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.





The After-Hours Tourist

10 01 2010

John wasn’t about to kiss and tell in the Canyon …. there is a code among Nerds, one that is sometimes solved by Queers.

But Gabe was another story.

“They can’t grow grass up there,” he said, in his thick Jersey Shore accent.

We were back in Panama City, comparing notes on the trip with Jim and Gabe was unveiling his turf research. John, admittedly, was envious of Gabe’s youth with that baby face that would never be kicked into the streets — at least for very long.

In Vegas, Jim had even encouraged Gabe to walk The Strip, but the youngster keenly stayed inside the casino’s cozy atmosphere.

The Canyon was a different climate, entirely. “How can you stay inside a place like that?,” Gabe declared.

The workers in the park rarely mingle socially with visitors. Tourists, despite being their life source, were usually held in contempt at “after hours” get-to-gethers.

And I was about to get my first taste of Canyon “after hours.”

Stallone, the twinky Hawaiian server, invited me back to his apartment after dinner to meet some of his friends and Jim gave me the green light, offering up the keys to the Murano.

It was cold that night and very, very dark. I drove slow and tried to remember the way, knowing the drive back would be a solo affair. Stallone was a friendly fellow and his language skills impressed me… and then he surprised me, “You don’t have a joint on you, do you? Because I would really like to smoke a doobie.”

Wow.

The answer, of course, was no and this seemed to solidify park workers’ biggest complaint.

“You tourists,” Stallone said, shaking his head with a sheepish grin.

We arrived at Stallone’s apartment before the herd. Stallone introduced me to his roommate, a short lesbian who liked football and beer. I don’t recall her name as shortly after introductions the apartment began to fill with Canyon people, all workers in the park and all with vastly different personalities.

Still sporting my blazer and khaki pants from dinner, I was overdressed for this soiree, but still my ‘Southern Good Ol’ Boy’ wit attracted quite a crowd. The girls seemed to like to hear me talk. So did Stallone, who grew more girlish by the hour.

A whiskey bottle was passed around and inside Stallone’s living room people huddled on the floor and lounged on couches, conversing about Canyon life. There was a young Asian girl there who dispensed the trouble with housekeeping and her beef with management.

Her comments made me wonder why Jim always tipped the bellhop but never the maids.

There was no music playing and nobody was dancing. I guess you could say it was a drinkin’ party…and since I was the token tourist in the crowd, an outsider, I wasn’t offered any mind-altering substances.

And that was cool with me. The decade of decadence was coming to an end. Stallone probably would have had more fun with Gabe.

After a few hours of spin the bottle, I said my goodbyes and returned to the El Tovar, driving ever more slowly through the dark park. A steady wind made the cold air slightly bitter.

On the way, I came upon a large elk, casually walking a long side of the road. There was no fear in this magnificent creature’s eyes as I passed by. Back home, that elk would be a welcome addition to many walls. My trophy, however, was seeing this beast roaming free.

Something only a “tourist” could truly appreciate.