. Louis’s greatest and most remembered attractions.
I was lucky enough to have a couple of good friends that worked on the boat, and they were able to help me get the job. It was like an initiation into a special club, the crew of the S.S.Admiral. And as with all clubs that were worth being a part of, initiation antics were a part of the process. I remember trying to roll a quarter down my forehead, off the tip of my nose, trying to launch it into the funnel that was securely tucked into the front of my pants. More importantly, I can vividly remember the pitchers of ice water dumped into that funnel while I was looking skyward trying to concentrate on getting that coin to roll down my nose. I remember being locked in the freight elevator with the trash from a busy night cruise, being told that the “rookie” had trash duty, along with a short stint in the walk-in cooler. It was part of joining the team. No hard feelings, no anger, just a part of getting this job and being one of the crew.
The Admiral was indeed a special place. Just walking on the boat, passing the old man who was always sitting in his lawn chair at the entrance to the boat, a kind of unofficial security guard, but just as important. He was the familiar face and voice that the crew always looked for, and whenever he saw us, he would yell out “Come ahead boys, come ahead!” in his own unique style.
Walking onto that first deck with all the flashing lights and electronic squeals coming out of the rows of video and pinball games ironically turned out to be a glimpse into this vessel’s future, what with the similar noises that emanated from the casino games on board.
The second deck was the grandest of ballroom, very elegant and stylish. One can’t remember this ballroom without also remembering Bob Kuban. Bob Kuban’s Brass was a big draw for the ballroom, and is synonymous with the S.S. Admiral. The second deck crew members always thought that they were the coolest ones, and were quite frequently referred to as “the pretty boys”, but as a fourth and fifth deck crew member, we knew that we worked where the real party was.
The third deck was enclosed with tables and chairs, perfect for just relaxing, watching the river, or escaping one of the hotter St Louis days.
Fourth deck was full of action. During the day, this open air deck housed a cafeteria, with everything from sandwiches to the boat’s famous fried chicken, encased in more spices than the Colonel ever thought of. The soda fountain was the place to get soft drinks, floats, and ice cream. When the sun decided to set and the night cruise was approaching, the bar opened, the party was on, and the fourth deck was home to any one of a number of local rock bands, with tunes loud enough to be heard on the levee. Travelling up and down the river while this happened was purely a bonus.
The fifth deck, a completely open air deck was home to sun bathers, photographers and those interested in all that the river had to offer during the day cruises. When night fell, the top deck was the perfect romantic backdrop for lovers, new relationships, and private moments. Working up there was more like a simple security job than anything else, because another option that the top deck offered was a place for the cruisers to spontaneously pick up the wooden deck chairs and throw them overboard. Perhaps the bar downstairs had something to do with this.
Memories of the Admiral will always live on, because so many relationships were started or nurtured on this vessel. Some lasted only for the night, but some, like my own, have gone past the twenty-five year mark. The levee parties were memorable, with the entire crew of the boat hanging out talking, laughing, and doing what teens do till the early morning hours, even though most of us had to be right back on the boat for the day cruise the next morning.
It was a sad day for many of us when the Admiral stopped its cruises. That boat had been a part of our lives, and it hurt a bit when it was taken away. And although I was personally against the transformation of the Admiral into a casino, I tried to rationalize by telling myself that “at least it will be used for something”. I still carry a true love of the river because of my time on the Admiral, and because I now have to cross the bridge on my commute to my current job, I think and reminisce often about the good times there.
I was proud to be just a small part of the tribute book, “Rollin On The River”, as a photographic contributor, and still carry pictures on my phone of the S.S.Admiral in varying states of dismantling, until it was ultimately sold as scrap metal. The actual, physical boat may be gone, but the memories will forever remain…….