Vans & Victory

30 05 2012

Arthur hadn’t made it out of Arizona before they stuck a new warm body in my room. My new roommate was another veteran, this one with a snowy white beard and a much friendlier disposition. His name was Marvin and there was no doubt in my mind that he was homeless.

“I’m going to sleep in my van,” he informed me after our first meeting. “Nothing against you, I just prefer it that way. I got all my stuff in there.”

I could tell right away this new guy wasn’t playing with a full deck. During my run for public office, when I decided to make poverty the central theme of the campaign, I became quite familiar with the plight of the homeless and mentally ill. One thing I was surprised to learn — it is a lifestyle some do indeed choose.

And Marvin was that way.

Like a lot of folks who work the National Park circuit out west, Marvin had bounced around from state to state, never settling too long in one spot. Park consessionaires are rewarded with government incentives for hiring veterans so Marvin was never too far from a paycheck. At the Grand Canyon, he found work as a dishwasher in the Bright Angel Lodge.

“For a lot of us, this is the last stop before skid row,” he quipped.

Marvin camping out in his van was just fine by me, although the Victor Hall proctor seemed slightly confused by the whole thing.

“It’s going to get hot in the summer in that van,” the proctor warned Marvin.

But Marvin didn’t care and probably had no plans of hanging around that long. Nevertheless, just two months into my Canyon tenure, I suddenly had a room all to myself. The only things Marvin kept in the room were the towels and washcloth provided by housing. Items he never used.

Occasionally, I would run into Marvin at the employee cafeteria and we would have a nice chat. Marvin loved to talk about mushrooms. I got the feeling he had ingested too many over the years.

Not long after Marvin “moved in,” I was presented with an opportunity to move into an apartment with a co-worker from Maswik. Although I had a pretty sweet deal going with an absentee roommate, the chance to get out of Victor Hall was all I needed to hear so I jumped at the offer and said adios to the Canyon’s Animal House.

No more fire alarm drills at three in the morning, no more drunken brawls over the remote in the TV room and no more funky aromas lingering throughout the dorm.  Initially, it was kind of fun to relive your college days. But the conditions got old fast.

Marvin took the news of my departure in stride. When I tracked him down in the kitchen of the Bright Angel Restaurant to tell him to expect a new face behind door No. 50, he didn’t seem to mind. He was having his own issues with Park Service. Apparently, the rangers were on to his game of camping out in the van.

“I parked up at the visitor’s center the other night,” he said. “There’s a nice big pinyon pine up there with good shade. So I parked there and, low and behold, I’m woken up at around four in the morning by a ranger knocking on my window.”

Marvin was the only one surprised by this development. He got off with a warning, but it sounded as if his days in the Canyon were numbered.

He was obsessed with the levels of bleach used to clean the plates and silverware and always talked as if there was a health epidemic about to be unleashed in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, my time at Victor Hall was over. Moving out … and moving on … or as they say in the Canyon — Victory!

Grand Canyon’s Animal House

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One response

8 06 2012
David Altermatt

Sorry it took so long to comment here. A great story of another canyon inhabitant. What a lucid lucid picture. Glad you got to move from the Animal House.

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