Summer of 1993
Chapter 8--From Job to Job
Touring the park was an adventure of which I was
fond, but facing challenges at work was a different sort of adventure that
left me scared. My early weeks at work brought challenges that left
me scared a lot, but I weathered the storm and found myself growing up,
if just a little bit.
My first days in the Grill as a cashier were
becoming great fun, especially when I did not have to spend my last half
hour closing. As I stated, I could do my entire job from my seat.
The only time I had to get out of my seat was to race to the cashier's
office to get change and when I distributed tips left at the register to
the various servers. Ron Dilling once observed me on the job and
noticed something I was doing that he wanted the other cashiers to do.
On credit cards, most places leave a space at the bottom of the receipt
for writing in an amount for a tip. In 1993, we had not caught up
with the technology. Instead, before I punched in the amount, I had
to ask whether the person wanted to tip. Often, they had left a tip
at the table and were slightly offended by the question. Nevertheless,
I did not want to see a waiter or a waitress get stiffed by a technical
glitch, so I mustered up the courage to ask the question. Beth and
Dodie often did not ask, according to Ron. He liked how I handled
it, and he wanted to make sure that what I was doing became policy.
This embarrassed me because I did not want to upstage anyone else, and
I did not know that they were not doing the same thing. No one said
anything about it to me, so I guess it was no big deal.
At the register, I spent a lot of my time talking
to the hostess. I worked with all three of them being a floater,
but I spent more time speaking to two of them more than all the rest.
The A-shift hostess was a woman named Barbara. Her husband James
was a cook in the Grill, the brother of Ralph. Her manner was tough
and commanding, and this intimidated me. She never was harsh with
me, though. I simply got the feeling that she could be. Barbara
worked hard, and made sure that the job was being done. She was competent.
There was a funny story told by a food prep person named Mary about Barbara
that probably is a bit too crude for me to relate. Let us just say
that Mary had surprising suspicions about Barbara that most of us believe
were entirely false. In any event, I never spoke much to Barbara
while I worked because I was too shy. I was not shy with the other
hostesses, however. The B-shift hostess was a charming old southern
belle from Alabama named Roena Moore. She was not nearly as good
at her job as was Barbara, but she was good enough. She used to say
the funniest things to me. I wish I could remember half of them.
What was funny about her was how she said things, how she would describe
people, the way she had with words. We had a cook on the A-shift
who Roena happened to run into one day. She referred to him as "the
man they call Salty." I had great fun talking to Roena. When
I came in the morning sleepy, she would look at me and yawn right back.
This would make me smile. Her face was so expressive. Roena
was one of the most lovable, friendly people I worked with, and I miss
our chats very much. The floating hostess was a woman named Bev Mikita.
Her husband was the infamous security guard who was derided behind his
back by co-workers who did not like him as "Supercop." Bev and Supercop,
ahem Mike, were from California, and I got along with both of them.
Although I thought Mike was pretty intense in the way he handled his job--he
was an ex-cop--he was definitely a nice enough man. However, he was
disliked by so many people, it became natural for me to think of him as
Supercop. He built his legend at our store by once catching a boy
scout stealing an expensive backpack. I think this was the only person
that three uniformed security guards caught all summer. Bev could
be intense like Mike and had her mean streak, but she was on the whole
a very nice person. Her charisma made me feel at ease. Her
strong side made me respect her as a complex person. Although I did
not talk to Bev as much as I did with Roena, we had some pleasant small
When I was not talking to the hostesses, sometimes
a waiter or waitress would pay me a visit at the register. John Hyde
used to like to come up during his spare moments and gaze into the store.
He said in his hillbilly accent, "Jim, you've got the best job in the store.
From here you can see all the beautiful ladies." I did not like to
think of myself as a womanizer, and so I shrugged it off with a laugh.
John was fond of checking out the customers. He once saw a girl,
who turned out to be related to a higher-up at Hamilton Stores. He
thought she looked nice and proceeded to talk with her. Upon asking
her out, he found out that she was only seventeen. He was twenty-one.
