Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
November 15 - 25, 1999
What with one thing and another, it took several hours to wind up this end-of-the-season staff meeting. There was one more item on the list to wrap up the year: the season-end staff party at Al's the next night. Everybody who had been at the staff meeting would be there, of course, but so would most of the summer boatmen and swampers within reach, many of the people from other companies who had filled in for the odd trip or two, a few former boatmen like Michelle's parents Pat and Rachel, and other friends or people who had made contributions to the season. Randy would have been welcome had he been willing to come despite the distance.
None of the Grand Canyon raft companies are licensed to sell or provide beer, but customers are allowed to bring their own, and the boatmen usually threw some in for themselves. In high summer, usually every drop would be consumed well before reaching Diamond Creek, but in the spring and fall there were usually cans left over, riding in drag bags or the bottoms of the rafts. Often there was still some left over, and it went into storage in the barn. Most usually made a second trip down river as the boatmen's contribution to the beer supply, but considering the cool fall trips there was usually plenty left for the party.
The party was pretty good. There were a lot of people there, many of whom Scooter had never met since they were summer boatmen or swampers on other crews; some of those she might be working with another summer, especially since Al liked to mix crews around a little from year to year. Even Bill flew in from California, the first time she'd met him. And, of course, for some people this party was a farewell to Canyon Tours. They made a pretty good dent in the beer supply, and Scooter heard some tales that she hadn't heard before. One special feature of the party was that Al had found several copies of f64 with Scooter's picture on the cover, and she was presented with a framed copy of the shot, with a compliment not only for getting on the cover, but for getting Canyon Tours mentioned as well. There were a few other such presentations, including some gag awards, such as a gold-painted brick -- the "Unstreamlined Brick" Award for his attempt at flight at Lonetree Wash. And, of course Al thanked everyone for their kindness and help in keeping things going following Louise's death.
The party went late, and several people got pretty steamed on the drag-bag leftovers. At one point, Crystal and Scooter were talking with Michelle's father, Pat, mostly griping about how they were having Grand Canyon withdrawal symptoms already. "I have a really, really stupid question for you," Pat grinned. I know you've both run the Canyon a lot, but have you ever seen the Canyon? I mean, from the rim? It's a whole different wonderland once you get above the Inner Gorge."
"When I was a kid we spent maybe ten minutes at the South Rim," Crystal admitted. "I really don't remember much about it. Nothing else, except for Navajo Bridge and Lee's, of course."
"Except for one quick trip to Phoenix, the only time I've been outside Flag all summer is on the crew bus or a raft," Scooter admitted. "And this is the first time I've been in the southwest."
"Then you haven't seen the Grand Canyon, either of you! One of these days, why don't you take a run out to the rim? Rachel or I can point out some sights that'll give you a different perspective than being down at the bottom of the ditch. And to top it off, both of you are Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. There's some great hiking down there. This is the time of the year to do it, when it's not a damn oven and it's easier to get permits."
"With my bum knees, I can't hike much anymore," Scooter protested. "I can tough out short hikes from the rafts, and I might even be able to hack two or three days if I use hiking poles and knee braces, especially if I keep the load to pretty ultralight."
"There are plenty of good two- and three-day trips," Pat suggested. "For instance, a lot of people hike down the Kaibab, spend the night at Phantom, and then hike back up the Bright Angel. You might want to get to know those two trails so they won't intimidate you, since sooner or later you'll have to do a half trip and that's how you do it."
The following Monday they drove out to the South Rim to Pat and Rachel's gift shop -- which was a pretty big emporium of all sorts of Canyon-related merchandise and books. They bought several books about the Canyon to improve their background in future years, and Pat took them to a number of the overviews. One thing they hadn't quite realized was how insignificant the river -- which they thought of as their river -- was from the rim. It couldn't be seen from the busy area around the Bright Angel and Kaibab Trailheads at all -- well, there was one spot where it could be seen, but it took being in the right place with binoculars and knowing where to look. East of there, near the Desert View Watchtower, the river could be seen in the distance in the open Unkar Plain area around Cardenas, just before it dropped into Upper Granite Gorge, but it looked pretty insignificant.
