Monday, February 26, 2007

Is It a Contest?

There's been an increasingly ugly dynamic at the old touring center for the past several years. It started when a new rental manager took over for the one who had set up the rental shop and program for the ski touring foundation in 2000.

The first rental manager got along with everybody. There was a sense of teamwork even though rental and retail operate under separate ownership. Since the old manager left, the rental shop goes through many of the motions of cooperation, but there is an undercurrent of destructive criticism. Lately it has come out in passive-aggressive remarks implying the rental staff and ski patrollers work far harder than those useless drones in retail.

Retail staff don't launch any grenades toward touring center staff. On the contrary, we promote the lessons and rentals all the time. Perhaps we don't toss enough bouquets, but we don't throw handfuls of dung, either. We're quiet people who have already spent an hour in the car before we even start work. Almost no one in the rental shop drives more than a few minutes to get to work. They may arrive earlier, but they almost invariably leave earlier and have less distance to travel.

The retail relationship is complex. Everyone wants to be treated as an honored guest, whether they're buying a pair of socks or a full ski outfit. Some of them want to haggle. Some of them want hours of education. Any of them, at any time, could stride into the shop with a piece of gear in their hand and say, "You sold me this." Almost any retail relationship can turn out to be a long-term relationship, good or bad. And if it ends badly, rest assured the word will spread far more widely and virulently than if the service was impeccable.

The rental crew does a fantastic job processing masses of skiers during busy days. If they don't appreciate the way the retail staff handles its own very different challenges, no one can make them understand. At this point I'd be satisfied if they just shut up and mind their own business. That seems unlikely. So the hide thickens.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day 5 is Day 8

After three days, fish and vacationers both start to stink. It's been five days. You figure it out.

Actually, today wasn't bad. Mid-week brought a lull. We actually managed to get out of the shop at our scheduled quitting time for the first time since Friday.

Driving to work yesterday I got to the end of one section of road and realized I had no memory of how I'd gotten there. Two or three miles had simply vanished.

This is how it goes. By Thursday you realize you're sitting on the toilet, halfway through whatever you set out to do, and you haven't dropped your trousers yet.

And another weekend lies ahead.

The snow is good. People seem to be enjoying themselves. Even the numbness of my brain is curiously enjoyable, but not narcotic or habit-forming.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day 1, Day 2

Forget Day 1. The demands came too quickly, for too long, after what had been a quiet season so far. I haven't warmed up with busy weekends leading up to this. It's as bad as hopping out of bed and trying to lift the refrigerator.

Today was better. I got out to ski after the morning rush. By the time I got back I no longer felt like ripping someone's abdomen open and staking them out for the vultures. I didn't even have to pull a few livers off my ski pole. The traffic was heavy, but spaced so that I could thread the jams by skating from lane to lane between clots of slower skiers. Unlike at a downhill area, a faster cross-country skier doesn't rip by like a badly-designed rocket. Everyone has a lot more time to think.

Even if the skiing had been crappy, the after-effect is always peace. Arms, legs, core muscles and mind are all engaged, and all purged by the exertion. I feel like the water I drink saturates my body more completely when I've sweated a bunch of it out through every pore, rather than just sending it right to the kidneys and bladder. As much fun as cycling is, cross-country skiing is much better. And cycling is damn good.

It was finally time to get out the good skis. I did not get to use my Salomon Equipe 10 classic skis at all last year, after I fell so hard in love with a pre-production demo set that I bought them. Today I got to fall in love all over again.

We still worked almost a ten-hour day with an hour drive at each end. Seven more lie ahead.

I'm going to bed.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Vacation Week

Serving the vacationing public is like having a dump truck containing 80 percent sand and gravel, 15 percent shit and five percent gold nuggets emptied over you. You shovel desperately to keep from being buried in the sand, clamp your lips and nostrils shut against the shit and hope like hell you get some of the gold nuggets.

The avalanche of Vacation Week begins before sunrise on the Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend. It tapers off a little for Tuesday through Friday, before another big clump breaks loose for the closing weekend.

Any tourist attraction has its ebb and flow. The ritual of winter vacation in New England has a particular urgency, however. The whole region becomes the theme park for winter activities.

