Getting ready for Glacier

14 05 2014

Hi Ho Hi Ho it’s back to the wilderness I go.

Soon I embark on another summer of duty in America’s National Parks. This year I am headed to Glacier National Park in northwest Montana on the border with Canada. This was a late decision as I had planned to return to Yellowstone and negotiated, what I thought, was a better contract. And then in early April, out of the blue, I got the call from the human resources director for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the new concessionaire at Glacier.

“We would like to steal you away from Yellowstone, John,” the nice lady on the other end of the phone said.

I was flattered. For the first time in a long time I was a hot commodity in the workplace.

I explained to Glacier’s recruiter that I was committed to Yellowstone and had just signed a new contract. I was excited to be moving to a new location — Lake Hotel — the park’s oldest hotel and by far the swankiest facility in hundreds of miles. The Glacier recruiter, however, was relentless.

“John, Lake McDonald Lodge is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and we sure would like you to be a part of that,” she said.

Wow. A Lodge with my family name. How could I not listen to the offer.

I agreed to hear her out and she then proceded to ask me a few general management questions. She was interested in how I would handle certain situations of dispute and what not. They were also aware of my certification by the National Association for Interpretation and all those years of studying French seemed to be finally paying off.

Satisfied with my answers the recruiter said she would call back later with an offer. I returned to writing my gay stories, still planning to return to Yellowstone, yet intrigued by this new development.

I kept David apprised of the situation. The move to South Florida had certainly been a struggle and finding a steady paycheck that offered a fair wage was the goal. We were both still dealing with closing the door up in Panama City, trying to sell a house that was draining us of the proper resources required to make the transition to South Florida a success.

I tried to remain chipper, but my freelancing barely kept gas in the tank and food on the table. I began to lose weight from the stress of it all. Living in poverty is truly awful no matter how hard you try to look to the bright side. I could write a book just on my demoralizing experiences at the food pantry.

So when the recruiter from Glacier called back with her offer I was stunned. They wanted me in management at a salary I had not received in what seemed like forever. I accepted immediately and called Yellowstone with the news. They understood.

If there is one thing I have learned — and learned well — through the last six years of my walk through poverty, it is grace. I know, deeply, what it is like to have nothing and to be invisible to society. I know the hurt of shame, the yearning of hope and the compassion of community. While soul crushing as this journey has been at times, I believe it has made me a better person. Stronger and much wiser.

I now leave for a summer to work in my fortress of solitude. Eager to see what life throws at me next.

 





Canyon Cures

11 08 2013

My Yellowstone experience has definitely picked up since transferring to Canyon. I’m now working at the corrals which are 12-hour days that go fast because I’m so busy. I enjoy being around the horses and wranglers. It can get a little hectic, trying to get our guests on a scale to be weighed, but I manage without too much protest. For a fleeting moment, I considered doing this again next year. Another year in the park would be much different, provided I had a vehicle.

Surprisingly, I’ve been given a company car since the corrals are a mile up the road. It’s an old, white Chevy Cavalier. So old it still has a cassette player. Nevertheless, it gets me from point A to B just as my very own Cavalier did not too long ago. At one time in my life, I drove a 1999 silver Cavalier. It was the first car I ever purchased on my own and it was a damn good one. I bought it in Dothan, Alabama while working as a sports writer for the Dothan Eagle. I remember my dad coming to town to help me with the process, but refusing to co-sign despite prodding from my mother. I also remember being slightly aggravated with this decision. Still, I bought the car with help from a local bank and, years later after I paid off the loan, dad’s decision made perfect sense. He wanted me to establish my own line of credit.

And then greed crept in.

Not satisfied with a car that ran fine and was paid off, I sold the Cavalier and used the money to make a payment on a brand spanking new Honda Element. Along with greed it was an obvious overcompensation for something and I wish I knew what. I was in a problematic relationship at the time and trying to play the “Big Daddy” role — ultimately failing miserably. About a year and half after foolishly parting with the Cavalier, the Repo Man came calling for the Element, taking it in the middle of the night. It was early 2009. I had not quite hit rock bottom yet. But I was falling fast.

Four years later and I’m in Yellowstone — driving an older model Cavalier than the one I once owned — to a corral where I sell horse rides by the hour. Much poorer, much wiser, much happier.

Canyon life has been much better than Old Faithful for several reasons, none of which pertain to lodging or food. Old Faithful has the amenities, but Canyon has the charm. It’s a closer knit group here, far away from the over-regulated geyser basins. At Canyon, the atmosphere is laid back and easy going. We’re thick in the woods here. On my first night, I heard howling wolves in the distance. I’ve seen bear, bison and moose while hiking on nearby trails and we’re so deep into the wilderness, the news of the day (USA Today) doesn’t arrive until noon. Two of my colleagues from training are also here — Ashly and Kirk. Ashly is a quiet girl from Indiana who recently graduated college. We split the hours at the corrals. Kirk is from Georgia, in his 50s and comes from a distinguished Atlanta family. He’s a Tea Party supporter so we do not discuss politics much. Thankfully, Kirk gave me a crash course on the Canyon when I arrived. The area is incredibly diverse with towering waterfalls, a huge canyon with yellow stone walls, hidden lakes, scattered thermal features and wildlife abounds.

I’m rooming with another Asian, a nice kid from Taiwan. My previous roommate in Old Faithful was a gay 22-year-old Singaporean graphic artist with an obsession for Pokemon. He left without saying a word. I transferred to Canyon the following day.

I was definitely wounded when I arrived in Canyon. The summer has been challenging, at times it has been downright cruel.

And then I met Ann.

It was a difficult time for both of us, one might even say we were brought together by depression. I had signed up for the recreation center’s trip to Gardiner to see the Montana Shakespeare Company perform “Theater in the Park.” I did this not so much out of a strong desire to see theater, but more of along the lines of enjoying the drive to Gardiner and the incredible scenery of Dunraven Pass. There were nine of us on the trip. I was the only male. I noticed Ann’s accent right away and for a second presumed she could be French. Even better, as it turned out, she hails from Italy, a beautiful country which I visited for the first time this past January.

Theater Goers in Gardiner, Montana

Theater Goers in Gardiner, Montana

We talked the entire way to Gardiner. Once there we learned that thunderstorms had forced the outside performance to be moved into a nearby school cafeteria. The play was “The Recruiting Officer,” a peculiar work by Irish writer George Farquhar. Ann said she did not understand much of what was said. The accents were “Old English” and much of the theatrics were over the top with the obligatory gender bending roles that one comes to expect from a Shakespeare troupe.  All and all, it was a pleasant evening. Ann and I talked all the way back to the Canyon. Two days later we would go on our first hike together — learning more about each other. Step by step.