The next day, Scooter unlimbered the Leki hiking poles that had taken her the length of the Appalachian Trail, snugged up her knee braces, and started down the Kaibab Trail with Crystal and Michelle. She knew that going down was going to be harder on her knees than going up, so they started early and took their time. It was getting late in the day before they walked over the Kaibab Bridge down at the bottom of the Canyon and looked a few feet down at the river that had been their focus for months. Scooter could remember any number of times that she'd stood at a bridge over a river and wondered what was around the bend, and for once, in this spectacular place, she didn't have to wonder. She'd been there, and given half a chance was going to be there again for years, perhaps many years. This was indeed a long, long way from NOC and Wesser and the AT, but she was glad she'd made the trip.
The three of them spent the night at Phantom Ranch Campground, then started up the Bright Angel the next day. All the way, Scooter kept thinking of Al climbing this trail in the heat and desperation of last June -- and how things had changed in ways she could never have imagined on that day. They got up to the top all right about mid afternoon. Scooter was still getting along but she could feel that her knees were on the verge of giving her trouble, although she'd hiked many days and many miles with them feeling worse. That seemed to indicate that her suspicion of last spring that the dry climate would help her knees had held some water, but was not a cure-all. Long distance hiking was probably now a thing of the past, she had to admit; her life had taken her in a different direction and she was glad of it.
The next few days back in Flagstaff, she and Crystal didn't do a lot. They did a little shopping, winter and other clothes mostly, and some comfort items for the house. Over the course of the summer, Scooter had become convinced that she liked the short hair style that the customer had given her with the scissors from the first aid kit. She hadn't had it worked on since, and it was getting pretty shaggy, so a visit to the hairdresser was in order. In the process, the hairdresser evened up her hair color some, lightening it a bit. It was hard to think of herself as a blonde, but now here it was.
One of the things they went shopping for was some halfway nice clothes. They had several things coming up in the next few weeks where they were going to have to look fairly nice, and in spite of everything it just didn't seem like old blue jeans and a faded "Canyon Tours" sweatshirt would be quite appropriate for some of them. Some slacks and a fairly nice blouse and sweater seemed to fill the bill without going overboard.
The first of those events came up a week after they got back from the South Rim and two weeks after they got off the river for their last trip of the year -- Thanksgiving dinner down in Phoenix at Jon and Tanisha's. Scooter got on her new outfit, and for once she didn't feel quite like the rough-and-scruffy river guide she knew she really was. Crystal didn't quite go overboard either; a little to her surprise her mother was also in slacks. That would have never have happened for a Thanksgiving dinner back in Glen Ellyn, so it was pretty obvious that Karin was well on the way to transitioning into a river-guide mode herself.
Scooter and Crystal mostly looked at meeting Jon and Tanisha's friend as a chance to meet someone who had become something of a legend to them. They were pretty complacent about what she did as a sideline; after all, Andrea and Debby had caused them to get used to the idea earlier in the summer, and another visit to see them was probably in the works sometime in the near future. Karin, however, was understandably nervous about meeting "Learjet Jenn," even though Al said she was an extremely cool lady -- a millionaire prostitute with a doctorate who flew her own Learjet was not the sort of person she'd been used to meeting up to this point in her life.
Jon and Tanisha's place proved to be on the edge of a huge complex of cheap cookie-cutter townhouses; on their way down, Crystal explained that the two were trying to save their money since they planned on financing doctorates themselves in the next few years. Though Scooter didn't know them well, what little she did know of them was that they were pretty down to earth, hard workers, and they both seemed pretty cool. Still, it was a strange and a little bit of an emotional experience to witness -- and be a part of -- since it had been many years since she'd had a quasi-family holiday like this, and it seemed a little overwhelming. Though she was a little on the outer circle, this was the closest thing she'd had to a family in many years.
Scooter's first look at Jennlynn was a little surprising; she had a reputation for being a very sharp and expensive dresser, but for this she was wearing tight but well-fitting blue jeans and a flannel shirt. She was, however, an extremely good-looking woman, as tall as Crystal, more slender, with a huge shock of layered black hair and an intriguing smile. Immediately on seeing Al, she threw her arms around him and said, "Oh, Al! I was so sorry to hear about Louise! If I'd known I'd have come up to the funeral."
"I still miss her a lot," Al admitted. "I probably always will. She's mostly the one that was responsible for making me what I am today."
