Searching for Friends among Victims

16 04 2012

Making friends has been much harder here than I had originally thought.

For starters, most people in the Canyon work a lot of hours so there is very little free time for social activities. You may meet someone briefly in the employee cafeteria that you click with, but if they work in another part of the park and your schedules do not match up, well then, you probably won’t see that person very often.

Take Thomas, the man who paved my way here, for example. We’ve met for breakfast on a couple of occasions, but he works nights at the El Tovar while I’m folding T-shirts at Maswik. To his credit, Thomas did warn me about this.

“You won’t see me that much,” he said. “You’ll make your own set of friends at Maswik.”

And I have tried, but it hasn’t been easy. I’m living just across the railroad tracks from Maswik Lodge in the all male dormitory Victor Hall, or as the locals like to refer to it — “Victim Hall.” Legend has it, there was a murder there a few years back.

You won’t find Victor Hall on any map provided to tourists. It’s almost like the Park Service doesn’t want people to know the place exists. And for good reason.

I’ve lived in dorms before, back in college and Victor Hall is everything you could imagine when you think of a smelly, old, cold brick and mortar building. The nice old Native American ladies I work with at the gift shop get a good laugh out of calling the place an “Animal House.”

And oh are they right.

On the lower level of Victor Hall is what is known as the TV room. There’s soda and snack machines inside, couches and tables, a bookcase full of books no one reads and the television set perched high in the corner. If you are lucky enough to get to the room first or outlast the previous inhabitants, then you get possession of the remote control — A position of great authority at Victor Hall.

Most of the time, the TV is tuned to an action movie with a lot of gunplay, fast cars and faster women or some sort of sporting event. The news is never on.  As I have come to find out, half of the people who live in Victor Hall are in their own little fantasy land so the news has little bearing on them. The other half are foreign workers who cannot understand what Anderson Cooper has to say.

Among the regular visitors to Victor Hall are the fine men and women of NPS Fire and Security. They usually arrive at night, especially on weekends, when things tend to get rowdy. Last Saturday night, just after midnight, the fire alarm went off and we all had to pile outside with snow coming down and temperatures near freezing just because some bozo decided he was going to light one up in the bathroom.

It was my second fire drill at Victor Hall since I got here and it won’t be my last.

Most of the long term employees at the Grand Canyon get out of Victor Hall as soon as they can. One of the more popular sayings is, “I did my six months at Victor.” It’s kind of a sympathetic solidarity amongst the male workers.

Thankfully, I have a stable roommate and the hot water works so I’m in no hurry to abandon Victor Hall just yet. As a writer, the material here is priceless. However, I doubt very seriously I will find a hiking companion in the TV room.




8 responses

16 04 2012
Don Harris

Hate to say this, but it sounds a little like my fraternity in college. Those were some good times, but I got tired of it, too, especially my last year. And the industrial design computer lab at the last school I attended (there have been three) — that was worse. Much worse.

17 04 2012
Margaret Webster

Group living is never pretty but always produces some mighty fine character studies. You should offer behind the scenes tours of the “real” Grand Canyon or start writing that expose. And have you found out who “Victor” is?

18 04 2012
David Altermatt

I hear the frustration in your words John. I know how difficult this is but it sounds like there are some opportunities to channel your frustration into some interesting sarcasm about Victor Hall life and the people who make it what it is. I am so proud of you for what you are doing and I know that God will bless your efforts with success.

26 04 2012

Margaret, Victor Hall is named after one of the founders of the Xanterra Parks and Resorts. I’m thinking they should probably change the name to Bed Bugs Hall. 😉

24 07 2012
Jim Russell

The murder is not just a legend. I lived in Victor during the summer of 1987 when it happened. The first name of the victim was Robert but his last name escapes me. There was a big party out back which the rangers broke up once but reconvened shortly thereafter. Of course, there was alcohol involved. The girlfriend of one of the guys who lived in the dorm was flirting with Robert and her boyfriend didn’t like it. He purportedly told Robert, “Keep it up and I’m going to kill you.” Well, the girlfriend kept at him and finally led Robert to her boyfriend’s room. The boyfriend found them there, gun in hand, argued and shot Robert in the neck as he tried to escape. The shot threw him against the wall just to the right of the first floor bathroom door. He gurgled as he fell to the floor, spurting blood and didn’t last long after he was shot. The shooter jumped out of the bedroom window and was apprehended by the Forest Service several hours later. The FBI came and draped a big red plastic sheet around the crime scene while the took photos and gathered evidence. We were all held and told to stand in place exactly where we stood when the shooting occurred. The FBI agents then drew chalk lines on the carpet around our feet. The whole event was very unsettling and many Victor residents left the park shortly thereafter, terminating their contracts with AMFAC early. Jim Russell, AMFAC employee, Grand Canyon 1986-1987.

