Monday, March 22, 2010

How to Lose a "Conversation" with a Ranger

Yesterday was one of those days.

It was snowing at Paradise - and in the 30's - and people were showing up to snowshoe in shorts and flip-flops.

I led the first showshoe hike. It was a good group, engaged and having a good time. And we had some good questions/comments at the desk in the JVC.

Until the late-ish afternoon.

I was cornered by a gentleman in his 60's who needed to talk to someone. Generally, I love hearing people's stories, adventures, and what keeps bringing them back to the park.

But not this guy. Because he said he hated hiking, hated camping, hated skiing and snowshoeing. In fact, he hated snow itself. But because he was active in the military, he "had" to bring his guys up here frequently over the past 20+ years for hikes and runs that were "incentives" for doing good. What a sucky job.

Of course, he was up here on this day being a tour guide for some friends for Texas - who were very nice - and fascinated by the snow. But he was determined to NOT enjoy himself.

Ok, so why wasn't he talking to his friends? I've got a pretty good idea why.

He sidled up to the desk - which I was staffing alone at the time - and decided to tell me his career history, rank (etc.) in the military, and why he was a hiking expert for Mount Rainier. He knew which trail was the worst experience.

Now, those of you that have had any sort of customer service job know how this goes. You get to smile, nod, and be a captive audience.

But it gets worse.

It all started when he looked at me full-on and declared that I was 1/3 of his age. I laughed and said that, if that were true, he would be at least 105 years old. He rolled his eyes and continued the patronizing. He decided to tell me which trails to hike.

I think I was starting to lose it by this point. In my best-controlled authoritarian voice, I said roughly the following: "Sir, why do you think I haven't hiked any of the trails in this park?"

He paused and looked at me sideways, didn't answer, and kept on his lecture.

So I repeated my question.

This got him. He described how seasonal park employees get assigned to one small quadrant of the park and they never leave that quadrant. When they roves trails, they hike the same one mile stretch over and over, and then sit in an office the rest of the time.

At which point I told him that I wasn't a seasonal employee.

Regardless of his inaccurate stereotype of seasonal rangers, he assumed things about me. Things that were not correct. I did NOT tell him I was an intern. I simply told the gentleman that I have been working in this park for more than a year.

He acted shocked and asked me what I do to keep myself busy at work.

I told him that, during the school year, my main duties involve working with schools, students and children that visit the park. I also substitute for the interpretive operations as they need people. In the summer, I work with our curriculum development projects and also interpretive operations.

"What's interp? Oh, you mean the rangers that work in visitor centers." Yeah, that's it.

"So where do the seasonals work?"

"Right here, sir. You see, in the summer time, we have far more people visiting the park. In fact, the entire park is accessible (as opposed to winter time when some of the roads aren't plowed and the east side of the park is basically closed and/or inaccessible). So we have a much larger park staff in the summer."

"So what do the seasonals do in the winter?"

"Sir, they only work during the busy season. They aren't here in the winter. That's why they're called seasonals."

At this point, a co-worker returned to the desk and about snorted out his coffee.

After a few more minutes of this, the phone rang. Ranger Casey purposely didn't answer it and walked away, so I could hopefully answer it, thus getting away from my special park visitor.

Well, clearly, this man wasn't mad at my responses. He kept coming back for more. Through three more phone calls.

He also tried to tell me how to out-run bears.

The problem was that he described running away from brown bears in Alaska (where he was apparently stationed for several years). Given that brown bears can run 30-35 miles per hour, I think the man was slightly off-balance. Can YOU run a 2-minute mile?

He then told me more stories that clearly showed me he didn't know how to behave around our country's large mammals.

Word to the Wise: Just don't tell rangers things like that. And please, don't tell us about your perfect knowledge of bear biology when you can't tell the difference between black and brown bears.

Rangers remember things like this. It's where we get the stories that go into books like this.


At the end of the day, as we were driving back down the hill, Casey said that he was glad I had to deal with the special 3-star general. Casey is ex-military himself, and suggested this man needed someone to stand up to him. Mr. General was used to only getting "Yes sir!"s and "How high must I jump, sir?!"s. And to have it be a woman to stand up to him was even better for him. Casey would have told him where to go.

God I'm good. ;)

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