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November/December 2005

Yosemite @ $7.38 An Hour: Seasonal Work in the National Parks

Our scribe-turned-pizzaman labors in the land of granite and pulls back the curtain on the seasonal-employment fantasy.

“Welcome to Hell!”

Thus spake my new boss, Eric, greeting me amidst the fiery furnaces of the Curry Village Pizza Deck. He can’t say it with a straight face, so I know I’m not entering any kind of real inferno, just one of many attractions here in Nine Circles Yosemite. Our particular ordeal entails feeding the insatiable beast, a centipede-like creature with 50 mouths and a hundred legs forever pressing up against the counter hungering for hot dogs and Bud Light and pepperoni pies.

And anyway, I’m pretty certain that Dante’s sweaty epic lasted more than a week, which is how long I’ll be here to experience one of the most-fantasized-about employment opportunities in the great outdoors: the summer job in Yosemite National Park. In prime tourist season, the employee rolls here nearly double. The increase reflects an influx of mostly young people, many of them hikers and climbers, most of them exuberant about the notion of a golden season scaling those legendary rock faces, tramping that backcountry, sleeping under those incense cedars. If I could do it again, I’d happily trade away the crummy summer jobs of my college years–washing K-cars at my dad’s Dodge dealership in the Bronx, juicing oranges at a Manhattan health club–for a season in Yosemite. It’s too late for that now, but I made the trip from my San Francisco home to try and glimpse the reality behind the dream.

There will be time to explore the nuances of that dream, but for the moment I have a job to do. Eric seems genuinely glad to see me. His crews have been chronically understaffed as of late, and he’s due for a break himself. He skips the ten-cent tour and brings me to the front window. “These are the pagers. The pizzas are in that glass box. I’ll be back. If you’ve got any questions, ask Boris.”

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