Michael Yates Yellowstone journal #2

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Jun 2 17:31:20 MDT 2001

Yellowstone journal, no. 6 June 1, 2001

We are staying for three nights in the town of Cody, Wyoming, named after
Buffalo Bill, the great western "hero" huckster. The main street of the
town is filled with western shops selling various western paraphernalia and
American Indian "art." The back streets, however, are lined with attractive
houses in the arts and crafts style and gigantic beautiful cottonwood
trees, some over 100 years old. Cody’s legend still permeates the town, and
the hotel he had built, the Irma, still stands, site of a nightly
"shootout" among fake cowboys. Without a doubt, the best thing here is the
Buffalo Bill Historical Center, a vast complex that includes the Whitney
(those rich Easterners managed to get their fingers in nearly every pie out
here. Last week we stayed in the posher town of Jackson, Wyoming, sometime
home to the rich and famous, and in which the average price of a new home
is now about 1.3 million dollars and where hovels sell for hundreds of
thousands. We ran into hordes of secret service agents, protecting VP Dick
Cheney, who was out here in his home state to accept a gift of the
Rockefeller’s YR ranch. The ranch will become part of the Grand Teton
National Park, much of which once also belonged to the Rockefellers.
Jackson is home to nearly as many real estate dealers as restaurants. One
realtor actually advertised "antique" land for sale; the land was
guaranteed to have been hunted by Indians and worked by prospectors and the

The Historical Center contains, in addition to the Whitney Museum, the
Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, a large library, and the
Cody Firearms Museum. We will visit the Plains Indian Museum tomorrow. The
gun museum contains the largest collection of firearms in the world. I
found the parts on the making of the guns, especially the use of a
complicated division of labor to make interchangeable parts (without the
use of Tayloristic management, that is, without the kind of management we
now take for granted, and also without assembly lines) the most interesting
part of this museum. The guns themselves were not that interesting to me,
although it is obvious that the history of these weapons is intimately
connected to the development of our economic system.

We loved the many paintings, sculptures, engravings, and illustrations in
the Whitney Museum. The great artists of the West, (Bierstadt, Catlin
Moran, Russell, N.C. Wyeth, among many others) are well represented. The
works of Frederick Remington are also much in evidence, although this
artist, whose studio is also exhibited here, never spent much time in the
West. Some of the works portray the west and the Indians idealistically,
and many of the earlier works portray the Indians as savages impeding
"progress." Others treat the Indians with respect, even reverence. But
except for the few Native American artists represented, all of the works
treat the Indians as something from the past, perhaps regretting the
passing of a noble culture, but not seeing these people as surviving and
living in the present. A similar impression is given by the many
interesting exhibits in the Plains Indian Museum (which we saw today, June
2, and which is featuring an exhibit of the Wind River reservation in
Wyoming), although here contemporary voices are heard, sometime quite
movingly. All in all, though, it is fair to say that the politics of
Indian-US relationships is pretty much missing in the museum. You can fill
in some of the gaps by browsing the fine gift shop which contains many good
books (plus a fine collection of western music) and the comprehensive
library in the basement of the museum.

Now a few words about my job. I have always had the greatest sympathy for
working people, but working now as a desk clerk, I have gained a new
appreciation for just what the majority of workers put up with. Even though
we are getting money every month from my pension and money is not just now
a problem, the low pay of this job has made me a lot more conscious of
spending money. I find myself thinking that a good dinner for two at a
fancy restaurant is the equivalent of more than ten hours of my labor. And
the work is far from easy. It is not factory labor, of course, but it is
tiring and stressful. I am on my feet for six to eight hours at a stretch,
and this takes its toll on a person’s legs. Last Sunday, the day before
Memorial Day, I worked eight hours without any break, neither to rest or to
eat. Guests arrived nonstop, asked a million questions and had complicated
financial arrangements to be solved. Rooms were not ready even into the
evening (there is a grave shortage of housekeepers), cabin roofs were
leaking, people were assigned to rooms without enough beds, and most
remarkably, we kept assigning guests to already occupied rooms. How this
happened I cannot really say, but the computer screen would show a room
vacant and cleaned; we would assign someone the room; and a while later
people would come back to the desk screaming that they had walked into an
occupied room. A desk clerk’s worst nightmare. So I had a steady stream of
complaining guests, and these were holding up people still trying to get a
room and others wanting to ask questions about tours to take and things to
see in the park. Ands all the while the phone rang incessantly, probably
500 times during my shift alone. The hotel’s manager had to deal with so
many complaints that he said it was the worst night in his memory. At least
he felt so bad for us that he got us some pizza later in the evening to
make up for our missed supper. The only good thing about the night was that
it will probably not be equaled again. So the worst is over!!

Concretely my work consists of the following: 1) checking people in,
usually routine but not always (people may want to upgrade their rooms or
split their bills in complex ways or have special requests); 2) keep track
or room availability, not just here but in every hotel in the park (there
are 14) We are expected to make same day or next day reservations for any
of them; 3) answer phones (the questions are sometime so stupid that you
want to scream ­ one person from the US asked if it was safe to drink the
water!); 4) answer a never-ending barrage of questions about the park and
activities, from hiking rails to tours, to directions to other parks and
nearby towns ­ there is literally nothing we are not expected to know or be
able to find out; 5) ticket and book activities, of which there are many,
from bus rides to chuckwagon cookouts, to photo safaris, to boat and horse
rides; 6) keep housekeeping and maintenance aware of any problems in the
rooms and other parts of the hotel; 7) check people out, which again is
usually routine but not always; 8) keep careful account of all of our cash
transactions. These all have to be posted to the right accounts or our
accounts won’t balance at the end of the shift. When we are done with our
shifts we have to file preliminary reports, see to it that these balance,
and then file a final report, drop our cash into a safe and put our "bank"
away. There are many forms to be aware of and lots of possibilities for
mistakes. One day my cash balance was off by more than $200. Luckily I had
written down all of my cash transactions, including the name of the guests
giving me cash. I had forgotten to post a cash payment and so it showed up
as a credit card transaction.

Let me end by describing payday. We get paid every other Wednesday. And
just like in a mining company town, workers line up in the back of the
dining room (while the rest of us are eating) to cash their checks. People
from the payroll department sit behind a table with cash and they cash the
checks. Then workers head for the employee pub to give the money back to
the company. Apparently the pub is the most profitable work center here.
Drunken young people carried on late into the night on payday and no doubt
were broke the next day. It is curious to note the high number of heavy
drinkers here, and that one of the few benefits offered by the company is
an employee assistance program).

Keep in touch. To be continued . . .


Louis Proyect
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