>Why I Like My Job

March 21, 2010 at 7:55 am (Uncategorized)

>It’s Spring Break. Meaning the park has about ten times more people arriving than normal. Meaning I felt a little shell shocked the first day of the crunch, with people lined up as far as the eye could see. Well, maybe not that far. Man it felt like the good old art show days, when people would line up at my booth to buy my work. (Pre-recession.) Even though it wasn’t my money, I felt like I was really earning my paycheck that weekend.

The Campgrounds FULL sign went up shortly after noon on that first Saturday, and I dreaded the disappointed looks on the faces of the families and college kids hoping for that peak experience. But that wait at my window gave the message time to sink in, so when they got to me I was able to soften the blow a little with recommendations outside the park. Those coming in later generally had reservations, so I got the full benefit of eager, happy faces. Oh it’s so lovely to see eager, happy faces. They look at me as if I’m such a great person to help them enjoy the park. I do feel adored. I love feeling adored.

So that’s one reason why I like my job.

Another is that we’re Way Out in the Middle of Nowhere, which tends to keep out the riff-raff. Although the Border Patrol may have a different take on that. (Some of the riff-raff stories in a moment.)

And there are some very interesting folk that come through my entrance station here at Persimmon Gap. One kid in a Jesus t-shirt bicycled up in November, toting a trailer behind him with his worldly possessions. Strapped to the outside was a 16×20 matted photograph, which he handed to me. “This is to honor the park’s commitment to reduced artificial lighting,” he said. It was a photograph of star trails over the Chisos Mountains which he had done with a film camera and an 8 hour exposure. He was glad that the clear night skies would be better preserved by the changeover to directional LED outdoor lighting. That photograph now belongs to the park.

In January a wedding party came through. They all had car magnets with the name of the bride and groom on them. The wedding was to be at Ernst Tinaja, which is accessible on a rugged road into the backcountry. I bet it was a neat wedding.

And I mentioned the little kid that wanted to know all about dinosaurs. I just love it when they’re fully engaged in the experience, and don’t have their brains plugged into a video game or an Ipod when they’re here. A lot of these kids sign up for the Junior Ranger program, which means they get a badge and are sworn in, and have a range of activities to do. Wish they had that when I was a kid. (I started a Junior Audubon club when I was a kid, but nobody else cared about birds in my neighborhood.)

We get school groups on a course of study (and play), researchers, Sierra Club volunteers doing trail work, people with pets or kids, or folk like me who love to travel solo. Some people just want to go to Lajitas or Terlingua and don’t realize they have to pay the $20 park fee. I usually soften the blow by telling them it’s the same price as movie tickets for two, but they get more bang for the buck. Perspective.

When I get to go roving, meaning hiking in uniform, I not only get to answer questions people have been saving up for when (and if) they saw anybody who looked like they might know the answer, but I also learn some neat things from them, too.

Then there are some experiences that make park folk wonder about people. Recently some retired volunteers were accosted by a woman who wanted to exchange a book she had bought in another visitor center. They were fairly new and didn’t know how to do it. She heaped loud and vociferous abuse on them, took their names, and threatened dire consequences. Her sister confided in the volunteers that “she does this everywhere she goes. It’s embarrassing.” Gads. A couple of years ago another set of volunteers at the campground tried to find room for a humongous RV- the Greyhound Bus size – and the fellow complained that since he was rich enough to afford such a wheeled palace, the parks had the duty to make sure he had a place to park it. He took their names and threatened to report them. (This is a true story!) We had one guy who spent an inordinate amount of time railing about how he should have the right to shoot a mountain lion in the park if it attacked him. Why he didn’t go to a place where there were no mountain lions, like Iowa, I don’t know. And during Spring Break a family arrived too late for a camp spot and the mother wanted to know if she could buy someone else’s spot from them. As in barge into their campsite and offer them money to leave. (True!) I had a guy a couple of months ago tell me he had an Access pass for his handicapped son, who was not with him, nor could he find the pass – either of which means he cannot get free entry. When I explained that to him he accused me of discriminating against the handicapped. So those are my riff-raff stories.

Sometimes the petty bullpucky of being an employee really gets to me, but people being people, and jobs being jobs, that’s just something I have to endure like everybody else. I have such a low tolerance for it. But aside from those things, it’s the look on the visitor’s faces when I give them tips on a good hiking trail, or help them find a campsite, or answer a difficult question, that makes my job memorable.

In a few weeks I’ll be ending my position here. I’m already feeling a sense of loss over leaving this extraordinary place. But I am also homesick for my house in Maine, and I am thinking of my tulips which will be blooming when I return in early May, and of the leaves which will just be showing on the maples and oaks, and my kitties, and chickens with their little blue eggs. I plan to hit some good birding spots on my way home, and to see my family in Houston and Beaumont once again. I want to visit Kansas, too, since it’s the only state besides Hawaii I have not actually been to.

So stay tuned, as the adventure rolls on!

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1 Comment

  1. Roberta said,

    >Sounds fun – the best of both worlds, Cindy. The uniform is co cool!

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