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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.

My cabin is in a complex called Lost Arrow, a set of 40 or so cookie-cutter huts and a couple of trailers sitting on asphalt against the backdrop of Yosemite Falls–an internment camp with a million-dollar view. People fly halfway across the world to glimpse the vista I behold when I get up in the night to pee.

On a noose, dangling in the doorway as I enter the cabin, is a Mr. Burns action figure, from The Simpsons, with the letters “DNC” written across his bald pate. It is comforting that my employers didn’t try to cherry-pick me a roommate who had even a neutral attitude toward the company (or maybe they just couldn’t find one). Raymond is a lost arrow, to be sure. He’d come from a farming town outside Fresno two years before with his first girlfriend. But a year later she switched campgrounds, and loyalties, for a platform tent across the valley and a new sweetheart. Raymond hasn’t gotten over the shock, but they worked out a truce: He never goes across to Curry Village, and she never sets foot in Lost Arrow.

On a hook above his bed hangs a pair of climbing shoes, which he wore the one time he tried climbing. Raymond calls himself a “shut-in,” using strategic self-deprecation to head my judgment off at the pass. But the description is accurate. Everything he cares about in Yosemite is inside those 10-by-10 walls: phone, DSL hookup, TV, and collection of slasher films on DVD. His weekend begins on Tuesdays, and on those days there is not a single time when I return to the cabin that he is not there, AC on, surfing the Web or watching some grim piece of cinema, or doing both at once.

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