Monday, November 29, 2010

For Future Reference

The next time you stay at a hotel here are some things you may want to remember:

1. Be Nice To The Front Desk Clerk. In any job customer service people are blamed for all sorts of things that aren't actually their fault. For example I have been blamed for everything from the location of the hotel, placement of the indoor trashcan, lack of available milk and juice at night, and electronics that do not work. There is actually not much I can do about many of these problems except apologize and perhaps give you a room upgrade/room move (the upgrade/room move would only be for electronics in the room that aren't working). I did not build the hotel here, it is up to the manager where the trashcans go, and the Breakfast Host holds the only set of keys to the dairy fridge and juice machine. I could not get into these things even if I wanted to! What I do have control over are room charges, key distribution, wake-ups calls, phone transfers, bill payments, touristy questions and your overall comfort, but that only goes so far as: if your TV doesn't work or your heater smells funny, I will come and try to fix it. Don't act like I personally sabotaged your TV and/or heater before you arrived.

Furthermore, getting huffy and upset at me in general is not going to do much but raise your blood pressure and put me on the defense. Sure, I will still give you ample customer service, but maybe I won't let you know we have wireless all throughout the building and you can just try to figure that out on your own. When things are a miss I will do all I can to assist you and make you happy. If, however, you continue to act like I am intentionally trying to make your night as stressful as possible, just remember: I may not have the ability to produce juice, but I do have access to the maintenance closet and I do know how to shut the power off to just one room.

2. We Hear Everything. When I first started working here I had a group of three guys come up to the front desk to ask about lengthening their stay (I think I wrote about them in my first hotel post actually). They were very nice and very flirty and when they had finally finished joking around with me at the front desk they headed back to their rooms. The entire lobby area echos and the stairwell especially so as they climbed the stairs I heard loud and clear:

"Damn man, shoulda tapped that."
"I know, man! I know."
"You wanna go down there and ask?"
"Nah, man, nah."
"Ya serious, dude? Ya could get her number."
"Nah, man."
"Man, shoulda tapped that."
"I know, man!"

HA! Lovvvvvveeee it!

3. Don't Creep. Is there a hotel clerk fantasy that I am unaware of? When I was working for the Park Service I sort of understood all the creeping because there's the whole "women in uniform" thing. But a hotel clerk? Don't get me wrong, flirting can be great and there have definitely been some guys here who have just made my day (like the stairwell boys from #2). Then there are the guys who ask how I "like it." I have gotten that question twice and each time I am offered no explanation. They have asked, " do you like it?" completely out of the blue. I then respond, "Like what?" and the man will just smirk and walk away. I am also getting creeped on via phone quite often and am learning that the whole "Georgia from Georgia" thing is being turned on me as a pick-up line. The most recent incident involving phone-creeping was a man from New Jersey who suddenly asked if I was a blonde. Naturally (and stupidly) and said 'yes' and this led to an inquiry as to whether it was long or short. Upon learning that my hair is shoulder length the man kept asking why I don't grow it out to my elbows and how every man would kill for a blonde with long straight hair, etc, etc. He began asking where I was from, if I ever came up to Jersey (by this point I just began making fabricating stuff), and if other girls in the state of Georgia had long hair or not. I was beginning to think I would have to crinkle paper into the phone or something to make him think the connection was breaking up when he finally said, "So, Georgia, what else can you tell me about yourself?" Finally a segue and I said, "Well the hotel I am working for has a rate of 109 tonight. Were you interested in making a reservation?" That finally shut him up and he said he might come down in the summer, that he hoped I would have long hair by then, and hung-up. What. The. Crap.

4. Being Pleasant Will Get You Many Things. Like I was saying in #1, if you're rude you're likely to miss out on some things because a)I might not offer up certain information and will let you go through the trouble of finding it out yourself or b) I may not put in that extra effort to make sure your stay is stellar. This obviously works both ways and if you ARE nice and polite then you are guaranteed to have a great stay. For example, for pleasant guests I have done such things as performed laptop maintenance, given out meal coupons to various restaurants around the area (ask the front desk clerk the next time you're at a hotel because, if we have them, we don't just offer them up to anybody), helped pick which ball of yarn would make the best scarf for each granddaughter (true story), found driving directions to all sorts of non-local areas, and even spell checked a document. So be nice to your hotel clerks, people! Pleaaaasssseeeee. I promise it will only end up benefiting you as well and you may even get to keep all your power on :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Awkward Turtle

Tonight has been a fairly hectic night with various business conferences and FLETC instructors (Federal Law Enforcement Training Centre) checking in. This is also combined with many vacationers making their way down to Florida for Thanksgiving with their family and taking a personal pit-stop on St. Simons. Almost everyone has wanted to talk and gab and ask me why I lack a southern accent and I am happy to entertain them all to the best of my abilities. Then, a short while ago, I checked yet another man in who is in town for business. He grabbed his bags and went down to his room, I went to finally finish my dinner. A few minutes later he came back to the desk saying that neither of his keys worked and he had a feeling someone was in his room because the TV was on. He misinterpreted my incredulous look and said, "I promise I'm not lying." I didn't know what was wrong with his keys, but told him that the TV perhaps turned itself on (like the one my roommates and I had for the past 3 years -- it was always turning itself on). I even checked our box of In House Guests just to double check and sure enough only the business man's sheet was in that particular room's slot.

I went down to the room with him. There was no sound coming from the room and the man shrugged sheepishly. I knocked on the door and said, "Guest services." A male voice responded. I think I actually jumped back from the door. I looked at the guy with me and said, "There is NO way," but of course there was and a lanky older gentleman opened the door. I recognized him immediately as someone I had made an extra room key for earlier in the day. He had told me that it probably wasn't working because he had only planned to stay one night and was told at 11am all 'check out' keys are deactivated. As I was copying his key I asked if he had indeed checked back in and he said yes and then that was that.

