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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.

Nor is it the less-than-godly hygiene of the place, or even the mediocre pizza. It’s more what I would call the Koyaanisqatsi Effect, a deep nausea brought on watching this giant sloppy machine spew out unhealthy fodder hour after hour. As a shift wears on, the pizzas start looking uglier and uglier, and the beer looks more and more beautiful. By the end of the week I want to stick my head out the pick-up window and scream at the top of my lungs, “SOYLENT GREEN IS PIZZA!”

There’s a spot on a ledge, not even a 45-minute walk from the deck, where you can sit and look out and not see a manmade object beyond the soles of your boots, not hear a sound above the thunder of the waterfall. It’s no big secret, the Devil’s Bathtub. Raymond could Google it from the cabin and find it. It’s a quiet little spot two steps off the beaten path, a favorite of employees who come to sunbathe in their spare time. As the summer progresses, the rocks absorb the sun’s heat, and the water that runs down the curved granite and pools in the bottom can get downright tepid, hence the name.

Sitting there, just above treeline, surveying the rock walls and conifers around me, it wouldn’t take much effort to convince myself that I’m witnessing the valley as it looked 200 years ago. But even that is more effort than I want to expend. I don’t need to cook up any fantasies to experience the healing effects of this dignified view. In a few short hours I’ll catch the 4:15 bus to Merced, back into the maw of civilization. For now, to surround myself with trees and clouds and rocks and waterfalls is to quietly leach some of the poison of civilization from my soul.

And then there’s only one question left to ask: “Can I have that to go?”

Larry Gallagher normally toils as a journalist to fund his musical ambitions.

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