First Time Working In A Utility Co. Park – Smoky Labor Day Weekend

Disclaimer: The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I will not be mentioning them by name, or mentioning the specific names of anyone I am working with, except for Lee.  Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out which company it is, I want to be clear: I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part.  

I haven’t written about the job much lately, so before starting on the labor day weekend I am going to take a couple of minutes and catch us up.  At this point we have have the job pretty much down, which is nice from a work standpoint, but things were a little boring.  We all knew it was the calm before the storm though, as Labor Day is always a big weekend in a campground.  The most exciting thing that happened was I dropped my phone and broke the glass in it.  I can’t remember ever breaking a phone before.  Not that that I don’t drop them, but I am a big fan of the Otter Box case so when I do drop them they usually bounce! This time the phone landed face down and since I was in a gravel parking lot a rock hit the bottom just perfect and a large crack formed near the button.  The phone was still usable thankfully, but since it was an Iphone4 from 2012, Lee thought it was time I bit the bullet and bought a new IPhone.

I actually can’t remember ever buying a new IPhone before either.  I had a Blackberry at my old job, then was issued an iPhone, and when I took the buyout I bought a pretty basic Samsung to use with our Verizon account.  Ultimately we got rid of the Verizon account (turned out we didn’t need two carriers as we traveled) and when I got on Lee’s AT&T account I used his old iPhone 4.  So it was kind of exciting getting a new phone, and although I looked online for something used, ultimately I just drove over to the nearest AT&T store and purchased an iPphone 7.  $750 later I had a new phone, new Otterbox case, and an installed tempered glass protector.  Yes, I could have done it cheaper, but the experience wouldn’t have been easier and the customer service I received was very, very good at the store. Plus, as blase as I tend to be about all things electronic, I have to say I really like the phone.  I went with the 7 (versus the 7s) because I really like the smaller screen, but even the small one was MUCH bigger than the tiny screen on the 4 I have been working off of. And after getting all my contacts and programs moved over, I have to say I am a huge fan. Plus they made it so very easy, compared to my other new phone experiences and I really appreciated that.

The other exciting thing that happened last week, was we had an exit interview with our boss. That went extremely well and not only were our thoughts about improvements for next year taken seriously, but we also had an opportunity to talk about future opportunities.  Up until this point, we have never liked a job enough to commit to a second season, but with this company we are seriously considering it.  There are so many parts of the country we haven’t explored yet that we are always looking for what’s next on the horizon, but the company is really great and our boss is the best I have personally worked for since starting this lifestyle and that matters to me. It helps that there is so much to do in this area.  When we arrive at a new place, I make a list of Things to See and usually get through at least 75% of it.  That hasn’t been the case here, and there is enough left on our list that I am confident if we returned there would be plenty of “First Times” to carry us through another summer.

The job itself wasn’t that great of course.  It’s hard to get excited about cleaning toilets and emptying trash all day, but thankfully they have several locations and other jobs we might be a good fit for.  It was also the first time any employer really looked at us as individuals and talked through our options with us.  That scenario was pretty common in our old lives, but in the world of seasonal employment, generally the jobs are what they are and you either want them or you don’t.  This boss and company had no issue with “tweaking” a position to help make it work for us as  individuals and the fact that they would go to that much trouble was frankly very gratifying.  We left the meeting with high hopes about opportunities for next year and will be having a follow-up meeting as we get closer to the end of the season.

Oh and we were finally able to change the closing time on the Lower Launch from 9pm – 8pm.  We have been struggling for a couple of weeks with it getting dark sooner, and trying to clean up and clear the Lower Launch in the dark was stressing both of us out. We pushed back the closing time a few minutes every night and mostly people were OK with it, but every once in awhile someone got fussy because the sign said 9pm.   Yes, the sign said 9pm, but it was pitch black by 8:30 and at that point they had to stop fishing anyway.  It didn’t help that for some reason the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife chose not to stock as scheduled during eclipse week.  We were supposed to get 16,000 fish in the North Reservoir and people were pretty upset that the schedule changed.  Now normally I don’t have a ton of patience for all of that…it is called fishing not catching..but since the schedule was posted online well in advance and they didn’t change the schedule until last minute it really wasn’t very cool.  Many people had scheduled family trips based on that information, or they made a long drive down just to find out there were minimal fish.  They were still in there of course, but the ones that remained were pretty canny and often they didn’t start biting until late evening. Of course frustrated fishermen didn’t want to be chased out of the lower launch “just when they started biting”, but it’s not legal to fish here after dark and we had to worry about people’s safety in any event.  It just wasn’t a good situation and could have been avoided if they would have simply stocked on the published schedule.  I am sure they had a good reason, but it’s not like they didn’t know the eclipse was going to happen much sooner.  It’s all anyone talked about for months.

Thankfully they did stock right before Labor Day weekend though and since we also were able to put up the signs stating 8pm closure of the gates, we were feeling pretty confident about how the weekend would go.  The forecast called for high temps, which we knew would bring big crowds, but Lee and I had decided to start our new weekend schedules which we thought would help.  A couple of weeks ago, Lee and I decided we needed more alone time, so as soon as the gate closing went to 8pm we were going to work opposite shifts.  Lee would be working 5:30am -11:30am and I would work 1:00pm – 8:30pm.  After much discussion we decided  Lee was going to come back at 7pm to help me close the gates.  This would give us both several hours of alone time, which at this point was desperately needed.  One of the downsides of this particular job is that we are together a lot especially on the weekends. And since our separating gave us more coverage time on the river, our boss was totally fine with the change.