*(Something that I believe should be pointed out: the person who has the shift directly before me is Miss Can Do No Wrong Hotel Goddess. She trained me and I have been brought on to slowly replace her as she trains as the hotel Office Manager. She is a very nice girl, but, even though she and I are the exact same age, she is incredibly patronizing and constantly checks my work so that she can point out all the wonderful things I have done wrong. This is why I never once thought to make sure Mr. Lanky was ACTUALLY still check into his room. Even I wouldn't have messed that up.)

The two gentlemen and I stared at each other for a few seconds. I then looked at the man next to me (the just arriving business man) and said, "I'm going to upgrade you." Mr. Lanky asked what was wrong and Business Man showed him his room key, which gave the room number. Lanky looked at me in amazement, "You gave away my room? I thought you liked me!"

"I didn't!" I exclaimed. "The morning person must have. I have no idea what's happening."

"Am I kicked out?" Business Man asked.

"No. YOU get an upgrade."

"I want an upgrade," Mr. Lanky said, smirking.

"What?" I was prepared for yelling, not joking.

"Do I get an upgrade, too?"

" get to stay in your room?"

"But he gets an upgrade."

"Um...we have free coffee and tea? And there might be some oatmeal packets."

"Good enough."

Business Man and I then went back down to the front desk where I updated his reservation and made him new room keys. When he came back through the lobby and half hour later he informed me that this time his room had been empty. Phew!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fires, Dawgs, and Journalists - oh my!

What is with my guests and fires tonight? A few hours ago a man called the front desk saying that when he turned on his TV it began to "smoke and sizzle" and emit a burning smell. I went upstairs to check it and the entire 2nd floor was encased in this smell so I moved his room, made sure the TV was unplugged and then just left it at that. About twenty minutes ago another room called saying that they had turned on their heater and were immediately hit with a burning smell that actually set their fire alarm off. Now, I'm not sure if that last part was true because if any alarm goes off in the building then the unit at the front desk should sound as well and pinpoint the source. Either the front desk unit is faulty or these people are exaggerating, but I went upstairs and was once again met with a fire aroma. What the crap. I moved them, checked the unit and couldn't get it to smoke again, but nonetheless I think I'll close off that room for tonight. Ironically, it is directly across the hall from the room with the burning TV!

Our ice machine is also broken, which is leading to some hilarious incidences of guests getting to watch me struggle to lift a three foot high bag of ice and slam it against a chair to break it apart (I'm using the chair because I have now dented both the wall and the fridge...opps). This has led to both the bag breaking and ice flying everywhere and a few curse words being shouted every now and then when ice either hits me in the face or miraculously finds its way down my shirt.

These events have been made even more dramatic and chaotic by the fact that a man from corporate is currently staying in the hotel and somehow manages to walk by the desk every time something inane happens or someone is complaining of "burning smells." The man seems nice enough, but I'm just waiting to be called into my manager's office tomorrow and told how unprofessional I am.

Oh! Which reminds me -- last weekend marked one of the hotel's epic annual weekends: the Georgia/Florida game. For those of you from up North, the GA/FL game is comparable to the UofM vs Ohio State rivalry, only a bit more intense because now we've got a surplus of rednecks drinking and shouting all in one relatively tiny area (at least compared to when they're all more spread-out). Anywhere within a 200 mile radius of Jacksonville, FL (where the game is played) treats this weekend as if it were a holiday. Hotel rates sky-rocket, everything is decked out in either red and black or orange and blue depending what state you're in (or how brave of a rebel you are) and the entire coastal region becomes one giant frat party. Sounds kind of entertaining until you're part of one of the businesses that will be hosting the tailgaters. Out of our sixty rooms at the Inn we had about five left. There was a 4ft X 3ft football suspended from the ceiling in front of the main desk (oh yeah, that wasn't annoying ), GO DAWGS signs at every corner, DAWG gift bags, and red and black streamers and balloons hung all over the lobby (including the fans!). I'm not quite sure if this overzealous team support is sincere or if it is a way to keep the hotel from getting torched.

Anyways, I digress -- the reason I mention this is because during all the GA/FL weekend preparation madness a man called and began asking me detailed questions about rooms for that weekend: were we all booked up, what were our rates, were we planning any events, is this weekend always looked upon with trepidation or excitement, etc etc. I didn't think anything of it because - as stated in my last post - the phone calls we get here are very odd and people wants to know everything from the type of mattresses we supply to when the hotel was built. Before hanging up (and not making a reservation!) the man asked me for my name and then said, "Thanks for all your help, Georgia! I'm so-and-so from the Georgia Times Union. Good talking to you," and hung-up. Right away I knew that was going to come back and bite me in the ass and sure enough the next day my boss called to ask why I had given a blurb about the weekend without her permission. My god. It's not like it's a secret! And since people ask such detailed questions anyways I never even thought to ask why he was so curious (we even had one woman ask for us to give her the distance from the parking lot to the 1st floor rooms in feet...why?).

Sadly I missed the rest of the GA/FL weekend due to other commitments, but I hear it was quite the show, which included fire alarms being set off due to "certain substances" in non-smoking rooms. My manager told them, "If you're going to smoke at LEAST do it in a smoking room." Ha!

Okie, that's all for tonight! I'll try to write more regularly from now on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm backkkkk!

Hi again! So after a few months of quiet I have decided to start this blog back up. I may not be lost in the literal woods any longer, but I suppose you could say I'm still lost to some degree AND I am still working with tourists. Actually, there's a lot about my new job and old job that coincide so well that I wish they would give me my Park Ranger salary back.

