Keeping it clean
Thirty minutes before the lifts started spinning at Crested Butte Mountain Resort on a recent Sunday, it was bedlam in the Treasury Center. Bodies and ski boots were scattered across the floor like a stand of flattened trees and stumps as people sorted and fit equipment. Amid the din, a man in jeans and a sweatshirt stopped to pick up some trash and throw it away.
“Hi there,” he says to someone in a parka and helmet looking lost. “Is there anything I can help you find? Tickets? Right over there.”
In a suit or a crisp embroidered fleece, a haircut and a shave, he might have been an executive come to bask in the sounds of commerce and have a little face time with the public. But Barry Mossak won’t claim executive status. In a lilting Midwestern accent, he’ll tell you he’s just a janitor.
“I think I’m technically a facilities manager, but I’m just a janitor,” he says. “I don’t put a lot of weight on names.” Instead, Barry values things like hard work, loyalty and humility. Stories from his days as a college football player and the years he spent traveling through Europe, Africa and Asia don’t come without some prodding.
But among the things he values most is the team he has working around him—the Clean Team, as it’s called, and among its members he sees bits of himself from the past and even the present. Clean Team is a group of 19 people who coordinate to make sure the nine buildings that make up CBMR’s base area stay clean, sanitary and safe. What the marketing department is to a first visit to the ski area, Clean Team is to the second.
“Clean Team is a bunch of people who put sweat equity into earning their ski pass at the ski area here. Everybody on clean team has different jobs. We have waitrons and masseuses and there are people that clean other houses and move snow and just a full gamut of really interesting janitors that sign on,” he said.
The team’s “nerve center” is in the lower basement of the Emmons building and you would never find it without a map or a guide. Barry’s job is one few people talk about or really appreciate. He acknowledges that if it’s done well, a janitor’s job might go completely unnoticed. But for Barry, playing an important place behind the scenes is a point of pride and part of a work ethic that puts more stock in doing a job well than in getting noticed for it.
It’s an ethic he learned from his father, growing up on the banks of the Fox River in the small town of Omro, Wisc. His father was part of the Greatest Generation and returned home from the war after being wounded as a Marine fighting at Iwo Jima. Where his grandfather had been a blacksmith, Barry’s father followed that trade into modern times to become a tool and die maker, employing his skills at a washing machine factory for 30 years.
In a manufacturing town, factory work can run in the family and Barry had an in. After going to college as a fullback in a wishbone offense and enjoying the football more than the academics, he graduated with a degree in liberal arts and returned home to take a factory job pouring six-pound ladles of molten aluminum into a machine, and he saved money for a trip. After a year and a half at the ladle he was ready for his six months on the road and stuck out his thumb for New York.
He wouldn’t be back for more than five years.
“Going from Omro to New York City, I was scared,” Barry says. “I hitchhiked from Omro, Wisconsin with $500 in my pocket and I’m sitting on the George Washington Bridge in bumper-to-bumper traffic and all I know about New York City is what I’ve seen on Kojak on television. So I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’m gonna die.’”
But he didn’t die and ended up on a trans-Atlantic flight bound for the unknown to work as a laborer in ancient places, following the harvest to the orange and olive groves of the Mediterranean and the vineyards of France. He lived on and off for a couple of years in Crete, working with a stonemason and helping a man who was restoring his family’s ancestral village.
It was one of those times, Barry says, “when you’re traveling for a while and you’re networking with people, always looking for the next job and you’ve run out of money,” that he drifted into a French valley 80 miles west of Bordeaux during the vandage, or grape harvest.
Barry was a hard worker and he saw something familiar in the people he met in countrysides across the globe. During his first winter in France, before he had learned to speak French, he lived with and worked for a family that couldn’t speak or understand anything else. Still, they managed to communicate and form a bond through their mutual labor.
“He was a hard working guy, but his body was wearing out. He had done a whole lot of stuff to survive,” Barry says of the French father. “They were very blue collar people, hard working people of the earth. That’s why we all connected, I think. It was meant to be.”
Barry’s adventures went on like that for years, into Egypt and on down the Nile to Sudan, where he witnessed the brutal implementation of Sharia law and also had a local man forge some traveling papers for him. “I was so stupid,” he said. But he survived to see India, Thailand, Burma and other parts of Asia.
But at a certain point, he’d had enough adventuring. The labor was hard on his body and he was tiring of 12-hour days in the Mediterranean sun, for which he might only make $12. He had missed one sister’s wedding and then another’s. A third sister was due to be married and he decided it was time for something new. Wisconsin was calling.
He flew into Seattle and hitchhiked home to Omro, completing his trip around the world.
Back at home he saw his sister get married and earned a teaching certification, then learned that he didn’t like teaching. Finally, he found a place working to help people with special needs live independently, and in other ways, for more than a decade in Wisconsin and then in Minneapolis. “I had about 11 years of experience with special needs populations when I showed up here,” he says. “When I interviewed and mentioned my experience, Sara Judson, who was the housekeeping director at the Sheraton, said ‘Oh, you’ll do well with the snowboarders.’”
That was it. Barry moved into town with a girlfriend on Vinotok weekend in 1998. “My brother helped me move here, so we went out for a steak at the Idle Spur and the mummers came around. My brother looks at me and asks, ‘What kind of a place are you moving to?’”
But it was just the kind of place Barry had always felt comfortable, where “people of the earth,” as he likes to say, congregate in beautiful surroundings.
“He’s a very wonderful spirit and very uplifting,” Clean Team supervisor Dee Big Bull-Lanius says. “I have a great respect for Barry. He’s one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known. He’s very dedicated. He can get to work anywhere from 5 o’clock in the morning and he just creates good feelings among the crew. “
Beth Hensley, who has worked for Barry for seven years, joined the crew because she had dreadlocks at the time and Barry was the only person at the resort who would interview her.
“He’s the man, the nicest person in the entire world,” she says. “He’s the only reason I still work there and pretty much everybody who’s on his crew stays because of Barry. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever known.”
In a job like janitoring, it’s tempting to push the grossest jobs down the chain of command. But not on the Clean Team. Hensley says, “I guess he thinks he’s the boss so he’s gotta do that stuff.”
Hensley says not much bothers Barry, thinking maybe it has something to do with the places he’s visited and the things he’s seen in the far-flung corners of the world.
“People are here to have a good time and let their hair down. Sometimes they’re not here to pick up after themselves. There can be some pretty gritty, grimy moments in a restroom stall,” Barry says. “We do our part by maintaining a healthy and clean environment for the guests. I believe, in a way, we put a face on the resort. But not everybody’s cut out to be a janitor.”