This caused a lot of laughs at his expense. I think he went out with
her one night anyhow. Once, John walked up to me and said, "Gosh
darn it, I think I'm getting sick, Jim. I see all these mothers come
in the store, and I cannot help thinking to myself that they are still
hot." This went to show that John did not discriminate on age or
circumstance! As the summer went on, he met a daughter of a ranger
family, named Lori. She used to come over to the dorms and hang out
with John and Patrick. Once more, John found himself attracted to
her. To everyone's surprise including my own, Lori was only fourteen!
When John found that out, he was in a bit of a pickle because he did like
her. Nevertheless, he refrained. Sometimes, I would joke with
him and say, "But, isn't it the practice in Kentucky to pick out twelve-year-old
brides?" I'm not sure he ever quite got it, but that is just the
stereotype of Kentuckians that got proliferated around Ohio as I grew up.
John was my most memorable visitor, but Leigh
Ann often made her way to my register as well. We would have small
talk, and once I remember she paid me and my entire state a compliment.
She said, "People from Ohio are nice." I said that I did not find
that to be my experience at all. She said, "Well, I know that you
are nice, and you are from Ohio." Leigh Ann could not know how much
nicer the people I had met in Yellowstone were than the people in the many
towns in Ohio where I grew up. Many people in Ohio have had the experience
that people in Ohio are nice, but that unfortunately has not been mine.
Then again, there was a couple of regular customers
to our store who were as nice as could be and one of whom was originally
from northwest Ohio. I think their names were Jake and Louise.
Jake sounds definitely familiar. In any event, they came to Yellowstone
every June and spent the month fishing every day. They would come
in the Grill for coffee twice a day and would sit at the same table behind
me close to the hostess. I enjoyed talking to them so much.
She had grown up in Ohio, but they both now lived in Arizona. As
they sat, I would talk to them about life. It was never more than
small talk, but I felt great comfort in their presence. She had white
hair, but she still seemed beautiful to me with a love for life written
all over her eyes. He looked more beaten down by the world, but his
presence was not much less lively. Regulars are so rare in a tourist
area that these two became our regulars. The whole Grill congregated
around them, and we were all sad when they went home for the summer.
Sometimes, I spoke to the customers sitting at
the table behind me. No matter what, my head was almost in their
meals, so it was not always possible for me to ignore them nor them to
ignore me. I cannot remember a single unpleasant conversation with
families in for a meal.
This is not to say that all customers were pleasant.
Whether it was an angry remark about long lines waiting to get into the
Grill due to the arrival of one or two tour buses, or the bathroom being
closed for cleaning, no complaint was directed in nearly the sort of anger
that I get working in retail today. The only exception to that rule
was the not infrequent customer whether tourist or TW worker or whomever
who wished to talk to a manager or write a letter complaining about the
fact that we did not use plates. At the Grill, we used an enormous
amount of paper and styrofoam because we did not use plates, silverware,
or glasses. Hamilton Stores, often very cheap, complained that it
would cost too much money to use real plates. Furthermore, they argued
that they recycled a lot every year. The fact is, however, that almost
everything was thrown away, and very little was recycled relatively speaking.
It seemed more than ironic that in a national park a company was running
a restaurant that was so environmentally unfriendly. Of course, this
saved them from hiring a dishwasher and more servers, but I do not think
they realize how many people told me that they would not eat at the Grill
ever again and would tell their friends the same. I agreed with the
complaints, but what could I do about them but pass them along? Sometimes,
the customer does not realize that the poor clerk working in the store
has nothing to do with anything. Too often labor gets lumped in with
management, but the two are very different beasts. It is a nice moment
when someone comes up to you and realizes what a bind you are in as a worker
because of some bad policy by your employer.
All-in-all, however, I had a most enjoyable time
cashiering. The Yellowstone I experienced in the fond memories of
working with some of the most fantastic people left as strong an impression
upon me as the Yellowstone I saw from the top of Mt. Washburn. It
made any nostalgia for home that I might have had begin to disappear.
Furthermore, I was one of the rare people who could say that he liked going
to work. Sure, I looked forward to my days off, but I came to work
confident and looking forward to spending time with those I was growing
to love and care for. It was one of the last things I expected to
find before I started work for the summer.
Not all was enjoyable, however. As I stated,
I faced the challenge of working the counter. I also faced the challenge
of helping to clean up when I closed. The latter challenge proved
not to be as easy as simply picking up a broom and helping out. One
evening, I did just that. In fact, I tried to volunteer to do the
sweeping because I was not good at all at cleaning the ice cream area.