Currently, I am working two jobs: Talbots (boutique clothing store) and Holiday Inn Express. For the purposes of entertainment I'll mainly be writing about the Inn on here because, surprising as it seems, dressing wealthy aged women is just not all that zany. I work the evening shift at the hotel, which I believe is the best shift in order to get to know the guests. They check in anytime after 3pm and then drop by the desk for questions, suggestions, and concerns up until the wee hours of the morning.

Here is a brief synopsis of my time here thus far:

Lesson 1: Phones. Our phone system at the Inn has to be the most impractical technological invention I have ever seen. I really cannot even begin to explain how this phone works, but one thing to note is that it has about three lines, but no way to switch between any of them. If I am on the phone with a guest I will here a brief chirp come from the consul. I can put Person #1 on hold and hit the 'Answer' button to get the call, but if Person #2 has a complicated inquiry then I have no way of putting them on hold to get back to Person #1. Also, if Person #1 talks too long (which, as a side note, why do people who call hotels talk about 2-words a minute?) then Person #2's call will be transferred to the back office phone. I have now lost the chance to answer #2's call on the desk phone so as soon as #1 hangs up I have to dash to the office and hope that I reach the phone before the call is sent back up to the front desk. This process has caused me to run in between two ringing phones on more than one hilarious occasion.

Also, to transfer people I simply type in the room number they want and hang-up on them. Sometimes the phone registers the number swiftly enough that everything works as it should. Other times I end up hanging up on the guest because the phone decided to take its sweet time. "Isn't there a way for you to tell?" you ask. Yes, there is: the person calls back and says, "You hung-up on me." That is the only way.

Lesson 2: Directions. Nearly every day a guest calls the hotel to say that their GPS can't find the Inn's address. We then give them the address of the fitness centre across the street and everything seems to work out fine. And then last week happened. Last week was the PGA Tour's brief stay on St. Simons Island. The Inn was PACKED with TV producers, golfers, caddies, groupies, Kodak people, and health insurance guys. The first day of the tournament I get the expected "GPS call" and give the man the standard fitness address. Five hours later (it is about 9pm at night), while I am in the middle of running in between two ringing phones, I get this call: "You gave me the wrong address! I have been driving for eons and eons on this damn island and the address you gave me DOES NOT exist." First off, I want to tell the man to not over exaggerate and that the island is only 14 X 6 miles so I doubt he has been driving for "eons and eons." Second, I want to make sure that he understood that the address I gave him was for a place across the street. However, I do not get the chance to voice either of these thoughts before he starts shouting, "Marsh Landing! I am at Marsh Landing! Where the hell is that?" The only one I know of is at the north end of the island, but there's no way he could be there because the road his GPS was trying to find is all the way at the south end. I ask him what road he's on, for some type of landmark, etc etc, and finally I hear 'Fort Frederica'. Yep, he made it all the way to the north end. I tell him that he needs to turn around and head the opposite way. As I begin to say, "And then you'll go through two roundabouts," I suddenly hear a click. I look at the phone for a second and, forgetting my Customer Etiquette manners, go, "Oh HELL no!" It's then that I notice the guest in the lobby; a small mousy woman who looks at me. "He hung-UP on me!" I exclaim and she just shakes her head sadly.

GPS Man is about as ornery as can be expected and I try to rush him out of the lobby and towards his room as quickly as possible (although not before he has the chance to tell me how clueless I am not to know the street the hotel is on -- I know what our street address is. The GPS coordinates do not.). Finally he leaves and ten minutes later I get a call. It's GPS Man and his desk lamp won't work. After about fifteen minutes of me rushing in between his room and the closet with the circuit breaker I tell him that I believe it is the lamp itself and that there is nothing I can do (if he had been nicer maybe I would have tried, but I was ready to cut all the power to his room by this point). Just as he decides to try plugging the lamp into an outlet across the room there is a knock on the door. GPS Man does nothing. There is another knock. GPS looks at me as if to say, "Well aren't you going to answer that?" Now I am normally a very calm person and it really takes a lot for me to lose my cool, especially when it comes to Customer Service type things. I am pretty sure my feeling of rage was very evident on my face because when I opened up the door the guy waiting outside actually started a little. Apparently, GPS Man had come with three other business men who were staying at the hotel; three business men who had really taken a liking to me. The new guy looked at me sheepishly as he greeted GPS Man and helped him move the lamp. After plugging it in and seeing that it STILL did not work GPS Man determined that it must be the lamp itself...shocker.

The best part of that rant? The next morning I overheard GPS Man say he was from Michigan so I made sure to mention Kalamazoo College to him. How surprising that he suddenly treated me like I had a brain in my head after that!

Lesson 3 (last one for now, I promise!): Chatty-Cathy. When I check into a hotel it is normally just to sleep, shower, and store my stuff. However, I am finding that many of our guests do not share this same sentiment. I can not tell you how many long conversations I have had with guests about everything from the Chilean miners to the island's economy and even fashion. Some people even come up to the desk specifically just to chat with me. And it's really entertaining when we get groups of young business men here because they will be very professional and straightforward and ask me where to find a good bar and then a few hours later they come into the lobby, tipsy and giggly, and suddenly wanting to just hang at the counter. This led to mass confusion my first night working here (in which I am the only employee in the building so there was no one here to help "walk me through" anymore). Three guys who had just gotten back from the bar came up to the desk needing to extend their stay. Not only did this take some maneuvering in the computer system, but they also all wanted to pay in cash, which I had never done before (and we don't have a conventional register). While trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do (while acting like I knew exactly what to do) the guys decided to grill me about my history, the origin of my name (everyone loves the whole 'Georgia from Georgia' thing), and then needed me to cast my vote on an issue of 'if someone puts a coffee cup at the foot of a chair and someone else knocks it over - whose fault is it?'

