From the Blog

When I Turned 21, Part Two

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Right. So, dark gas station parking lot in the middle of the desert in Cedar City, Utah, waiting for a cab. I had been traveling all day from Massachusetts to Utah. It sounds like something horrible should have happened, like with guns or alligators or cowboys or something. I was alone! In the dark! In the desert! Thousands of miles from home! But nothing happened. The cab came, picked me up, drove me to my hotel.

The next day, someone from the park concessioner, my new employer, made the 183 mile (Google says six hours) drive from the North Rim to pick me up. At the time, the concessioner was TW Recreational Services, which was bought by Xanterra in 1995. They also owned Fred Harvey’s, which is still the name you’ll see in almost all the national parks. The North Rim Lodge is now run by Forever Resorts.

The North Rim is remote. It’s not easy to get to. At the time I was there, the North Rim got only 10% of all the visitors to the park. It’s just the giant historic lodge, some cabins, a motor inn-type hotel, a campground and a camp store. There are no supermarkets or fast food restaurants. All the employees lived in dorms or cabins in the woods. Many employees had already been working since the beginning of the season. I was arriving in late May, so therefore, a latecomer.

The people who worked on the North Rim came from all over the world. We all wore name tags with our names and our home state or country. There was a guy from Scotland dating a woman from Australia. There was a new agey couple who traveled all over the country in their converted school bus. There were hippies, stoner kids, and nameless sorts of people who seemed to be on the run from the law.

I was assigned a tiny room in a dorm with two heavy metal girls who were BFFs. They seemed much younger than me. Displeased at having to share their room with a new girl with no friends, and making the easy calculation that I was not “cool,” they immediately ostracized me. Dorm life again.

I was assigned a job bussing tables in the dining room. It was one of the better jobs, since it was a tipped position. The morning shift began at 5:30 am. In order to make the shuttle to the employee cafeteria to eat breakfast, I had to get up at 4 am something. Early. Stupid early. Insane early. Especially for a 20 year old.

My first couple of shifts, I realized what I had gotten myself into. Even being energetic and young, the air was thin at over 8000 feet, and at first, I got tired easily. The lodge dining room was always packed for dinner and was so poorly orchestrated, that even with reservations, the wait would typically be an hour. By the time guests sat down to their tables, they were frequently pissed off. Many of the servers were friendly and nice, but there were a couple of bat shit loonies. The food was delivered, and the dirty dishes were bussed with big serving trays hoisted up on shoulders. There were many spectacular crashes of over-laden trays in the kitchen and dining room.

But the dining room looked right over the canyon, and the view would quickly melt away all of the buzzing and chaos behind the scenes. If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, it is hard to explain how enormous it is. Distances are unfathomable. The North Rim is the higher, wetter, more forested side of the canyon. Arguably, the view from the North Rim is more dramatic.

The dining shift would end close to midnight. With the shuttle back to the dorm, I would get to bed near one in the morning. Occasionally, we would have a breakfast shift scheduled the next day. It was then I realized how it felt to hear the alarm go off at 4 am something, and think it must be a mistake. Or a cruel joke.

It was not long, maybe a couple weeks, before I was calling my parents, asking to come home. I was getting to know coworkers and getting accustomed to running around in the dining room. But I had crappy work shoes that made my fallen arches hurt like a disability. And three hours of sleep between shifts was insane even for a spry youngster. And my bitchy heavy metal roommates made it hard to come home to my tiny dorm room.

This was not at all what I had bargained for. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it through the whole summer. I called my parents from the dorm payphone and asked to come home.

My parents told me to suck it up. They said I would be disappointed later if I didn’t stick it out. But, I was disappointed right then! I didn’t need to wait to be disappointed! I was super fricken disappointed! Why did I think going someplace by myself, millions of miles from home, in a remote wilderness…why did I ever think this was a good idea?

I wanted to come home. My parents told me to stick it out. Goddamnit.

Previously, Part One. Next, Part Three.


  1. You’re an awfully good storyteller, lady.

  2. Thanks, Holly! Thanks for reading!

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