5 05 2015
the German Hiker

I like your story. It pretty much describes life at the Canyon as an
employee – at first glance.

I myself had spent a full summer season at GC. I spent a fw months at Victor Hall, then moved to Rouster Hall. iIt was in1995,and I know what you are talking about. Nevertheless, I made plenty of friends, had fun at work (min wage back then at 4$) and hiked all trails plenty of times – at day and night.

It remains a priviledge to live there, so to each & all having this pleasure: enjoy! Real life will get you .. some day.

25 02 2019

I was dorm manager at Victor for a few months in 1976. I had a room to myself on the first floor on the side away from the rim. There was a gay guy living next door to me and another directly across the hall. Both were the effeminate type and waiters at El Tovar. Within a few hours of moving in, the guy next door (Peter, as I recall) invited me into his room and almost immediately propositioned me. I was shocked and am straight, so got out of there quick. A couple of nights later, very late, I was awoken by some heavy banging noises and the gay guy across the hall, Michael/Michelle, yelling my name. I came out of my room to see some guy running away down the hall and a pedastal ashtray on the floor that he’d been using to bash against my neighbor’s door. Terrorizing him out of hate. I came very close to breaking my contract and heading home in that first week. I stuck it out however, and moved on as Trailer Village dorm manager after a couple of months at Victor.

I got on as a bellman at Bright Angel a few months after, and also worked at El Tovar and Yavapai. There was an older guy who was also a bellman at Yavapai, in his 40’s, who lived by himself at Victor. Very quiet and kept to himself. He committed suicide in ‘77 or ‘78 inside his Victor room, blew his brains out.

23 11 2021
RL Boures

I spent nearly two years living at Victor Hall in ’71 and ’72 and loved every minute of it. Half the year I had a room mate and the other half I had it all to myself. We had radiators in the rooms back then and it kept things toasty warm in the winter. I remember one night at 25 below. A bunch of us went outside just to see what it felt like. I remember walking home from a party at 3am one late night and seeing a mountain lion cutting across the street and circling around the south side of the dorm into the trees behind. Christmas Eve in ’71 it snowed 6 feet and I trudged back to Victor after the Christmas party at the El Tovar where I had danced all night with a gorgeous tourist teenage girl. I worked a 4 day work week and spent the other 3 days either in Flagstaff or in the Canyon. I’ve hiked every trail in the Canyon and some that weren’t on any map. Contrary to your description of not too many friends, most of the employees were a tight knit group. We partied out in the woods even in the winter. There was a giant clearing away from the village where we’d bundle up and build giant bonfires and pass around multiple bottles and doobies. Sometimes there would be 50 to 100 of us. Sometimes after the bars closed at the Bright Angel and El Tovar, we’d carpool caravan out to Tusayan and drink with those guys. Fred Harvey had a deal with other Canyon vendors to share services. If a helicopter had an empty seat on a Canyon flight, Harvey employees could go for free. In 2 years I took 25 flights and that was in the years before the ban and the pilots could still fly down IN the Canyon. One winter we were snowed in for two weeks and there were a bunch of French girls stranded there. Speaking of the fairer sex, the female employees outnumbered males 4 to 1. It was a slice of heaven. On my days off I made extra bread taking tourists down into the Canyon or rode my bike to Flagstaff, spending the night with students at Northern Arizona University I had met. Coming down the backside of that 9000 foot ridge was exhilarating. My time at the Canyon changed my life. It’s a big part of who I am. In those long solitary hikes along the Tonto and all those side canyons through all the seasons, I found myself. Riding my bike at high altitude amongst the aspens and ponderosa pines, I found what I was capable of. I’ll carry all these things with me to my dying day and probably beyond.

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