Phew! I think that's enough for now. Sorry this post is so long! Since the rest will be more present happenings rather than 'catch-up' they should be a bit shorter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Signing Off

Well, it looks like this blog will unfortunately be very short lived. I don’t know how many of you have heard by now, but I am no longer on the Blue Ridge. Basically what happened was this:

Those of you keeping up know that I’ve been looking for a new place on the Blue Ridge since my living situation has been less than ideal. The house was great, but the housemate/boss (Jennie)...not so much. Luckily, I had finally found a place that was ten minutes from Sparta and had cell phone/internet reception (woo hoo!). I was in price negotiations and my plan was to just tell Jennie that I wanted to move to be closer to civilization. She never had to know the real reasons! I called my superintendent to tell her about the possibility of me moving and I, of course, had to also explain why. I was told that my problems with Jennie were nothing new and that the superintendent needed to know that she was still “up to her old tricks”. The problems with Jennie were thus:

1. We were spending nearly every waking minute together. We drove to and from work together, then worked for over eight hours together, and then lived together. A bit much and I was always on guard because she was, as mentioned before, my boss/supervisor. I wasn’t even allowed to talk to the visitors casually! That left me with no one to talk to!

2. She would go into my room when I wasn’t there. For the first few days of me living there she did this to turn off my fans (there was no AC) because the wiring of the house made her nervous. I found that a pretty poor excuse because the house was in remarkably good shape (especially for gov’t housing), but I decided to choose my battles and turned my fans off when I wasn’t home. However, it was obvious that she was still going into my room even after this and I was never certain why or what she was looking for.

3. The whole telling me to get personal stuff out of her room for her and having me wash her dishes. Those are both big ‘no-no’s’ in my book. She was 51. I think she had plenty of experience doing her own bloody dishes.

4. Jennie was not a big sharer and it was pretty damn obvious that she was used to and preferred living on her own. Often she wouldn’t even say ‘hi’ to me in the house and only talked to me when it was to talk at me about something to do with yarn, linen, or the Blue Ridge. We shared a bathroom and I found my stuff on the floor more than once because I guess it was her sink and my contact case was just taking up too much room and don’t even get me started on how much me asking to move her dulcimer case off the dining room table upset her! It was either move the bloody thing to the floor or I was going to put my bowl of cereal on top of it and I’m certain that wouldn’t have gone over well.

5. Basically, Jennie just did not respect me whatsoever. She didn’t train me at all and any time I tried to ask a question about the history of the area or what something was called she would say, “I already told you that!” and then it was end-of-discussion. THAT got old really fast because if she had told me then I a) would have remembered in such a short time period or b) been willing to admit I had forgotten it. It wasn’t even until a few days ago that I realized I didn’t even know how to call-out on the radio!

So all this being said, I told the superintendent the problems I was having with Jennie, but I obviously didn’t tell her all the problems. I didn’t want to be a snitch and get Jennie in trouble so I only touched upon the “spending too much time together” and “Jennie ordering me around at home” stuff. The super did mention mine and Jennie’s age differences, which was a bit annoying because I felt she just thought I wasn’t used to someone older and that really wasn’t the case. Had Jennie been my age I still wouldn’t have been fond of the stuff she was doing. Nevertheless I asked the super to please not tell Jennie any of this stuff because I just wanted to move out with no hard feelings (Jennie was still my supervisor after all).

Well I think you can all predict what happened next. The super told Jennie everything. Or at least Jennie reacted like the super told her everything because I got home Thursday night and doors were being slammed in my face and it was like prying teeth to get Jennie to tell me why she was so angry (picture a pre-pubescent teen when they throw a temper-tantrum...literally). When she did she was INCREDIBLY hostile saying, “Please tell me how I’ve been invading your space! Please educate me on how I’ve been smothering you.” Whoa. No wonder she’s never had children. She’s like a very large child herself.

I tried telling her about the various things that had put me off/made me feel unwelcomed (the fans, the dishes, etc), but everything I said was just met with a defensive comeback and how I was wrong and yadda yadda yadda. Finally I just grabbed my stuff and apologized to Jennie once again because the super was not supposed to tell her any of that stuff and when I said I was going to go out for a few hours to give us both space she snapped, “Yeah, I think that would be good.” (Again, picture all her dialogue as just dripping with vehemence because that is literally how she sounded.) I went up to the ranger office and ended up turning in my letter of resignation a few hours later after I realized that now, even if I moved out, there would be no working with Jennie.

The next morning further proved this fact when, as I was packing, Jennie came pounding on my door and told me that she had to check me out (collect my badges and whatnot). I looked down the stairs and there was the Chief of Maintenance, John. Jennie said (nose in the air), “John’s here as a witness.” I asked, “Do you mean for, like, protection?” She responded, “Maybe.” I asked, “Do you think I’m going to hurt you?” She threw her hands into the air and said, “Well I don’t know, do I?”


She then went into her room to grab something and BOLTED her door behind her. I repeat: WHAT?!?!?! This from the woman who bashes mice in the head. I could tell that, in John’s mind, he wasn’t really there as a bodyguard and that he hated being dragged into all this as much as I did. I told him I was a Buddhist and didn’t hurt anything and he just gave me a sad smile. Jennie then checked me out, which was stressful because I think she was convinced I was going to take something. As I searched in my bag for my second badge she snipped, “You’re supposed to have two badges. You can’t keep one! That’s a federal offense!” It really took a lot of self-control for me not to hand her the second badge with the pin sticking out...she then freaked out because we couldn’t find a book on linen she had lent me two weeks ago even when I reminded her that we already went through this ‘where did the book go?’ the day she lent it to me. My god. Finally John made her move on and said, “I’m sure we’ll find it.” What the hell do I want with a book on linen?