"She was an inspiration to me, that's for sure," Jennlynn nodded. "She had lots to be proud of for what she accomplished, and you have much to be proud of about her."
If Karin was nervous when Jon introduced her to Jennlynn, she didn't show it -- maybe because in the few seconds they'd been together Jennlynn seemed a lot more down to earth than she'd been expecting. When Jon introduced her to Crystal, she said warmly, "I'm so happy to finally meet you! I've heard about you for years, and Jon just about idolizes you!"
"That's sure a change from high school," Karin snorted. "The two of them were at each other's throats all the time."
"I think there's been a little growing up going on," Jon smiled. "I guess I didn't realize until after I met Tanisha that Crystal was blazing a trail for me. Anyway, Jennlynn, this is Crystal's friend and assistant trip leader, Scooter."
"Oh, I recognize you!" Jennlynn said with a smile. "Phadre showed me the picture of you she took, the one she got on the cover of f64! An awesome picture, I thought it captured the essence and the power of a Canyon woman like Louise was."
"I'm proud to follow in her footsteps," Scooter smiled. "But . . . Phadre?"
"Oh, you'd think of her as Debby," Jennlynn shrugged. "I think of her as Phadre; that's the work name she uses. Is Scooter your real name?"
"No, but it's the only thing I answer to anymore. I'm thinking of having it legally changed. Scooter is a trail name I picked up on the Appalachian Trail."
"Oh, that's right, you thru-hiked the AT, Jon told me that," Jennlynn smiled. "Back when I was in high school I thought that might be something I'd like to try, but my life took me in a considerably different direction."
No shit, Scooter thought but carefully did not say. "It's the thing I've done that I'm proudest of," she said truthfully. "It was harder for me because of my bum knees, so accomplishing it was a bigger thing than it was for some people."
"That's often the case, isn't it? We're proudest of the things we've had to overcome the greatest adversities to get. Mrs. Chladek, you have a couple kids you have good reason to be proud of, along with your daughter-in-law and your friend here."
"Even not knowing what they're supposed to be doing, I'm rather proud of Jon and Tanisha," Karin said truthfully. "They seem to have done pretty well at overcoming adversity."
"More like spitting in its eye," Jennlynn said. She let out a sigh, and continued, "I know I can't tell you what they do at work, but if the story can ever be told you'll have even more to be proud of. They are quite a unique young couple. I don't know if you've picked up on how close they are, but the general belief around Lambdatron is that they read each other's minds."
"We're close, sure," Jon snorted. "And there's reason for that. But read each other's minds? We just think a lot alike when it comes to engineering, no mindreading involved."
"That's sure not what it looks like," Jennlynn snorted back. She turned to Al and Karin. "If you have any other two engineers in the building discussing a concept, there's a ton of talking, sometimes chalkboards, usually computer work, and it almost always goes on for hours. At least if I walk in on a discussion I know what they're talking about. Set Jon and Tanisha on the same subject, they look in each other's eyes, once in a while exchange a word or two, none of them remotely related to the project, and then turn around and jointly explain the most off-the-wall concept that you've ever heard. Almost always it's dead on. Again, I can't tell you details, but they pulled a deal like that earlier in the year that had absolutely baffled everyone else in the company. They have a great future at Lambdatron." All of a sudden she came to a stop, and her eyes opened wide. "I better quit running off at the mouth and go stir my jambalaya."
"Relax, Jennlynn, I just did," Tanisha smiled.
"Jambalaya?" Karin smiled. "That's a little non-traditional for Thanksgiving."
"Well, it's a lot non-traditional Thanksgiving," Tanisha giggled. "Besides, when Jennlynn offered to make her jambalaya, I wasn't going to turn her down. We've had it before; it's exceptional."
"So you're a great cook, too?" Al grinned. "I didn't know that."
"I'm a lousy cook," Jennlynn snorted. "When I eat at home, which isn't often, it's always something I can take from the freezer directly to the microwave and from there to the table. But I used to work with a girl who was a great Cajun cook; she taught me a few things."
"I'm a lousy cook, too," Tanisha said. "We figured that between us we could fake it. Jennlynn, the good cooks are the ones who walked in the door a few minutes ago."
"Yeah," Karin laughed. "But for three of them it only counts if they're outside, preferably down by a river someplace. In the last week I've also learned that inside they have trouble microwaving TV dinners."