The sand represents the vast majority of guests. They inspire neither delight nor disgust, but they have to be shoveled into the next chute so the conveyor belt can carry them out of the way.

The shit represents those guests who make a special effort to inspire a higher level of service by acting like the kind of aristocrats who get rounded up first when the Revolution starts lopping off heads.

The gold nuggets are the monetary returns, but also the special gems among the guests who bring a little slice of their own interesting world into ours.

It all tips tomorrow. Shovels ready?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow Day

This Afternoon...Snow heavy at Times. Near zero visibility at Times in blowing and drifting snow. A chance of thunderstorms and sleet. Snow and sleet accumulation of 12 to 18 inches. Brisk with highs around 20. Northeast winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 35 mph. Wind chill values as low as 8 below.

Tonight...Snow heavy at Times. Near zero visibility at Times in blowing and drifting snow. A chance of thunderstorms in the evening. Total storm snow and sleet accumulations of 18 to 24 inches. Windy with lows 7 to 12 above. North winds 25 to 30 mph...Becoming northwest 20 to 30 mph after midnight. Chance of snow near 100 percent. Wind chill values as low as 16 below. "

So sayeth the National Weather Service.

Despite this dire warning, a steady stream of skiers breaks the solitude of the lodge bringing with them a strange sense of entitlement and criticism of the exorbitant price of things they supposedly need, like mittens.

"Is this the price, or are you going to knock something off it?" one English gent asked.

"That is the price," I assured him.

"Well, I guess I won't buy them, then," he said.

In the months to come, as he hugs the stumps of his amputated digits to his chest and tries to hire someone to pick his nose for him, I hope he congratulates himself many times for refusing to pay our ridiculous price for those mittens.

The people who come out in this weather clearly are not normal. Among the few drivers on the road this morning were several who did not seem to have the faintest familiarity with common road signs and right-of-way rules. It wasn't that they didn't know how to drive in snow. They just didn't know how to drive. I wondered if they might be ten-year-olds, out of school for the snow day, who had decided to grab Mom's car and try a flyer on the highway, or perhaps people who learned to drive when all you had to do was keep the old flivver 'tweenst the ditches and out of the deepest ruts.

Perhaps the obliteration of all lane markings makes drivers feel that the rules indicated by them no longer apply. Out of sight, out of mind. Wheeeee! And the whiteout obscures most of the signs. The rules shut down when the schools did.

On roads so little traveled that even the plow ignores them, storm driving is positively serene. It feels like motor boating on a canal. The car steers approximately where you point it, allowing for drift. It bucks over the humps of snow like small waves, while the wind blows snow across the bow.

In weather like this, you dress for the ditch, not for indoors. You may not go into the ditch, but someone else might need your help.

Helpful hint: When snow will fall during the whole work day, cool your windshield before you park the car for hours. That way you will not have to scrape away ice that formed when snow melted on the warm glass and then refroze. Just brush away the dry snow.

I cooled mine by turning the defroster all the way to cold for the last 15 minutes of the drive to work. It was chilly, but I had enough layers. And it will save trouble at the end of the day.

This technique doesn't help when the snow itself is changing back and forth from wet to dry.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Thinkitis sufferers think constantly. Ideas breed more ideas, analysis breeds more analysis. This is not to say that all the thoughts are great thoughts. The sufferer just can't stop.

I believe all the major inventors, philosophers, composers, artists, scientists and other luminous intellectuals have thinkitis. That does not mean every thinkitis sufferer will produce great work. But that makes it all the worse. One can understand the compulsion of genius without being a genius.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Combat Ready

How do you maintain the most effective fighting forces in the world, which you promise you will only use for your own national defense or the defense of weaker entities who deserve protection, without ever actually fighting anyone except when it absolutely counts?

The United States prides itself on its military forces. We also try to maintain the image that we stand for Truth, Justice, Freedom and Democracy around the world, which means we don't openly condone the kind of rape, pillage and murder with which despots of old used to reward their loyal troops. How do you keep those forces sharp without letting them actually fight someone once in a while?