The rest of the morning was spent with Jennie practically running anytime I was near her and her bolting herself into every room she Did I forget to mention that a few nights previous she was in her room moving furniture, slamming things and yelling at herself? Or that when I got home after evacuating the house I found a broken wine glass on the table that looked as though the actual cup part of it (the part that holds the wine) had been squeezed? Oh yeah. And I’m the one to be scared of? The other odd thing was that everyone else was EXTREMELY nice. Like, even the superintendent, who I had heard really chews people out for resigning, was super nice and apologetic to me. I was a little taken aback and I think Jennie was too because was practically giddy when she told me I had to call the super and even hung around by the phone as I made the call (because the only portable phone was locked in Jennie’s room – what a coincidence). I know that Jennie has run-off four other housemates previous to me so I have a feeling that people understood what had happened. I think the superintendent was probably also sorry because she knew that this all came as a result of her telling Jennie my confidential information...

So now I am home and back on my little island. I thought I’d come back going, “Oh god what did I do?? I should have stuck it out!” but I’m actually a LOT happier than I’ve been for the past few weeks. I didn’t even realize what an emotional toll that situation was really taking on me. I am glad, however, that I did it and that I was able to have some new experiences. I am especially glad that I was able to spend my last “weekend” in Asheville at my aunt and uncle’s place. Compared to my hovel at the bottom of the mountain that place was absolute paradise! The house, the room I got to stay in, the company, the town – everything was fantastic! I never realized Asheville was such a hippie haven and it reminded me a lot of Ann Arbor. I got to explore the shops in the downtown area, go to the Folk Art Centre, and the Biltmore. So cool! And Starbucks. I got to have my first Starbucks in weeks!

And there you have it! The last blog post of “Lost in the Woods”. I wish it could have lasted longer because I was getting some great writing material out of all this, but leaving was definitely for the best. And this is a whole new experience! I haven’t been unemployed since I was thirteen. Damn. And at least now there’s no worry of getting lost and ending up in Virginia again ;) Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Things I Have Learned Part 2

*Please forgive any grammatical errors -- I have limited internet useage and just had to type and run!

1. Directions: I am from flat-country (or at least flatter than this). Before now, the steepest hill I have had to drive up on a semi-regular basis was Kalamazoo College’s campus. Needless to say, mountain driving is taking a bit of adjusting to not just because of the constant turns and whatnot, but also because directions and travel time in general are different. For example, on St. Simons Island, if someone were to ask me how to get to I-95 I would point them towards the major roads leading away from the area and would say that it was about fifteen to twenty miles away and therefore about fifteen to twenty minutes away depending on traffic. I would also say that if they got lost to just keep heading west and they’d hit I-95 sooner or later. In the mountains, however, fifteen to twenty miles takes about fifty minutes. You have to basically double the miles and add a bit more (and god forbid you get stuck behind a motorcade because then you might as well triple the mileage!). Also (and I realize this may seem obvious, but just go with me), just because a road is pointed in one direction does not mean it will stay in that direction. A road starting out going west may just end going east! Not terribly helpful when you don't know the area nor are you able to pull out a map.

This issue of "directions" came up this past Tuesday/Wednesday (my gov't "weekend") when my friend Jenny came up to visit. When she first arrived we went to West Jefferson and once we had walked up and down the main/downtown/only street we decided to go to Sparta and do the same thing. To get from West Jefferson to Sparta, you need to go northeast. I went on a road that looked exactly like the one we had come in on and was also pointed in the same direction. After a while I realized it was not the same road, but wasn't worried and figured we’d at least end up in the same area and probably just a little bit above Sparta. In a way, I was right. We did end up above Sparta. Unfortunately it was two and a half hours above and in Virginia. After an hour of driving we realized something was horribly wrong and we turned on my GPS so that we could see a map, but instead the GPS just kept wanting us to turn on roads that either didn't exist or sketchy, steep dirt roads. Luckily, our directional mistake was not without some highlights: when we got to the Virginia boarder we met some very enthusiastic cows who became so enthralled with us that they followed us along their fence back to the car, we almost hit a snake, and found a stripped car. Welcome to Virginia, folks!

2. Weather: You know how there are times when one part of a town can get rain, while the other part stays completely dry? That’s how it is in the mountains, but to a higher degree. One side of the mountain can be having a monsoon while the other side is warm and sunny on the bottom, but cold and foggy in the middle. And the fog! Oh my god. You have never seen such dense fog in your life! When driving, you literally cannot see more than three – four feet in front of your car. And it’s like the clouds have a mind of their own because you can actually watch them climbing over and through the peaks of mountains.

Also, they have tornadoes here. I never would have guessed it, but on the day that Jenny and I finally found Sparta we went to the Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop (literally the most happening place in town there since it has free wireless and a public computer) we learned that a tornado had touched down about eight miles away. Outside was bright and sunny, but a look down the road showed the dark clouds that were swiftly coming our way. Jenny and I hopped in my car and attempted to outrun the storm, which, again, on these mountain roads was a bit dicey because one minute we were heading away from, then right into in, then right beside it, etc etc.

