Thursday, August 06, 2009

Planet North Rim

The North Rim is still lovely and isolated, the Canyon majestic and moody, and the news always a little “other”. Some who are drawn to this place, either to visit or work, are slightly off center.

The week we got here, three young male hikers decided to ignore the signs warning of the danger of swimming in the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon, and were swept away to their deaths. First of all, the water comes out of the bottom of the dam at Lake Powell at a frigid 45-52 degrees, allowing only minutes before you are incapacitated by the cold. Secondly, the water rushes by hard and fast ( 4 mph- 3.5 knots) in a great hurry to deepen the canyon some more, and will knock the legs out from under you. It’s hot down there, and I guess the temptation after a day of hiking is just too much.

We have had three hikers come up out of the canyon and go off in the ambulance, exhaustion and heat prostration, and a father and son got into a fist fight over pizza at the deli and had to be escorted back to the campground by the NP Rangers. Our rustic paving and unlit stairs have caused two older folks to go off in the ambulance from falls.

The deli manager quit because he was wrongly promised he could cook, the head chef quit because the ordering dept didn’t buy enough food, and about a dozen of the folks hired to wash dishes and make the beds are gone, some because it is very hard work, and some because this just wasn’t their windmill to tilt at. One young man used the office computers illegally for surfing and now two are dead of a virus, and another was so drunk he nearly fell into the canyon in front of guests. And, most incomprehensible to me, another young man got drunk and defecated all over two of the sitting areas in the employee housing.

The public is here in droves, no slackening due to the weak economy here. Our cabins, and the campground are full every night and we continue to turn away people who have driven 150-300 miles without checking for availability. I have gone through 500 US postcard stamps, and 350 overseas stamps, and had to ink up my North Rim hand cancel stamp twice. I would guess that we have slightly more guests from Germany, some of them so glad to see a post office that they buy 45 or 50 stamps at a pop at 98 cents each. We have many guests on one end or the other of hiking from Rim to Rim, and many others who dress as though they are, but can hardly get up the hill to the parking lot at 8,800 feet.

Don’s post as the Front Desk Manager is proving very hard work for long hours. He has two assistants who are young and not very reliable, and a crew of 12 hardworking ladies who do a great job. This last week he has put in several 12 hour days trying to cope with loosing two computer stations and the ire of guests whose cabins are not cleaned by the promised 4:00PM. Nothing he can do about either, but staying and calming is important, especially for his “guest agents” who are mostly new to this.

The housekeeping staff problem is such a microcosm of the work world in the US. The job is an 8 hour day at $7.50 an hour. Room and board at $12 are deducted, and transportation to work and to town for shopping is provided. It is hard work, the cabins are supposed to be cleaned, beds changed, and supplies refilled in 12 minutes, which requires a lot of hustle. At the beginning of the season, folks from other departments were dragged in, and they were exhausted after a day of it. I know that Human Resources ( do humans come from a mine ?) is out trolling for more workers, but a voice in my head keeps suggesting that a good busload of illegal and grateful immigrants would be a solution.

My day is full of filling out forms, computing postage on packages and helping to tape them, and selling tons of stamps. It doesn’t sound like hard work, and a lot of people wish they had my job, but the truth is I am standing up and busy busy busy for most of the day, and often doing serious number work which does not come easily to me. I have no cash register and making change is sometimes a struggle when people try to help by putting in some change to “make it easier”. It is embarrassing. Most people have at one time in their lives had to deal with money, but not me. I do like the people meeting part, retired post office workers marvel at my tiny closet of a Post Office, people take my picture through the grating over the window, and I get to watch the endless parade outside as folks arrive, explore and leave. I get to practice my foreign languages, and joke and answer questions and generally be jolly and helpful which I enjoy.


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