The troops, once trained, may want to use some of the cool hardware and lethal maneuvers they worked so hard to perfect. Sure, some of them might have joined just for three hots and a cot, or a college loan, but you will have some enthusiastic fighters in there as well.

To keep it real, even a practice war has to carry a risk of injury or death. Play dates like Grenada or Panama don't raise a warrior's self esteem. So the leader has to find something useful, dangerous, but still winnable as a goal.

The first Gulf War turned out to be great for morale. It was too short to descend into slogging combat and atrocities. We came, we shocked and awed, we conquered. So a second Iraq war could well have looked like a tonic for the American military and the American people. Prophets of doom could predict quagmires, but the American leadership knew the Iraqi military would crumble. Then our forces could swoop in, kick ass, mop up a little and leave a vital oil-producing region in better shape than they found it. The troops would have gotten a little live-fire experience, the few casualties could be lauded as heroes and we'd all get back on the highway in our SUVs with the feeling of a job well done.

The American leadership had to know that the real story will happen elsewhere. The real war has yet to break out. Except this little training war won't go away.

While we continue to waste time engaging small nations of primitive people in the outmoded confrontational style called War, the nations and cultures that really stand to topple us from dominance are doing it the new way, in business. We supposedly bankrupted the Soviet Union by forcing it into an arms race and proxy wars it could not afford. Now, with no one forcing us, we drain our own substance into bush wars and fall further and further in debt to foreign financiers.

Corporations, given the legal status of persons, become the new despots who transcend national boundaries and allegiances. While we still have a representative government of any kind, we need to vote for some controls on corporate power.

Ha. Who am I kidding? But it feels good to say it as if it could be so.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Worst is Better, Best is Great

If you have a lousy relationship, smile. At least you know what to expect. Get out of it as soon as you can.

If you have a great relationship, congratulations. May it continue.

So much for the ends of the spectrum. One might think that any step from lousy toward great on the continuum would mean life was getting better. But unimaginable hell awaits you in the vast wilderness between unadulterated crap and impossibly happily ever after.

What if you never know, as you head home from your long day doing whatever you do, whether you will walk into warmth and light, pleasant odors and sweet sounds, or a dense cloud of personal misery? Your first few breaths will either lift you to a plateau caressed by healing breezes or throw you to the floor in a funk that will make you wish you'd driven into that lake by the sharp curve and inhaled deeply of the icy torrent that rushed in through the window you opened for it.

Maybe I'm just loving company here, but I fear that the vast majority of us dwell in that middle land of uncertainty.

It has been said that in a marriage no one in the household can be happier than the most miserable member of it. What we call love requires us to care how the loved one feels, even if we can't really do anything about it.

In a marriage of unequal partnership, one person dominates. The dominant member's feelings go up, everyone goes up. The dominant member's feelings go down, everyone goes down. The dominant member has to do something, everyone's schedule revolves around that. It keeps life simple, and simple is good. But only one member of the partnership can have strong ambitions.

The supporting partner could have a strong ambition to make the dominant partner the best damn whatever-it-is in the world. If that does not satisfy the supportive partner's need for self-worth, then there's going to be trouble. The divorce boom that began in the 1960s showed that the unequal marriage model was in trouble. But that doesn't mean the unequal model is wrong for everyone.

People are drawn to each other. We look for allies, partners, intimates. Then we get the blowback. The gears grind instead of meshing. You spend a lot of time either wallowing in the swamp of misery to show solidarity, or ignoring the other person and hoping for the best. Neither one exactly fits the image of either fairy tale happiness or a shared struggle to reach a common goal. And yet it may be the best most of us can hope to get.

People you might perceive as steady, hardworking and boring can turn out to have powerful feelings hurling them up toward the sun and dragging them down into the abyss. These are not just afflictions of the creative and passionate. But be warned: the creative and passionate come with that program automatically loaded and cued up.

It's often hard to remember, when you have no one, just what it's like to have someone. So let me remind you. It's like being that little rubber ball attached by an elastic to a wooden paddle. The child playing with this toy has the option of hitting into open flames, gravy, wine, sewage, cold rain, dry air, car exhaust, dog farts, perfume and the musky odors of sex. And the little bastard will be mixing them all up.