3. Music: I got to go to a Bluegrass Music Competition last night, which was very interesting. First, I learned that there are two main types of Bluegrass: Old Time and Modern. The Old Time is what you hear George Clooney and them sing in ‘O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?’ I believe, but I could be wrong. They tried to explain it to me, but it apparently takes a trained ear. Secondly, I have decided that this whole experience is really like a second study abroad. The culture is very foreign to me, I need a translator at times, and I really stick out as an outsider. The moment I open my mouth people cock their heads and go, “Ya ain’t from around here, is ya?” I also learned that I quite like Bluegrass music. The lyrics are pretty hysterical and the singing can be very pretty. At the side of the stage a dance-board had been laid out and nearly a third of the audience (and there were at least 1,000 people) must have clogged on it. Oh! That’s something I learned – clogging is really big up here. I am actually debating taking classes because the group of cloggers was the largest gathering of people my age I have seen since entering Appalachia. I also got to hear a Bluegrass version of Lady Gaga’s “Papparazzi”, which was surprisingly good!

4. The Ins and Outs: This is sort of the random tid-bit section that I have picked up over the past few days, the first being: watch where you pull-off. While driving back from Boone/Grandfather Mountain on Wednesday, Jenny and I came upon the pasture of Highland Coos (Scottish Cows) I wanted to see. Without much thinking I pulled off the road and suddenly the car was at a 75-degree angle. The tip was so sudden and so violent that Jenny slammed against the passenger side door. After realizing the car was not going to roll we cracked up for five minutes and then slowly and precariously tried to pull the car back upright. We then had a fun time dabbling in my favourite pastime: trespassing. All in the name of coos!

I have also learned to possibly be a bit more leery about going places by myself at night. Last night I went up to the Ranger Office to use the internet after shadowing an evening program. It wasn’t that late, but it was already pitch black outside and the office is very secluded from everything else. After about a half hour I heard someone walking in front of the office window and a little bit later they tried to come in the front door. Something told me not to answer the door because if it was a tourist/camper they would have just knocked and if it was a ranger they obviously would have had a key. Whoever it was tried to get in with even more force (and it was unfortunately blatantly obvious that I was the only bloody person in the office), which is when I called my boss to ask who I should call because I didn’t feel safe enough to run the ten feet to my car. She told me to call 911 and then said she was going to call another ranger who lives close-ish to the office. I did not call 911 because I didn’t think this constituted as an actual emergency since I was not in immediate danger. By now I have had about ten people scold me, “You should ALWAYS call 911!” Instead, I waited until two off-duty rangers showed up and one ex-CIA agent all the while feeling like the girl who had cried “wolf”. I have never in my life felt I needed someone to walk me to my car! Apparently the ex-CIA agent even brought his gun. What do they know about this area that I don’t? I then got a stern talking-to about how 911 would not have minded, they would have radioed a Law Enforcement Ranger, and to always keep my radio on me so I can just hit the panic button (someone even pointed out that the fact that our radios even have panic buttons should have told me something). Obviously I am all safe and sound now and pretty much never going to do something that stupid again.

Another ‘in and out’ is government furniture. On Wednesday night, Jenny and I were watching “The Prince of Egypt” on my bed when all of a sudden we heard a loud WHACK. We looked at each other, heard four more WHACKS and suddenly the bed collapsed! It had to be one of the most hysterical moments of the past few weeks. We put the bed back together as best we could, but apparently not too well because the next night it collapsed while I slept on it! I was too tired to do anything so I just went back to sleep, but in the morning I literally had to pull myself out of bed since only the wall-side collapses.

This actually brings me to my third ‘in and out’. I may be leaving my current housing soon (not because of the bed mind you). Living with my boss is just going no where good, especially since she is not the biggest fan of young people and it has been made very clear to me that, now that our third housemate has moved out, she would rather have the house to herself. This has obviously caused not only a tense home environment (especially when she told me to do her dishes and now orders me to get personal items from her room for her...yeah, you can imagine how I would feel about that), but a work one as well so I am in the market for a new place to live. Another ranger who is from this area has been spreading the word among her friends (apparently I am not the first person to feel the need to evacuate this house) and there may be something for me about ten miles down the mountain. Yayy!

I think that’s all for now! I have gotten to know a bit more of the area (especially after getting lost for so long) and Jenny and I were even able to hike a few trails. Some of the trails even go through cow pastures, which is humourous because all the cows just stop and stare at you. And I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but I went to that Bluegrass Competition with one of my fellow rangers and she and her husband said that next time they’re going to bring me to the lawn mower races...I thought they were kidding at first, but apparently not. Now that should make a great story. Let’s see if I can make it through the next few days without getting lost or finding myself in a potentially life threatening situation :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Things I have learned during my five days working on the Parkway:

1. How to set a mousetrap: Is it unusual that I have never set a mousetrap before now? The women I work with seem to think so. I am very against mousetraps and my parents don’t like to use them so it's just never come up! I have now set nearly thirty mousetraps since taking Mousetrap Setting 101 on Thursday. Pretty impressive, eh? And I have yet to catch my hand in one! When one of my fellow rangers, Sierra*, taught me how to set my first mousetrap it took about ten minutes because most of the time she was going, “Okay, now let it go,” and I was going, “I can’t! It’s gonna get me!” When I did finally let it go I dropped it to the floor, screamed and rolled across the cabin. What a trooper!

2. How to make flax: Flax is a plant similar to hay. It grows in green stalks, which you cut, tie up, and then hang in a dry room for about four months. You then soak it in water, let it dry once more (not for four months, but just until it’s dry), and then you set about beating it until it breaks apart to reveal the soft fiber underneath, which is a substitute for wool or cotton. This process is actually kind of fun and extremely stress relieving (not gonna lie, I beat the shit out of that flax a little too aggressively). First, you put the stalks on this mini wooden blunted guillotine thing, repeatedly chomping down on the stalks with the blunt wooden blade as you pull them through. Once you have done this several times you take the beaten flax over to a wooden board where you then beat the thing some more with a paddle. This all serves to get rid of the hard outer-shell. By this point you should be seeing the soft blond-haired flax and all that’s left is to run the strands through a group of spikes on a wooden slab to get rid of any leftover outer-shell. In the end, only the soft haired flax should remain (it looks so much like my hair that I've had several tourists ask if I cut it off :P). I’ve gotten to demonstrate this quite a bit over the past few days because it’s basically the only thing I know how to do. I had a group of international student tourists the other day who were REALLY enthusiastic about the whole flax process although once all the women disappeared and only the men were left I realized they weren’t just into the flax. It was pretty hysterical honestly. I have never had so many come-ons at once and five of the guys even took their pictures with me and one Japanese guy told me he loved me.

