Monday, December 9, 2013

RANGERING: September 2004

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened many years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved, but I do my best to maintain the underlying substance of events and their impact on me.

I spent most of my first day working with Ranger Eva. We started with a road trip covering the full scope of the park area, which included several beach approaches and the entire stretch of ocean beach along the 22 miles of the Long Beach Peninsula. Many of the beach approaches had restrooms; some were complete restrooms with plumbing while others were small glorified pit toilet vaults called CXT’s. There was a collection of four day-use parks, although only Cape Disappointment offered overnight camping. I wouldn’t typically work outside Cape D. but Eva told me sometimes I’d help clean the restrooms along the beach; plus she wanted me to have a sense of the entire area to better assist park visitors wanting to explore the peninsula.

As we headed back towards Cape Disappointment, Ranger Steve radioed Eva to ask if she was in the park.

“No, I’ve been showing Kjerstin the rest of the area.”

“OK. I’m heading into campsite 82 that seems to be having some problems. Reports of loud arguing and drinking. I’ll let you know when I’m clear.”

“How many people are at the site?” Eva asked.

There was no answer. Eva repeated her question. “Parks 206, Parks 312.”  Still no answer. She flipped a switch that turned on the law enforcement light bar on the top of the truck, and we started speeding along the back roads back to the park.

My adrenaline shot up. “Are you worried about him?” 

“Now that he didn’t answer I am. Sometimes we don’t get good radio reception along this route though, so it could be that.” 

I felt a bit foolish for feeling as excited as I did. We sped along narrow roads I’d never driven, past weathered cottages and grand beach homes, a place called the Tch Tch Inn, lots of tree stumps carved into mushrooms, and a prevalence of pickup trucks.

The radio squawked, “Parks 312, Parks 206.”

Eva responded.

Steve’s voice said, “I’m clear. There wasn’t much going on.”

“Parks 206.”  She slowed back down and flipped the switch that turned the law enforcement lights off.

I asked Eva if that kind of thing happened often. “There’s more law enforcement than I care for. People get drunk, and then they don’t or can’t control themselves. Most of the time it doesn’t amount to anything. But sometimes we evict disruptive people from the park.”

“What if they’re too drunk to drive?”

“That’s a problem. We can’t put them behind the wheel if they’re drunk. We’ll try to find a sober member of their group. Short of that, we’ll see if a friend will come get them. But if not, we try to put them to bed and then evict them the next morning.”

“What if they won’t go to bed?”

“Most of the time the news that they’re going to have to leave in the morning puts an end to the party. But we can always threaten to write them a ticket if they won’t settle down. Unfortunately sometimes there’s nothing we can do, and in the morning we just have to try to make it right with the nearby campers who were disrupted.”

I thought that sounded rather unsatisfactory.

“Steve is really good with his verbals. He’s very professional and confident, and is usually successful at getting compliance. Since you’re interested in becoming a ranger, you might want to do some ride-alongs with him.”

After our dinner break Eva gave me instructions on cleaning the restrooms and we cleaned them together. There were eight sets throughout the park, each with a men’s and women’s side. All of them had multiple stalls, and most of them had showers as well. A locked “pipe chase” was a room that ran between the two sides and was stocked with cleaning supplies and extra toilet paper. Every surface that was likely to be touched by skin was cleaned with a disinfecting solution. Toilet paper, paper towels, and sanitary napkin holders were restocked. Floors were swept and mopped. It was pretty detailed and I asked, “How long do I have for cleaning them?”  “Four hours; the second half of your shift. It works out to about 15 minutes per side.”  I wondered how that was possible, particularly as we sometimes had to wait outside the men’s for it to clear out. Eva sang as we worked. The Singing Ranger, I thought.

Long before my shift was over I was ravenous and completely exhausted. I ached all over from standing, walking, scrubbing, and slinging around an industrial-sized, water-heavy mop. As I drove out of the park headed for home I counted nine deer.

It was my first time driving across the Astoria-Megler Bridge after dark. I drove along the low, flat portion and started to approach the high span. It was a very dark night, overcast concealing stars and moon. All I could see was an even deeper darkness ahead of me, capped at the very top by a couple flashing red lights. I could not tell what it was I was driving towards. Suddenly I couldn’t remember if it was a draw bridge. Perhaps the bridge was up; the blackness ahead looked very much like it could be a rectangular wall of concrete that I was heading straight for. I slowed down more and more as I came closer, still unable to see if there was road ahead of me or a giant concrete wall. The car behind honked. “Easy for you,” I mumbled. “You aren’t the one about to drive straight into a concrete wall.”  At the final moment, my car barely creeping along, the blackness resolved into a steep road climbing up to the heights of the bridge, finally cresting, then corkscrewing down into the town of Astoria. I laughed at myself in relief.

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