Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I realized the only way I'm going to actually write these things that I want to write is to not worry about any sort of order and just throw them out as they occur to me.

So, Glenn.

I moved to Grand Canyon, Arizona in May 1999. I moved there because I no longer wanted to live in Pittsburgh near my parents. Also, I fell deeply deeply in love with the Southwest United States on a family road trip in 1995. The hot, dry air, the subtle colors of the rocks and sand, the surprisingly varied plants - from Ponderosa Pine to short and spiky yucca. And the Grand Canyon herself... The Canyon seemed like a religion to me. You know, a religion that wouldn't make me want to beat my head against the wall or go out a shoot someone. A pretty damn rare and special kind of religion.

Sadly, I've never been especially good with religion, and I never quite made it into the ranks of the True Believers, which is partly why I left the Grand Canyon in May 2001. But that's not really relevant to this little essay which I'm pretending is about someone I once knew who made a lasting impression on me.

So. Glenn. Glenn was one of the leads (like a supervisor) at the Bright Angel Transportation Desk (the BAT desk - hah). Unlike the myriad employees of the concessionaire who sported name tags proclaiming origins of "Iowa", "Indiana", "Pennsylvania", or "France", Glenn's read "Arizona", though to be more precise, it could have just as easily read "Navajo Nation". And also unlike the mostly transient employee base, Glenn, like many of the other Navajo employees, were much more permanent residents and workers.

When I started working at BA Trans, Glenn had been there for five years. He'd been in the park for 10. This in a place where the average length of employment ran about 2 months. He didn't speak to me. He rarely made eye contact when he did speak in his low and steady, nearly-monotone voice, and he said the most appalling things to the guests. At least, as far as I was concerned.

One morning, a couple approached the desk and asked if the weather was going to hold for their overnight mule trip to Phantom Ranch. "Let me consult my crystal ball," Glenn replied. The thing I heard him say most often was, "Ma'am (or sir), you need to calm down. I'm trying to help you." As part of my training, I went on that particular overnight trip and had to listen to this couple complain about how rude Glenn had been to them.

Of course, after 2 years of dealing with similar questions, I couldn't believe how calm he managed to remain. We never had a close friendship, but I know we appreciated each other's competence at the job. Most likely because competence was in ridiculously short supply.

If you listened carefully, you might have realized that the man had a wicked sense of understated humor, and that he always called 'em like he saw 'em. He would not hesitate to tell you if he thought you were wrong, or being an idiot. He was never late for a shift (shockingly rare trait in the staff there) and he never made any of the tragic mistakes that some of the other leads did (like overbooking or letting guests with questionable English skills go on the mule trip). Of course, by the time I got there, he had spent five years at the job, so maybe his mistakes had been ironed out by then. I do know that while guests complained about his rude treatment (as they perceived it), they never complained that he gave them incorrect information. I saw him spend hours at a time trying to help visitors with travel problems or reservation difficulties. He wasn't perky about it, but he really would do everything in his power to solve a problem.

And even though, when a mutual friend and former coworker stopped in for a visit at the Canyon (yes, Glenn's still there), Glenn claimed not to remember who I was, I still remember him fondly, with just a tinge of exasperation.