3. This brings me to my third piece of Blue Ridge education: the compliments. Wow. I had an eighth grader the other day tell me that he didn’t need cellphone or internet reception when there was a beautiful sight like me in front of him. Ha! What a cad! I’ve also had one motorcyclist (they are everywhere here) drive past me while I was directing traffic and yell, “Hiya, Pretty!” and on this same day I had another biker walk past me and say, “I always love a woman in uniform.” Well, thank you. Good to know someone appreciates those unflattering outfits.

4. Directions: As a treat, I was assigned to go to Bluegrass Music Centre in Virginia yesterday to see a one-woman performance about a midwife from Appalachia who delivered over 1,000 babies (you can’t make this shit up)! I got to leave at 11am so that I could reach the Music Centre by noon (driving thirty miles takes close to an hour on the Blue Ridge). Unfortunately it wasn’t until a little after 11:35am that I suddenly realized I was heading south and not north. Oh shit! I stopped at a craft store to ask the woman how far Virginia was; she said, “About forty miles,” I said, “SHIT!” and ran out the door. It was pretty funny because some people looked at me apprehensively since I was still in uniform. I then hauled ass in the correct direction and made it just in time to help direct traffic before the performance started.

All in all, this week has been full of ups and downs. As you can see, the biggest ups are the tourists. I just love talking to them and I’d really love to be living in the campgrounds with them (which is initially where I thought my housing would be). The down is that I’m still unsure about this whole place. One of my roommates, Holly, will be moving out on Saturday to start a position at a busier park ten minutes outside of Boone (lucky bitch), which sucks because I really really like her. Jennie and I heard that there is an Interpretative position open at this park, too, and we both want the job ("Interp" rangers are the ones who give the tours). I want it because I literally may go crazy with the seclusion of my quarters and she wants it to guarantee herself a position at that park next year. Unfortunately, I don’t know what I’ll do if she applies and gets the job because that means she’ll be moving out, too. I can’t be in that house alone!! That would just be a horror movie waiting to happen and with my imagination I would easily convince myself Jack the Ripper was outside my 2nd floor window.

Also, as a side note, not only is my house a black hole for reception, but the entirety of Doughton Park cannot receive wireless to save its life except one specific spot: up the hill from the historic Brinegar Cabin, on top of a wobbly stonewall that borders the parking lot, about 3,000 feet in the air. At least I get a pretty view of the mountains while I check my email! One of my best friends is coming up (down?) tomorrow and we're going to go hiking so if I don't write another post in the next few days assume I am lost in the woods (did you see what I did there? :D).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Who Says I'm Not "Outdoorsy"?

Day 2 on the Blue Ridge! Things are basically still where they were yesterday (very, “Oh god, what have I done?!”), but I’m becoming slightly more resigned to my fate. AND for all of you nonbelievers out there → I hiked today. Yes! Hiked! And in a dress and flip-flops no less. Is that not hardcore wilderness? My parents and I went to the highest peak in North Carolina today: Grandfather Mountain. Apparently they use this mountain to predict the weather and temperature for the surrounding area, which includes Tennessee (Roan Mountain to be exact, which I have visited and would not wish upon many people). On this mountain we saw Split Rock, which is, as I’m sure you can guess, a giant rock split in half. Titillating! Further up the mountain was a Nature Museum and Animal Preserve and at the preserve they had bears and cougars and deer and OTTERS!!!!! Three HUGE otters that could not sit still and they kept sliding in and out of the water, running around their rocky home and falling down in a big cuddle pile. It. Was. Spectacular. My father literally had to pull me away and I was really really tempted to reach in and grab one...I’m sure he would have fit in my purse! (My one complaint though: too many children. Dear god. I literally almost ran into one because we both refused to move for one another. Who’s bigger, little girl??)

Then we got all the way up to the top of Grandfather Mountain where there is a mile-high swinging bridge. The bridge takes you to another side of the mountain where you then get to hike to the second highest peak (about 5,300 ft). My dad and I decided to go up it, but, not gonna lie, when I saw just what we were hiking up I was skeptical. Not for me, but for my dad: 67 yr old man with two knee-braces. Before I knew, though, he was off and climbing the steep, sleek, and craggy rocks! We were really quite the pair compared to the rest of the people in their shorts and hiking boots! Him with his knee-braces and refusing to let go of his camera, thus giving him only one free hand, and me in my dress and flip-flops, dressed more for a nice brunch than a hike. We did it though! I spent most of the time behind Dad going, “Oh god, are you sure you want to keep – oh, oh okay. You got it. Oh god,” but we did it! This island girl is going to take these mountains by storm. Mwahaha.

We also found one of the best art shops I have ever seen. I wanted to buy EVERYTHING in there!! All the crafts are made by Appalachian artists and they were absolutely beautiful. We later learned the ancient art of stick playing when a construction worker holding a “Stop” sign at us got very very bored. Luckily, since we were in the middle of the Blue Ridge, there was a stick beside him that was apparently providing massive entertainment. Oh I can’t wait to learn this skill, too! I felt like I was looking at the next four months of my future.