Anyhow, I finished sweeping, everyone seemed to be getting everything else
done, and I was at a loss as to what to do myself. So, I sat down
for about fifteen seconds. One cook, named Doug Piuser, saw me sitting
and became very angry with me. He said angrily, "I don't know about
you, but I was raised with the belief that everyone does their fair share.
I work very hard, and I expect those I work with to work hard. So,
get up and help out. None of us quits until the whole job is done."
After he said this, someone stood up for me and said that I had just done
the sweeping and that I had been working like everyone else. In any
event, I felt bad not because Doug made me feel guilty, but because he
seemed so angry with me. How could I explain that I did not mean
to let up working? How could I explain that Doug's impression of
me was wrong? I did not lack a work ethic, what I lacked was courage
to ask what I could do and the confidence that I could do it. It
paralyzed me, sometimes. In any event, I went back and asked someone
if I could finish the mopping for them. They said that they had it
in hand. It was ironic, but my original judgment was right.
There was not a job for me to do that late in the game.
The next day, Doug came to me and apologized.
He said that he was simply tired from a long day at work and that he did
not mean to take it out on me. He asked for my forgiveness.
I gave it to him, but he intimidated me to a large degree for a long time
after that. Nevertheless, it was now my problem. Doug had done
his share, and his job as cook could be so hectic that it would be really
strange if there was never a burst of anger. Restaurants are stress-packed
places that are very hard to run. Customers can be very unreasonable
and unsympathetic, waiters and waitresses can take that out on cooks who
take that back out on the waiters and waitresses and sometimes on undeserving
customers. Furthermore, the cooks did not make the money they deserved
for all of their hard work. This is true almost everywhere.
I sometimes wonder why customers expect good service from people who are
making next to nothing and have to deal with a thousand things all at once
in the heat of the kitchen. I wonder why there is such ignorance
or lack of sympathy for the hard job that it is. In any event, I
could respect and admire Doug for his courage to speak his mind to me,
and then the courage to come to me and admit that he had been too harsh.
This was truly too rare in a human being. He continued to scare me,
but he had won my admiration.
Cashiering in the Grill was extremely easy and
closing was not that hard, but then there was Thursday. On Thursday,
I had to work the counter. The only solace in working the counter
was that I could choose to work in the morning or work in the evening.
I chose to work in the morning. Although I had to work one hour longer
at the counter than on the late shift, the morning shift was simply easier
and did not involve closing. Most people simply wanted a cup of coffee
in the morning. In the afternoon, they most often wanted a scoop
of ice cream. If a person wanted carry-out in the morning, it usually
was not much more than a muffin. In the afternoon, it was often a
full meal cooked on the grill. Many tourists did not realize that
the restaurant was not a fast food joint, and so I had a bit of difficulty
explaining to them that there could be about a ten minute wait for their
food. It was not enviable.
My first day at the counter could have been better
and could have been worse. No matter how I look at it and remember
it, though, it most certainly was not fun. My biggest problem in
picking up the job was that I did not know much of anything. I knew
what coffee was and what decaffeinated coffee was, and was taught how to
handle the hot chocolate machine, but you cannot teach a person everything.
For instance, because I did not drink tea, I did not have the common sense
to figure out what to do when someone ordered it. I was so nervous
that I forgot that you do not open the tea pouch when preparing it.
When I realized what a dunce I made of myself, I had this incredible sense
that I had no chance at such a job. Furthermore, I did not drink
coffee, and so I had never made coffee before. This, I picked up
easily enough, although there were some complaints that the first batch
I made was too weak. The problem with the coffee was that upon making
coffee once, I spilled the old grounds all over the floor behind the counter.
Judy Dilling looked at me and said, "Well, get a mop and clean it up."
I could not believe what a clutz I was. Luckily, I had no mishaps
with the mop and cleaned everything up.
The worst of it was that time went so slowly.
I would handle a couple of customers, and I would go to the back to look
at the clock. Minutes became an eternity, and it seemed to go slower
the busier we were. I would think, "Well, we just had a flurry, I
bet time is flying now" only to find out that five minutes had elapsed.
