Life on the road brings Canadian jack-of-all-trades Wally Kolodinski to Cuenca

May 8, 2019

“Now the seats are all empty, let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down, they’re the first to come and the last to leave
Working for that minimum wage. “

—Jackson Brown, “The Load-Out”

By Brian Hitsky

Despite the low wages and long hours, the life of a roadie fueled the travel itch of Cuenca expat Wally Kolodinski. So much so, that the 67-year-old Canadian spent nine years on an adventure that took him to many different countries and every state in the U.S. except for Alaska.

Wally Kolodinski reminisces about his multiple careers.

But his jack-of-all trades skill set, didn’t just limit him to be in the back ground while his principal skill was lighting up the stage. Kolodinski, over his work career, also thrived as an actor, succeeded as a food and beverage banquet captain and toiled in maintenance and construction.

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Now, after retiring to Cuenca last August, Kolodinski volunteers his time as a bartender for special events at Minka, the banquet space operated by Hogar de Esperanza.

Growing up in a small town, Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada, the lure of a bigger city sparked Kolodinski’s curiosity, so he grabbed a garbage bag full of his stuff and headed for Toronto, where he found work in a theater doing graphic design.

One day the company needed someone to perform a one-minute comedy line in the “Bull Durham” play they were preparing. Wally gave it a shot.  When the reviews of the play came out, he was given a favorable paragraph mention. That led to his trying out for all kinds of acting assignments during the day, while he worked the theater at night.

“I wasn’t very good, but I could hold people’s attention for 30 seconds,” Kolodinski said. “I did parts in movies, commercials, a lot of studio work and television and cable.” Some of his credits included Crest toothpaste, Coors Lite beer, Shell Oil and Pizza Hut.

Wally working an Iceberg performance.

His acting career lasted 12 years until 1985 when he was offered a job to move to Florida and work for Michael Iceberg, a Walt Disney entertainer, who primarily did industrial shows for IBM. Iceberg was a one-man show, who used multiple keyboards and synthesizer instruments to create distinct music, as well as a light show and fogging device to wow audiences. It was a gig that required lots of travel.

As part of his job, Kolodinski unloaded two tons of equipment and helped set up the scaffolding before each of Iceberg’s acts. During the performance he also operated the light board.  After everything was packed up when the show ended, Wally drove the bus, night in and night out, at times navigating dangerous weather conditions, to the next destination in true roadie fashion.

He remembers one incident manipulating the lights while Iceberg played.  The musician had received several ovations for his performance and his 20-minute set doubled in time. Marie Osmond, the main act singed, was delayed from going on.

Driving the Iceberg band bus often presented Wally with special challenges.

Frustrated, she came up behind Kolodinski and grabbed his flashlight off the light board to check her makeup and hair, leaving Wally in pitch black and unable to see his switches. He snatched back his light, which must have annoyed Osmond, because she smacked him in back of his head.

“I think she was upset because her performance was late. It was hot back stage, and she probably was sweating a lot,” Kolodinski said.

Another memorable recollection for Wally was the time Iceberg was called upon to help celebrate the six-year-old birthday of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The king had moved the family to Bermuda because of the Gulf War and he flew Iceberg and his crew to the island for a week.

“That was the most lavish and expensive hotel I’ve ever stayed in,” Kolodinski recalled. “We had an unlimited expense account and could order anything we wanted. We stayed in a hotel beach house instead of a room, and I think I gained 20 pounds from eating.”

Now Kolodinski realizes that the Saudi Crown Prince has become Mohammed bin Salman, who is accused of being involved in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Wally’s roadie career came to an end when Iceberg’s bus mysteriously burned and much of the show’s equipment was destroyed. His ability to work in the United States was lost because he had been grandfathered in as long as he was employed by Iceberg.

He went back to Canada, but several months later Wally was informed that he won the green card lottery, so he moved back to Orlando, Florida, which had previously been his home base.

Painting houses, working in the food and beverage industry and rehabbing and doing maintenance for large real estate projects kept Kolodinski occupied.

While at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida, a premier wedding destination, he worked with an Ecuadorian brother and sister. Wally had planned to take a trip to Peru later in the year, and when the sister found out, she invited him to stop off in Cuenca for her wedding. The brief stay convinced Wally that Cuenca was eventually going to be his retirement destination.

After making the move seven years later, Wally was shopping for some things and wound up at Hogar de Esperanza’s second-hand store, where he learned about Minka.

A discussion with Esperanza Director Gary Vatcher, a fellow Canadian from Newfoundland, led Kolodinski to his volunteer stint. “I try to assist whenever there is a special event. I love attention to detail, and because of my experience, I try to give pointers to the waiters and waitresses,” he said.

Wally said he loves Cuenca and is planning on a permanent stay. He plays tennis and pinochle and is trying to learn Spanish.  He paints. He walks his two dogs along the Tomebamba River. He says he is content.

A just conclusion for someone who has been so long on the road.

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