Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Final Geyser X Eruption

For the people still wondering why I stopped working in Yellowstone and hoping for more Yellowstone photos, this is the long explanation. Though a few people in the park figured out who I was from reading greentangle, I always tried to be relatively discreet. I still don’t feel any need to use names, but this is going to be a lot more open about things which happened during my last couple years in the park and what followed. A less bitter, more reflective post about the park will probably follow--I’ve thought of a post featuring my favorite Yellowstone photos—but after keeping this crap in for years, it’s past time to get rid of it for good even though I sometimes felt I was whining while writing it. There are other employers in and near the park which might be part of the future, but I’m done with this one.

This fall, I applied for a job in the Reservations department where I had worked for three years. I was hoping that under a new manager the department might be more like the customer service oriented one where I was considered one of the better employees in my first two years, where I loved working and sharing my knowledge of the park, got lots of positive feedback from the people who spoke to me on the phone, and had a manager who asked me what it would take for me to stay in his department rather than return to my other seasonal job in the Accounting department. 

I knew that was almost certainly an unrealistic hope and thought it likely that I wouldn’t be interested after speaking with the new manager. I didn’t get the chance to make that decision because instead of a call, I received a form email that they weren’t hiring me; I then withdrew my application for a position I knew I had no chance of getting in another department. I can’t help but be curious who made the decision and based on what--there were several possible reasons to not rehire me, some legitimate and my responsibility, others complete bullshit. I’ll write about them in the order they occurred. 

During my second year working in the Accounting department I started talking with a full timer (known as Lola to long-time readers of Hard Wood to Whittle) working there. Our first connection was her dog and then our shared enthusiasm for New Orleans and its music. I was more than ten years older, probably double her weight, and hadn’t been involved with anyone for years so I didn’t seriously expect anything to develop between us, but there was some definite chemistry and I did start to feel more alive than in a long time. At one department meal, I sat at an empty table and she joined me followed by her friends and surrounded by all the younger, most attractive women in the department, I felt like I was in my twenties again. It was nice but from the beginning there was a lot of back and forth and game playing in her attitude, and when she sent an email that she wouldn’t get together for beers anymore because she wasn’t interested, I was fine with it even though I thought we had decided on friendship the last time we’d gotten together.

Months later I was told by someone who had worked with her that she deliberately pushed people away with the intention of reuniting. So maybe that’s what the email was about, but I know things started getting ugly when I no longer showed interest in talking with her. There was at least one scheme involving another employee/friend of hers trying to set us up to spend time together on a department outing, comments made loudly enough for me to hear from her office and as she passed my desk such as questioning my testosterone level (as if that was the only possible reason for not pursuing her). Sparing most of the details, we managed to have the worst breakup I’ve ever experienced and we didn’t even bother to have the relationship first. 

After three years I was tired of the job I had anyway and to get away from her I planned to take a different job at the other end of the office for my fourth year. But it became clear that wasn’t going to be far enough away to avoid putting up with behavior I was sick of. I told my supervisor (who was already aware of the situation) I thought it would be best for everyone if I didn’t come back. When questioned, I again made clear I was leaving because of one person. I was not the only person to stop working in the office due to her. Maybe I should have pushed for someone to talk to her, or contacted her ex in Human Resources, but the fact is that everyone in the office knew why I was leaving and did nothing to change the work environment. I still didn’t want to cause a problem for her and just wanted to be done with all the hassle, not start more. So I figured I’d just go work at my Reservations job for both seasons—the only problem was that I had no idea how bad things were going to get there.

Unfortunately, in my last year working in Reservations with a new manager it became a pushy sales job (pushy of both callers and employees—my supervisor was a friend who suggested I should apply for a different position and told me that upper management was really pushing sales) where I was shown less respect than an employee who didn’t show up without calling a couple times when she was hungover or another who hung up on callers he didn’t want to deal with. The department was run like a tacky call center with contests and prizes for those who squeezed the most extra money out of tourists. When a supervisor job opened, that manager also did not hire a former employee as a supervisor who was infinitely more qualified than the person who was hired—qualifications weren’t as important as being in the clique.

A couple times the manager told me that jobs change, but more than two years later the job description posted still deceives people into thinking they’re applying for a customer service job which is why I took the time to apply last fall. The word “sales” is not used once, although the department started sporadically paying commissions after I left.

I fulfilled my long contract but admittedly, between work conditions, a government shutdown of the park which prohibited hiking on trails, norovirus brought to the park by a tour bus, and the pressures I’d been under for the previous two years, I was getting pretty surly in my final week. I recall when one woman made a positive comment about working together, I snarled before apologizing and explaining that I was thinking of the department, not her individually.

A month before I left the park, I stopped by Lola’s office after not speaking all year, and making sure there were witnesses to what I said so there wouldn’t be more lies told about me, asked if she wanted to make peace before I left or leave it as is. She chose the latter—not a surprise or disappointment; just something I felt I needed to offer.

I was fairly certain in those last weeks that I wouldn’t ever be back. Not allowed in the backcountry due to the shutdown, I walked roads and ran into a high-up walking his dog. We talked for a minute about this not being the way I wanted to end my time there and he said that the park had a way of bringing people, including him, back after they’d left. 

As I was leaving for the last time, the local HR person casually asked when he’d see me back. I said that it had been a very bad year, that I didn’t know if I’d ever be back, and made an obscure reference to the reason I’d left Accounting for a lower paid, less respected job.

Over the past two years, I did try to get back to working in the park, but made some mistakes along the way. The following summer, to prove a point to my former roommate, I applied to Accounting knowing I wouldn’t be hired. I assumed they’d reject me and send the application back to HR to be forwarded to Retail which I’d listed as my second choice. What I hadn’t expected was that Accounting would hold onto the application so long that by the time I contacted HR, discovered the situation, and requested it be sent on to Retail, all the longer seasonal jobs were filled and working in the park wasn’t economically feasible for me. The following winter (when it’s much more difficult for anyone to get a job) I applied for a kitchen job at isolated by snow Old Faithful only—at that point, I still wasn’t willing to work at Mammoth again and deal with the people there. The next summer, I was offered a Retail job, but after accepting it I later turned it down (with a couple months’ notice) due to health and other concerns.

The past winter and summer applications were for Reservations. In getting the Old Faithful Inn ready to open last spring, the company exposed about a dozen workers to asbestos. One of them was someone I’d worked with in Reservations who in frequent conversations detailed his subsequent battles with the company and mentioned that I’d known him long enough to know he could be vindictive. Since we ceased all contact after disagreements about the killing of the grizzly last summer, hunting, and what the park should be, his relationships with several people in Reservations could be a factor as well.

A couple final general notes. This year, expected to be extremely busy due to the NPS centennial, the company claims that to recognize “the extraordinary efforts employees will be making to provide legendary hospitality during this high-traffic season” they will be paying all seasonal hourly employees an extra $2 an hour. The catch is that it only applies from September 15th to October 19th, when the busiest months will be past and many of the employees have already left. I sure hope the right-wing billionaire who owns the company can afford it.

Finally, in a nod to the idiots currently fighting for freedom by occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon, it’s worth noting that one of the company’s highest officers in the park had no problem thinking that states should take over federal land while he was working and living in Yellowstone.

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