In spare moments, I restocked the cups and wiped the counters. Working
at Long John Silver's taught me that there was always something I should
be doing. For a spell, it got busy and everyone was yelling at everyone
else. I was busy with a line of people wanting coffee and hot chocolate.
After it was over, everyone made up over any hostility and sighed.
They were happy I was working counter because they did not know how they
would have made it through if they had to cover the counter and all their
tables. This made me feel good. The sense was, that though
I was very new to this, that I was catching on.
That first day brought a visitor to my counter
from my recent past. Dan, our tour bus driver from the first day,
walked in and ordered a large coffee. He did not recognize me, I
don't think. I got it for him, and he gave me a dollar. I thanked
him but told him that he did not have to do this, especially for a cup
of coffee. He said, "I know what kind of hard work you all do."
Then, he left. Maybe, he did recognize me. In any event, it
was a triple treat for me. First of all, I saw a man who left a strong
mark on me and my family. Secondly, he was kind enough to realize
that though I was the person serving him, that I was a human being, too.
Finally, it was my first tip. Furthermore, because I worked counter,
it was a tip I did not have to report because counter people technically
are not tipped. If the IRS wants to quibble over this dollar, let
them be my guest.
He knew what kind of hard work we did.
He recognized that I was a person, too. Did I usually think of my
customers as people? To be honest, it was very difficult at times.
The tourists seemed to have so many similarities, that stereotyping them
became a pastime not only for me but for my co-workers as well. Sure,
I realized that everyone was unique and that all I knew about them was
what I saw, but it was what I did see that bothered me. Maybe, it
would serve me better to refer to the acts of tourists than to refer to
defining people by one iota of who they were. On the other hand,
there is a point to making the stereotype so personal. Rather than
someone saying to themselves that those acts do not and did not apply to
them, the reader can say, "Is he talking about me?" and assess that for
themselves. Just know that I realize that there may be Yellowstones,
that is a complexity beyond my imagination, in every person whom I call
by the derisive term, tourist. But, do not think for a moment that
my anger was not personal, that my stereotype was not tainted with a prejudice
the moment I saw you or thought about you. I just wish my stereotypes
proved wrong more often than they did. I hope that the Dans of this
world, those who saw me as a complex person and expressed it, would express
it to me. I just wish I expressed it more myself. The Grand
Canyon shows its many colors without worry that it will offend or delight,
and I wish that I were the same. I am not simply angry, or close-minded,
or prejudiced, or romantic, or in love, or scared, or a cashier, and neither
are you. Yet, who does not see a bison at the crack of dawn in Hayden
Valley and express to that one tiny aspect of Yellowstone, "That is Yellowstone."
Yet, this is the truth of the matter and a hard thing to make sense of
all the same. What I am trying to say here is that Dan seemed to
me to have made sense of it in his generous gesture.
As morning ended, I began the job of scooping
ice cream, a job much harder than I imagined. At the Grill, the end
of the counter nearest the window was dominated by ice cream and frozen
yogurt supplied by Wilcoxson's, a company out of Livingston, Montana, whose
ice cream was all over the park region. We used the ice cream to
make cones, sundaes, milkshakes, and malts. The servers hated making
milkshakes most of all because it was time consuming. Leigh Ann taught
me how to make shakes and then had me make several of her shakes for her
that day. In teaching me, she told me a tip that I never really took
advantage of. The servers would scoop more ice cream than they needed.
This way, they would make a little too much shake for the cups. Not
wanting to waste the extra milkshake, they would consume the extra shake.
In reality, this was not the typical practice because nobody had time to
steal in this way. When it happened, it was more often an accident.
Nevertheless, it was sometimes a conscious practice. It seemed like
a perk of the job more than a crime because nobody thought anything of
Anyhow, milkshakes were easy enough to make for
me. My great disability in the ice cream department was in scooping
cones. Growing up, I had never particularly had a problem putting
ice cream in a cone. I liked cones, and this was what I usually ordered
when I went out for ice cream. I soon discovered that the mix of
Wilcoxson's, a sugar cone, and trying to scoop as fast as one can is an
explosive tonic. Wilcoxson's is excellent ice cream, but it is often
very hard. I found it instantly difficult to stick a scoop of ice
cream inside one of the cones. Before proceeding to break three cones
with a customer, the customer finally let me off the hook by asking for
it in a dish. That first day, I could not get the hang of it, and
rather than kill myself began explaining to customers that their order
could be something of an adventure. Finally, a server showed me a
trick that helped out a bit. She told me to put the ice cream in
the cone not by trying to shove it in but with circular motions like I
was trying to screw it in. This helped somewhat, but it was difficult.