Scotland is also pretty big up here. Maybe this is a well-known fact, but it was news to me (yes, I realize there is an area called the “Highlands” in North Carolina, but I didn’t know they were trying to parallel the Scottish Highlands...I thought they just liked the name). There is a Scottish Highlander Festival going on this weekend, there are Tartan Restaurants, AND (are you ready for this?) we found a coo farm. A COO farm! For those of you that don’t know, a “coo” is also known as a “heilan coo”, which is also known as a Highland cow; one of those orange-reddish ones with the big horns and long shaggy hair that covers their eyes? Coo!!! I was aghast. I am planning on going back there during one of my days off. What else will I have to do, but go and play with coos??

And to end with, I will admit to starting to understand all the hype in the “beauty department.” This place is quite gorgeous and there are flowers here I have never seen outside of a grocery store or florist shop. We found the viaduct that most people see when they Google pictures of the Blue Ridge (the road the goes around the outside of the mountain making it almost like a bridge) and I never expected a road to be so pretty – just a road! It was surprisingly elegant, if that makes any sense at all. So...maybe things are looking up? Ha! We’ll see what happens when I’m finally forced to sleep in my new house...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What the fuck have I done??

I have been on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a grand total of twenty-seven hours. During my first hour on the Parkway I found myself lamenting, “What the fuck have I done??” and, to no surprise to those who know me well, here I am, a day-and-plus-some later, still thinking, “WHAT the fuck have I DONE?!?!” (Notice the added emphasis.)

This is The Wilderness. There are torn and worn plaid shirts, missing teeth, tar-spitting, bugs, camo, tires the size of my car, and I’m pretty sure I heard banjos somewhere in the distance (I refuse to watch “Deliverance” until I re-enter civilization). By the grace of the Verizon gods I am able to receive cellphone/internet reception, but I’m not at my actual Ranger House yet (aka The Place Where Reception Goes to Die) soooo...I don’t know how long this bliss can last.

Despite my whining and sarcastic remarks, this area is quite beautiful. If I weren’t freaking out so much maybe I would understand all the hype the Parkway receives, so hopefully I’ll have more to report in the "beauty department" after I get over the initial, “How do I escape?!” phase. My parents and I have toured the two-block span that makes up Laurel Springs (where I will be living), West Jefferson (actually very cute and worthy of ‘town’ status), Sparta (don’t even get me started), and Boone (home of Appalachian State University -- why the hell wasn’t I assigned there???). We also went to Blowing Rock (giant rock formation on top of a mountain) today, which, according to legend, is where an Indian chieftain hid his daughter after a white tradesman took interest in her. From atop this rock the princess spied a gorgeous Indian hunter and she shot a flirtatious arrow at him (because nothing says, “I like you,” like, “I might accidentally kill you.”). They fell in love, got married, and then suddenly he was called off to war. Princess didn’t want him to go so instead of choosing between war and his wife the hunter threw himself off the rock (brilliant decision). His wife wept until the wind blew him up from the bottom of the mountain and into her arms. Although this story has some noticeable flaws it does explain the name of the rock. Apparently in the winter, snow will be blown up and over the rock from the bottom of the mountain.

We ate lunch at a coffee shop in West Jefferson, that I believe will become my new favourite hangout) even if it is about forty minutes away. While we were there we were served by an older woman who could only shuffle and I, for one, was damn impressed that she was able to carry two plates at once. The poor woman shuffled all around the cafĂ© looking for whoever ordered the tuna salad and it turned out it was the guy next to us (even though she had asked us, we said 'no' and sort of announced it to the people around us...would have been a good time for him to speak up, but who knows). Someone said, “It belongs to that gentleman over there.” The guy looked at me and said, very gruffly, “I’m not a gentleman.” Okay. Good to know; “gentleman” is apparently an insult in North Carolina.

My ranger housing is actually very nice. The whole place looks like a brand new house and my room was meant to be a double, but the girl who would have been my roommate showed up and left the next day. That’s a bad sign. My roommates (Holly and Jennie*) seem very nice although I learned that one of them is my boss. So that should be fun! Guess I won’t host a kegger at our house. Darn! Haha.

And speaking of keggers, the three of us are the ONLY rangers living in the park except for the Chief of Maintenance, who lives in the house next to us. What?? No one warned me about that. Apparently Holly was surprised to learn this, too (at her last park she lived in a commune of all seasonal and permanent rangers: interpretive, maintenance, and protection), so I think I may have found a fellow comrade who also worries, “It’ quiet...” Jennie, on the other hand, has been at this park for six years and is as happy as a clam with the calm and quiet. Hmmm. She may object to my blasting of Showtunes then...

I’m really sorry that this has been a mini-novel, but I must write about one last thing! As my parents and I were coming home from dinner tonight we had to pull over three times for passing ambulances. We didn’t really think much of it – we’re in the middle of nowhere so they were all probably going to rescue a stuck cat or something – but then we pulled onto our cabin’s road and found all the ambulances at the hay farm across the way plus seven other emergency vehicles. The farm across the road is on a very steep hill (surprise, surprise, there are nothing but mountains here) and the farmer had flipped the tractor on himself! Luckily, after about an hour of digging and whatnot the man was pulled free and, since the ambulance took its sweet time leaving, I’m guessing he was okay. Phew! So that was a bit of excitement. Welcome to North Carolina!

And now I will leave you with this last request: COME VISIT ME, PLEASEEEEEE!!!!!! We can go tubing, kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, hiking, and many many other things for the adventurous soul (we can also just lay by a stream and relax or go to Jefferson/Boone and shop, for those of you less inclined towards extreme sports). Oh! And I have an extra bed. Please come and enjoy Chez Knapp!

*Names have been changed to cover my ass, just in case.