A Park Tale
And now, a little anecdote from my job as a Visitor Use Assistant (cashier) at Mt. Rainier National park
It was a Saturday, and that means busy. If you’re the kind of person who likes to visit National Parks (or would like to become the kind of person who likes National Parks) let me give you a bit of advice from an insider: never go to a National Park on a weekend. Just don’t. I don’t care how tough it is to get a Tuesday or Thursday off; if you can’t come on a weekday you should probably just forget the whole. Especially if the weather is going to be nice. Today’s forecast was sunny, which meant that from 9:30 onward the line of cars would be stretched out of sight.
Normally in my line of work we take time with each individual visitor, answer their questions, give them useful information, and laugh politely at their terrible jokes. On a sunny Saturday, however, we have one priority: get these people through as quickly as possible. Rush them through. Work efficiently so that no movement is wasted. Know the buttons on the register so well that you can ring people up without having to think. Sure some people might feel slighted but trust me; they’d feel worse if they had to wait in line for a half hour.
It was about 3:30 PM when it happened. Traffic had peaked at noon but cars were still piling up. If I didn’t keep an eye on maintaining traffic flow I could end up with a massive line to plow through. Still I was keeping thing moving nicely until a very small and sweet old lady pulled up the window. She was wearing a wide brimmed straw hat to block off the sun and was appeared to be ready for a wonderful time in the park. She opened her purse and removed her Senior Interagency Lifetime Pass. I was glad. The Senior Pass gets you in free of charge, so all I had to do was hand her a map and she’d be on her way.
“Would you like a map?” I asked for the 147th time that day (while somehow still maintaining a chipper tone and broad smile).
“Oh yes.” She said. I held out the map. She took it, smiled gratefully, and said “Can you get to the reflection lakes from here?”
“Yes ma’am, they’re about twenty miles straight up this road. They’ll be on your left.”
“They’re straight up this road here?”
She nodded slowly. “Are they on the map?”
“Yes indeed. They’re right after Paradise; you’ll be able to see them from the road when you get there.”
She nodded again. I glanced out the window and saw that the line was beginning to lengthen behind her, and more were coming to join them.
“Are there any signs for the reflection lakes?” She was oblivious to the growing line.
“Yes, there are several signs, you can’t miss them.” Surely she would leave after that. I gave her my biggest smile.
Then she looked me straight in the face and said “Do the signs say ‘Reflection Lakes’?”
So many sarcastic remarks came to my mind at the same time that they managed to become trapped on their way out, like the Three Stooges trying to go through a door at the same time. No, they say “Grand Canyon”. No, they’re blank because we think everyone deserves a little mystery in their lives. No, we wrote the complete “Declaration of Independence” on both sides because it’s more patriotic. No, each sign has a puzzle that you must solve to unlock the secret of the lake’s location. This wave of sarcasm caused my mind to go almost completely blank, which was good because that prevented me from being rude to a sweet old lady. Instead all I said was “Yes, they say ‘Reflection Lakes’. Have a nice day!” The “have a nice day” was important. It’s the kindest way I have to say “Goodbye, this conversation is over.”
She smiled, thanked me, and went on her merry way. I sighed and got ready for the next visitor. It was a husky man in his thirties with a black goatee and gelled hair.
“Hey, the sign out front says that all the campgrounds are full.”
“Yes sir, we’re all full up. We get pretty busy on the weekends so you should come early if you want to camp.”
He looked straight in the eyes. “So do you think I’ll be able to find a camping spot?”
This was going to be a long afternoon.