To my relief, I was not the only person who thought it was tough.
Some servers took to the practice of putting the ice cream in a dish and
sticking a cone in the ice cream from the top and serving it like that.
The other problem with ice cream is that it is
quite a workout, it is messy, and it is sometimes nonstop. Your arm
gets tired fast. You scoop and scoop and scoop, a runny peach yogurt
starts dripping down your hand, you think you have finally got the last
person in your line when a family of seven shows up followed by three others.
At those moments, the whole Grill is with you scooping, but your rubber
arm does not know the difference. In the end, I found that I had
a lot of respect for ice cream scoopers and will only under the rarest
of circumstances (I think I have only once, if that) ask for ice cream
in a cone. I have known some who enjoyed their jobs scooping ice
cream very much, but I think even they can relate to what I am talking
When the day ended at six o'clock, I was happy
that I had survived. As part of the reward for surviving, I got to
receive tip out. It was the occasional tip and few dollars of tip
out that I got those weeks in the Grill that kept me from going completely
broke. I started the summer with nothing, Dan had let me borrow twenty-five
dollars, and when I got paid on July 5, I still had twenty dollars.
I must say that I was proud of that feat.
The next time that I worked the counter, I decided
that the morning was for me. This time, I worked with the B-shift
crew under Lill Renk. Lill was a funny, strong woman from Pennsylvania.
She had been one of the group that Buddy Glass had led in his informal
communion service at our Sunday religious services. Because Lill
was such a tough-looking woman, I tended to find that intimidating.
However, because she did not let her toughness get the better of her sense
of humor or her kindness, I found that she was more approachable to me
than Judy Dilling who was very nice but not quite in the way that made
me as comfortable. Lill's husband Ted worked in the Photo department.
While she was short, he was very tall. While her voice and manners
were tough, his personality was not as big as his physique. Ted was
openly conservative about the park and said to me explicitly that he believed
that the parks should be more recreational. Although this attitude
disturbed me, I did not let that get in the way of conversing with him.
Anyhow, Lill was my boss that day in the Grill.
My day went considerably better than the first
time I had to work the counter except that I discovered firsthand why Michelle
Angel was the least popular person in the Grill. Michelle was a very
good and useful waitress. She spoke several languages and often would
translate for servers faced with the prospect of trying to wait on a couple
who did not speak or read a word of English. However, the most common
word to describe her was not to say that she was useful but that she was
a prime example of a bitch. I tried to think of a kinder way of putting
it, but the word was so often used by people to describe her that any other
euphemism would fail to do the feeling about her justice.
My run-in with her, and I think everyone on both
shifts had at least one, began simply enough. Her way at work was
to boss people around and tell them what they should be doing. No
one liked this, but you had to get used to it. Anyhow, she came up
to me and said, "You need to make some more coffee." I knew that
I had to make some more coffee, but my counter was non-stop. As soon
as I got done with a set of five customers, I started making some coffee.
There had been no time wasted between the time she told me what I already
knew and doing it. There had been no time before she told me to the
time I could make it. When I made it, it was the first possible time.
Well, as the coffee was brewing, more customers came for coffee.
I ran out of coffee. This is where I made my first and only mistake.
To get the customer his coffee, I went to the nearest pot of coffee out
on the floor. Unfortunately, it was the pot of coffee that Michelle
used for her section. When she saw me, she ran over and started yelling
in her Romanian accent, "No! I told you that you had to make more
coffee, but you did not listen."
"I made the coffee as soon as I could."
"You cannot have my coffee. You have to
learn your lesson."
"You are being ridiculous. The customer
needs his coffee, I made it as soon as I could, and now you are telling
me I can't have your coffee!"
She did not even listen throwing herself between
the coffee and the cup it was supposed to go in. When this happened,
Lill came over. I was very mad and told Lill what was going on.
