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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.

Luckily, Raymond isn’t afflicted with the need to export his misery, and I inadvertently benefit from his paralysis. Since he rarely ventures outside the cabin, he has no use for the beater bicycle leaning outside the door. Riding the bike, I can get anywhere in the valley in under 15 minutes, thus sparing me the pain of waiting for the shuttle.

My mobility allows me to explore the other employee subcultures. Behind Yosemite Lodge is an agglomeration of trailers known as Trainwreck, reputedly full of hardened lifers. Huff and Terrace are considered the most civilized locales; residents of these facilities must sign a paper agreeing to the 24-hour quiet policy or be shipped elsewhere.

On the other end of the social spectrum is Boys’ Town. The prevailing ethos in the colony of platform tents adorned with Billy Idol posters and Tibetan prayer flags can be summarized in two words: Par Tay. This year, the snowmelt-engorged Merced River has flooded the campsite, and the sandbags that line its paths suggest you’re walking onto the set of a ‘Nam musical. But the plastic palm tree sitting in a mud lagoon tells you that at least it’s a comedy. The easy social scene that characterizes valley life is most pronounced here. Meeting someone twice is sufficient grounds for a conversation. By the third exchange, you’re old friends. After a few days it feels as if I know more people in Boys’ Town than I do in San Francisco. You might even call it collegiate–if they have colleges where nobody ever cracks a book, and every night is the day after the last final, and enrollment brings honorary membership into the High Sierra chapter of the Future Alcoholics of America.

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