"I knew that about Al," Jennlynn laughed. "But it doesn't surprise me about these two, either."
"What makes it worse," Karin smiled, "Is that I think of myself as a good cook. Or used to, anyway. But since I've been living with them and running the river with them, TV dinners are beginning to make sense to me at home, too."
"And she's getting darn good with river cooking herself," Scooter laughed.
They spent a lot of time talking while dinner was getting ready -- mostly standing around near the kitchen and trying to stay out of Jon, Tanisha, and Jennlynn's way -- an interesting conversation among interesting people. Jennlynn made no secret of her part time hobby, but didn't go out of her way to talk about it, either, so it rarely came up. A good example was one that Tanisha used when the topic strayed to the troubles they'd had with her brother. "My brother is very political," Tanisha explained. "He thinks all white people are the devil incarnate. You can imagine how he would feel about Jon if he knew about him. Jon met him briefly, just once, and had to deck him so I could make my escape from St. Louis. At the time my brother thought he was just a ride, not my boyfriend."
"I didn't really deck him, I just caught him off balance and gave you a chance to run," Jon protested. "And at that time I really was just a ride, not your boyfriend," he added quietly, "But it changed right after that."
"That's true," Tanisha added. "I won't go into the ins and outs of it, but it was pretty paranoid there, and still is. Just before we graduated from Georgia Tech, I got a letter from my brother saying that he was coming down to graduation to drag me back to the church and my people since he couldn't allow me to run around unsupervised and risk ruining his reputation. I thought he was full of racist and sexist shit and didn't think he had a good reputation anyway. But Jon and I decided to get out of Atlanta before the ceremonies, just to avoid a confrontation. That led to the question of my getting my diploma."
"Her brother had gotten her address through the college," Jon explained. "We figured he'd find out where she was again by the address she gave them to send her diploma."
"It was Jon's idea," Tanisha snickered, "Although I thought it was a good one. He suggested we talk to Jennlynn, to have my diploma sent to the Redlite Ranch."
"Oh, God!" Scooter shook her head. "That was dirty!"
"I thought so," Tanisha grinned. "It was what he deserved, though, for thinking he could run my life for the sake of his reputation, like I didn't count for anything."
"You see why I like these kids?" Jennlynn laughed. "I picked up her diploma a couple months later. We had a little presentation for her at the office."
"It's still my mailing address, as far as Georgia Tech is concerned," Tanisha laughed. "Jennlynn brings me stuff from the Alumni office once in a while. I sometimes wonder what they must think."
The conversation continued on for hours, helped along by a bottle of good after-dinner wine, sitting around on the cheap furniture of Jon and Tanisha's living room. It was long after dark when the people from Flagstaff started making sounds that they had to get back on the road. "This has been an absolutely wonderful afternoon," Karin beamed. "I've enjoyed getting to know Tanisha better, and Jennlynn, I've really enjoyed getting to know you. You're quite a fascinating woman on several levels."
"It's nice to have a family Thanksgiving," Jennlynn nodded. "I really appreciate you making me a part of it. There's a family up in Nevada I occasionally have holidays with, but usually I'm either by myself or at the Redlite, and that's never less than poignant. Let's face it, a bordello Christmas is a bordello Christmas, there's no way around it."
"We're going to have sort of an open family Christmas up in Flagstaff," Al told her. "We have several rafters in the area that don't have family locally, some none at all. I'd be pleased if you could join us."
"Al, I really appreciate the offer," Jennlynn smiled. "Could you have someone pick me up at the airport?"
"Of course," Al grinned. "By the way, it's going to have to be kind of a dress down thing, some of the rafters don't have nice clothes, and I don't want to rub it in their noses."
"I understand perfectly," Jennlynn grinned. "I can be casual. I like dressing up, but that's the kind of person I am."
"Good," Al suggested. "We'll be looking forward to seeing you."
It was actually approaching midnight when they got on the road for the two-hour drive back to Flagstaff, and there were yawns all around the car. "Al, you were right," Karin grinned. "She's an absolutely fascinating woman. I really enjoyed meeting her."
"She's very different," Scooter observed. "But you know what? In a way, I think it's kind of a case of like attracting like, or at least odd attracting odd."
"Right," Crystal laughed. "And in the eyes of most of the world, the people in this car have to be odder than most."