She did not want to deal with it, but she told Michelle, "Let him have
the coffee." As we walked away, I told Lill, "She's impossible."
Lill did not respond, not so much out of diplomatic courtesy, but because
I think she knew how impossible Michelle was and was a bit tired of it.
The fact is, Michelle got a rare rise out of
me. I almost never lose my temper in public, and she had managed
to act in a way that instantly frustrated me so much that I stood up to
her. As the summer went on, this sort of thing happened time and
time again. We had a young server come the following month from Texas
named Matt. He was very quiet almost all of the time. Michelle
found it in her heart to order him around like she did everyone else in
her life. One day, this quiet kid told her off, telling her in no
uncertain terms that he did not appreciate the way she treated and demeaned
him. He told her to "fuck off." She backed down, and he became
something of a hero. That was how much Michelle was disliked by her
co-workers. The bad thing for me was that in ACMNP I dealt with Michelle
frequently. That morning, I may not have been the rare eruption of
Steamboat Geyser, the geyser with the largest eruptions in the world, but
I did erupt if only slightly.
After that day was over, I began thinking how
many weeks were left in the summer and of those how many I would have to
work with Michelle. I considered simply working A-shift whenever
I worked counter, but the question became mute. The following week,
Dodie became ill for a number of days. Dodie had a history of health
problems, many of which were related to smoking. She was one of the
most loved people in the Grill, and everyone worried about her when she
was sick. The result of that for me was that I worked one of my days
off for her; and instead of working Thursday at the counter, worked Dodie's
shift for her instead cashiering. On Friday and Saturday, she was
off, so there was no problem. On Saturday, Joe Boudreau, the B-shift
manager came up to me with news that would change my summer.
Joe Boudreau was a little bald old man with an
east coast accent. His name badge said Florida, but it was quite
obvious that he was originally from further north. In my early days
in Grant Village, I did not know what to think of him. He was friendly
but not in the outgoing way that Ron Dilling, or Elaine Thorman (the A-shift
assistant manager) were. I wondered if he was a mean man. However,
this he was not. As I got to know Joe over the next two summers,
I realized that he was a very funny person with a clever wit, with whom
I could have a good laugh. I did not know or feel comfortable with
him in the early days, but this was out of ignorance. Experience
is like that. We see but a shadow, but have to fill in the holes.
Each of us has seen but a shadow of Yellowstone, but we must describe it
and adore it nevertheless. Some of us only have a shadow that consists
of what we have learned about Yellowstone, but we must imagine. We
must relate with what we know only in terms of a few perspectives.
At the time Joe brought me this news, all he was was a hunched-over little
bald man who always carried around the store telephone as he managed the
His news made me nervous. He said, "So,
Jim, how would like to have Saturday and Sunday off?" I said that
I would like that very much. This was obviously the bait that was
to drag me in. "Well, Jim, we are in a bit of bind, and you can help
us out. We have a lady in apparel who has a lot of trouble making
it up and down the stairs. The doctor says she has to stay off of
her feet. What we would like you to do is to switch with her.
You can come in to work early tomorrow to cover Dodie, take a half hour
lunch, and train her to use the register. When she's got a handle
on that, you can report to apparel and get trained there. How does
that sound?" How did that sound? I did not know that I liked
it very much. However, my commitment was to the ministry. Also,
I did not want to let them down. I wanted to be a loyal worker who
did not cause problems. So, after a split second of thought, I replied,
"Okay, I'll do it." Joe was enthusiastic, "Thanks a lot Jim.
We really appreciate it."
I was very scared of the next day. I was
being asked to work in apparel, a whole new world. I had never been
good at folding my own clothes, I did not know about the world of stocking,
and I wondered how I would get along as a nineteen-year-old boy in a world
of older women. Would they like it? Were they happy to get
some clumsy-looking skinny teenager to help them out?
As a matter of fact, I found out that they were
happy before that Saturday was over. The official story was that
this job was switched for medical reasons, but the real reason had to do
with personality conflicts between this woman and the others on the A-shift
in apparel. I do not remember her name, but she was a very frank
woman who spoke her mind. She complained a lot and thought that Florida
was a much more beautiful place than Yellowstone. This sort of attitude
endeared her to no one. Her husband, Jean, was something of an a-social
janitor. He was extremely good at what he did, but he did not talk
very much and rarely smiled. She talked a lot and rarely smiled.
