Thursday, August 06, 2009

Planet North Rim II

I’m not sure why, but the workers are still restless.

One of the problems seems to be that we had no HR manager for the winter hiring season. The general manager’s husband, normally head barkeep, filled in. This couple has been running the North Rim for a while. She started as a server here 11 years ago, and worked her way up to manager. They are both 30 ish, and certainly have the experience. But.

They hired one guy to be both head of Accounting and head of all the Tech stuff, including the complex computer network that interfaces with the food service, the stores and the master reservation system down in Flagstaff AZ. It was two jobs, they hired one guy to do both, already a problem. The guy they hired either has no hustle or is exhausted by the altitude, plus he really doesn’t know the accounting side very well. He has been running on empty, and then he got demoted to hourly tech stuff, and that moved him out of his private cabin into the dorms. After returning from a trip to town to see the Dr., he went to the new room and found only a mattress there. He spent the night lying under his jacket and left this AM. Sure doesn’t seem like a good way to treat a grown-up.

As I ponder and question people about this, I’m learning that many decisions about running this place are made by an all powerful and rather cranky entity known as Corporate. As in” Corporate” decided to combine the IT and Accounting job to save money. Or the budget for people to work the Front Desk was cut by Corporate, and so on. I’m guessing that although the North Rim is still full of paying customers, the resort industry as a whole is taking a pretty big hit, and belts are getting new holes in them.

Talking to folks who have been here for several season, I learn that the high turnover is actually pretty normal among the younger workers, and that few are surprised that people leave or are moved around. It is only for the summer, so few of us have much to lose or gain by sticking it out when it gets too tough.

I have finally recovered from a nasty sinus infection, my excuse for not writing. We stayed put on the weekends and didn’t do much worth noting.

We did have visitors, our friends who live in Fairplay CO came for 4 days, staying in the Airstream and geocaching and jeeping around in the woods while we worked, then we went touring around with them and ate in the Lodge. They then went off to Vegas, he plays in poker tournaments.

The weather was very chilly until just last week (last in June) which discouraged us from going out and doing stuff too, but now it’s great.

Last Sunday, my birthday, we drove out to Point Sublime, a 20 mile trip on dirt roads that challenged Darth’s 4x4 skills. There are endless points and ridges that stick out into the canyon. The South Rim has developed these, but up here it is usually a long dirt road drive. Point Sublime is breathtaking,

you can see a bit of the river in one place, and at another viewpoint, the top limestone layer is dramatically eroded.

Excellent wildflowers, blue lupines so thick in the woods it looked like blue smoke,

magenta cactus blooming right on the edge of the canyon, and an enormous agave on the verge of blooming.

We had our lunch, and drove home by yet another dirt road, and then I got taken to the fancy Lodge dining room for dinner as the sun set over the canyon ! He will, apparently, still feed me.

This Sunday, we did a geocaching tour, exploring more of the back roads in the Kaibab National Forest, and then drove back towards Page, along our route in. There were so many places I wished I had photos of, the Vermillion Cliffs, a tall red Rampart with a wide green valley at its feet,

the distant folds of the canyon, and the dark pine covered Kaibab plateau that is our home at the North Rim.

We went for one short hike through the multicolored badlands at the base of the cliffs, dramatic colors, heavily eroded, and each height crowned with petrified wood, in chunks, but lying as the ancient tree fell.

It was pretty hot work, but a great taste of what this low valley is like on the ground, not wistfully from the window of the truck.

Several weeks ago, we went into St. George, the closest (150 miles) town with a lot of stores. We needed a new regulator for the propane system, and so took the excuse to go shopping. Walmart is Walmart.

On the way, we went to Pipe Spring National Monument. This is a restored ranch house/fort that was owned by the Mormons and run as a tithing ranch, where work was done for the church in lieu of cash. Cattle, and milk cows and sheep ran here, as on all the Arizona Strip, the wide valley north of the Grand Canyon. When the Mormons came here, the grass was lush and belly high to a cow, a rancher’s paradise, but overgrazing and drought have ruined the topsoil, and little can grow here, but weeds, and sagebrush. The Pipe Spring, a gusher of water is surrounded by the thick stone walls, and channeled through the building as a spring house, and then out to an improbable pair of ponds. Water in this part of the world is gold.

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.