I took the later shift, because Lee is more of a morning person and although I knew it would be hotter I was hoping I could use the AC in the truck to keep myself reasonably comfortable.  What I wasn’t counting on was the smoke.  Friday we had some, but we have seen worse this summer, but by Saturday it was really bad.  And our sites were packed. What I mean by that is the parking lot is full by 2pm, tons of boats and inflatable crafts in the water, and lots and lots of people in the water.  This meant lots of toilet paper and lots of trash and I was out of the truck way more than I was in it.  I was surprised by the amount of smoke of course, but to be honest was more focused on the task right in front of me, and it completely escaped my notice that a huge fire had broken out on the Columbia River Gorge, which is just 20 “crow” miles north of us.

What I discovered on Monday, and yes I am that clueless or busy, was that a fire broke out at Eagle Creek  and stranded 153 hikers.  The hikers were cut off from their return path and rescue workers had to setup a temporary base camp for them to spend the night and then they all walked out 14 miles out on the other side. Because of hot, dry conditions the fire grew quickly and was eventually 4,400 acres causing several communities to be evacuated and a section of I-84 to be closed down.  That is a major deal as there aren’t that many interstates here in Oregon and this was a major East/West route for truckers.  Although we have visited the Columbia Gorge area numerous times since we have been here, I didn’t really understand how close it was “as the crow flies”.  It takes us about an hour to drive there, but that’s because we have to drive up and around.  Our fellow camp host told us it was only about 20 miles away, which is why we were seeing so much more smoke.  Again, totally clueless.  All I knew was air quality was getting worse and worse and by Sunday at 5:30pm I had too take an extra long break in the RV.

Smoke on Saturday. The picture really doesn’t do it justice as the smoke haze was like a wall that ended at the dam

The only up side was we had two pretty sunsets and again the picture doesn’t show how much smoke hung in the air, but as you can see the sun was totally obscured by the smoke.

(Update: Right before publishing this post we checked the news and as of 9/5/17 9pm PST the fire has grown to over 10,000 acres and over 40 miles of I-84 is closed. Below is a link to a local news channel with a gallery of photos of the fire.)

Overall though I felt great about the service we provided over the weekend.  Couldn’t do much about running out of parking spaces, but with vigilance we were able to make sure the boat spaces stayed open for boat traffic.  We didn’t run out of toilet paper anywhere and we kept the trash mainly in hand and for the first time in weeks I cleaned up on recyclables, pulling out at least 7 bags of bottles and cans.  Monday though was a concern, because I was in the campground and Lee only worked the morning on the river, but since we were both pretty tired at that point, we did the best we could and then the sites had to ride through the evening.

Turns out Labor Day Monday is not the best day to work in the campground as I had 36 sites I had to turn.  Everyone else was busy starting the tear down of the yomes, so I was on my own to clean all the sites.  Air quality was particularly bad that day as well, and I was hopping as I turned site after site.  Thankfully, I could skip the yomes, which made it manageable and ended up getting all the sites except three cleaned by the end of my shift.  The deal with the yomes is that they have to be completely disassembled by the end of the season and this is a multiple day process.  The beds have to be disassembled and all of the mattresses stacked in a cabin.  The sides have to be power washed, dried, and then treated with water proofing, before the sides are taken off and stored. Then the top portion is lowered and rests on the base and finally tarped for the winter.  So even though we have two weeks of campground left, they started the process at labor day because the one thing that can really screw with the schedule is rain.  The tarps have to dry between the various stages and obviously can’t be put away wet.  The whole thing is a pretty labor intensive process and overall I am thankful we are largely out of it, especially because the weather conditions are so hot and smoky.

The tarps are power washed, then treated, the the sides are taken off and stored

The bed frames are disassembled and left. The top comes down and the whole thing is tarped

I was super impressed by how many mattresses they fit in one cabin. That’s efficiency!

Also based on the weather we aren’t planning any activities on our days off, but just hanging out and getting caught up on some things.  I need to spend more time on job searches (throwing resumes out there but it’s slow going) and need to get caught up on housework, blogging, etc.  One really nice thing though is Sue reached out to me and she and Jonathon are going to stop by on Tuesday.  They are getting close to finishing the US leg of their adventure and are planning on heading overseas soon.  We are in the home stretch now and both happy about that as our feet are starting to get a little “itchy.”

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3 thoughts on “First Time Working In A Utility Co. Park – Smoky Labor Day Weekend

  1. Saw that fire near I-84 and thought that might be pretty close to you. Yep, 20 miles is pretty close!!! Glad you just had to deal with smoke and did not have to evacuate. We are watching Irma closely and probably will be moving away from the coast shortly. Evacuation is a PIA, but have to say it is nice to be able to take your home with you!!! Glad you enjoy this workcamping company and it does make all the difference in the world to work for people you like and who appreciate you!!!

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