I rarely smiled myself, but I do not think too many people thought I was
as bitter and upset and tense as these two seemed to a lot of people.
I do not know the whole story, but I have trouble figuring out why they
came across that way.
This news about the woman I was training the
next day did not make me excited about teaching. However, she was
a good student. She was not as bad at all as her co-workers made
her out to be, but she was not the most pleasant person in the world.
I liked to teach, and I enjoyed the time explaining the register.
She picked it up easily, too easily. If she had needed more training,
I might have been able to spend more hours of this ten and a half hour
(no overtime) work day in the comfort of the Grill.
The day was the fourth of July. My Independence
Day was spent in the store at Grant Village. While co-workers on
the B-shift went down to Jackson to watch fireworks, I spent my entire
day adjusting to a new life. I had to overcome the fireworks of life.
When I was a child, fireworks scared me. I overcame them only when
I realized that I was missing out on all the fun. As I grew up, people
scared me. I have only overcome that when it seemed I was missing
out on the fun. On the fourth, I faced the fireworks because I had
to, and because they came to me.
I mean something far less allegorical than you
might imagine. Yellowstone put on a fireworks display of its own.
Fireworks were banned in the park, but that did not stop Mother Nature
from an intense display of ferocious celebration. In one hour, that
day, we had a show of our own. It began with a hail storm.
Soon after, there was snow. Then, we had a thunderstorm. Before
the hour was out, the sun came out. The speed and the unpredictability
of the weather in Yellowstone was like nothing I had ever or have ever
seen. It was the fourth of July, and it snowed. Where snow
was once an hour before, clear skies were, and could change back into cloudcover
almost in a wink. The temperature might be in the mid-twenties at
the crack of dawn and be up to seventy degrees by three in the afternoon.
You would wear a winter coat and gloves to work and wear a tank top and
shorts in the afternoon. The weather on the fourth of July in 1993
in Grant Village was wild and served as a diversion to the petty worries
of my life.
I had about three hours or so in apparel at my
new job. There, I met my new co-workers. Sometimes, it was
possible not to know everyone in the store. Many people lived and
ate in their campers. They only came to the EDR to eat for special
occasions. It was possible for a person caught in the world of the
Grill not to know everyone, especially if they worked on the other shift.
Now, because I worked all shifts, I had met my co-workers, but I did not
really know any of them. I soon would.
The apparel department was managed by an old
woman named Kay Wilson, and whose warehouseman was her even older husband
Bob. This was their nineteenth or twentieth year working for Hamilton
Stores and had been coming to the region forever. Everyone knew and
loved them. She had not lost any of her know-how even with advanced
age, and everyone knew that she was in control. Bob was a sweet old
man, a romantic in his early to mid-eighties, who would often stop and
say some one-liner that he had invented himself. He was clever and
witty and capable of doing his work. Never once did I hear Bob say
that something was too hard for him to do. They were great people
who cared for everyone.
However, I did not really meet them that day.
Sunday, like for almost every department manager, was a day off.
I did meet my immediate boss, however. Her name was Ruthlee.
Ruthlee was a beautiful older woman, about to become a great grandmother
that summer, with a very creative sense and a wonderful sense of humor.
She was forceful, in control, and the other workers on my shift had something
of a fear/respect for her. She could be moody; and when she came
in in a bad mood, everyone knew to steer clear from her. Though that
was her reputation, she was much more often playful and cheery. She
liked to make us pick out hats in the department to wear and parade through
the store with them. In many ways, she was like a little kid, but
a very complex mix of mature adult with strong opinions and a lively child
parading around as if life was but an absurdity. Her husband Ernie
and her lived nearby in Wyoming, one of the few locals working in Grant,
and they often went home on their weekends. On my first day, Ruthlee
showed pity on me for having to work so many hours. It was actually
funny because I was more than capable of working for that long. Nevertheless,
she allowed me to sit on the counter at the apparel register, something
we were otherwise not allowed to do. She did not want to flood me
with new information, and kindly left teaching me how to stock until the
next day. She did teach me how to use the registers on the
floor (very simple after the one in the Grill) and how we were supposed
to fold shirts. The relief about this was that it seemed to be a
challenge for everyone else to fold clothes the way were supposed to.
That I did not get it right right away only brought encouragement my way
from those who said that they had just after a month received their certificate
stating that they were now competent to fold clothes.
Many of you may laugh at this, but the truth
is is that most people, women and men, fold clothes in all sorts of strange
contortions and generally not very neatly. I thought I was alone
in this, but I soon had the opportunity to witness hundreds of people try
to refold shirts that they had unfolded. It was no surprise that
they did not fold them like we did, but they most often were not folded
very neatly in the way that they tried to fold them. I am not simply
talking about the inconsiderate customer who throws clothes all over the
place or quickly refolds clothes but the conscious customer who actually
makes a point of trying to clean up after himself. It was a shocking
experience because I honestly thought that I was one of the few people
in the world who was terrible at folding. Even grandmothers are bad
My other co-workers on the A-shift were Myrna
and Nancy. Myrna Hansen was a woman in her mid-fifties from Wisconsin.
I often saw she and her husband Ron, whose name for some weird reason I
thought for a long time was Bud, in the Grill together for breaks.
I never really knew them, though, except for sitting down with them a couple
times for small talk. Myrna was a wonderful woman with a splendid
wit. She could be very serious when she wanted to be, sometimes pleasantly
crude, but all these qualities endeared her to me more. She often
said to me, "You're not a bad kid." In that, she was being somewhat
sarcastic not in the compliment but in making the compliment seem to be
minor. It was a humorous way of putting, "You're a very good person."
Nancy Hoff was as sincerely a nice person as anyone I have ever met.
She was so nice that I sometimes would try to trick her into saying something
mean. Sometimes, I would say, "Well, doesn't it make you mad that
such and such happened?" Nancy would say in her Indiana way, "Well,
yes, it does." Then, I would say, "Well, wouldn't you like to drop
a nuclear bomb to make it all better?" Then, she would catch onto
the joke after a second and say, "Hush, Jim. I wouldn't go that far"
laughing as she said it. Nancy was pure in her friendliness, and
there was nothing pretentious about it. I found it easy to poke fun
at her in a loving sort of way. Nancy road a bike from her camper
on the upper employee campground to work. Whenever I saw her, I kept
getting these images of the wicked witch of the West riding off with Toto--about
as far from Nancy as could possibly be. Anyway, I started calling
her to myself, "The Mad Biker Nancy Hoff" and have the Wicked Witch music,
"duh da duh da da duh" going on in my head as I said it. And, Price
thought he had evil thoughts! It was harmless, though, and I knew
it was all a joke. Nancy was almost from the start a woman who had
my fondest affections. Myrna and Nancy made me feel so at home that
I soon felt like I was one of the ladies. It felt good!
Once again, the assumption that many had was
that I wanted to be a waiter like all the other young people. Ruthlee
told me that if I had patience that I would get my wish. Like I had
told Beth, I told her that this job was fine and that I did not necessarily
want to work with the other young people. Sure, I had liked working
in the Grill and missed the people there very much already, but I had no
embarrassment in working in a department that was assumed to be primarily
for older women. They were worried that I would look down upon them
as much as I was scared that they would look down upon me. When we
all realized that it did not matter, we got along just fine.
As time went on, I soon learned how to stock.
It became my forte to find things, especially caps, that were not on the
shelves, or had any place on the shelves, where they belonged.
My new job was at least as enjoyable as the one I had before. Furthermore,
although it was not as easy as sitting on my butt at a register, it was
more fulfilling to be working, proving myself wrong that I was not good
enough to do work that involved my hands. I learned to overcome my
fear of telephones at work--a still very real fear of mine is to call someone
on the telephone or to pick up a call I doubt is for me. I had fun,
and I could now take breaks. I got to know some more wonderful people,
and I became comfortable in this new world.
It may not have given me the grand sense of Yellowstone
all at once that I could feel from the base of Tower Fall or in the simple
delight of the Lake Overlook Trail, but removing the obstacles of my fears
of work helped take away some of the obstructions that kept me from seeing
the beauty still that much more. Without worries and relaxed, I could
begin to dream ... and realize, at least in Yellowstone
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