Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting Drunk the Park Service Way

I’m in a reflective mood these days. Here are some more reflections and memories of my National Park Service years. The other day while I was driving over to Grand Junction, there was a accident in the opposite lane of Interstate 70 near Thompson Springs. On scene were an ambulance, a highway patrolman and a life flight helicopter was just leaving with someone who must have been in pretty bad shape. It brought back memories. Those of us who worked as rangers in Resource Management were often called on to back up the Law Enforcement rangers in some fashion that didn't put us in harm's way. At various times responding to automobile accidents and other incidents, I did some things that I’d never done before and haven’t done since. Numerous times I directed traffic on a road that was strewn with wreckage and suddenly down to one lane. I drove the ambulance, lights flashing and siren blaring, away from an accident site with a heart attack victim on board. I was directed to drive as fast as I possibly could without being unsafe. I drove the fire truck to accident sites numerous times because it had all of the victim extraction equipment on board. I stopped traffic and secured the road so that a life flight helicopter could land and load and take off. Several times I saw horribly mangled victims, some dead, some alive.

Most days we spent minding our own business. Resource Managment rangers managed the bear and other animal populations, killed weeds, and dealt with over-enthusiastic visitors doing various brainless activities threatening to the resource or their lives. But when a call came on the radio reporting an accident, a search, or an emergency of some kind, we would drop what we were doing race and off to be of assistance to the over-stretched rangers. It seems when the shit hits the fan, there is no substitute for a few extra people in uniform with a badge and a radio.

RM rangers do unusual things. We trapped varmints from buildings, rescued owls hit by cars, removed bats from residences, looked for eagle chicks that fell from the nest, hauled dead deer, elk and bison from the road, hauled dead bison out of the Yellowstone River, cut trees that had fallen across the road, manned roadblocks because of fire or snow, and tried to keep the visitors from feeding the bears. We released ravens and magpies caught in fishing line, cleared trails in the backcountry, set bear hair snares for DNA studies, and patrolled the geyser basins. I once cleaned up the mess in a thermal hot pool because an elk calf had fallen into it. I had the misfortune of finding a cow moose beside the road, hit by a car, with a broken foreleg. She had tried to run but could not get up on her remaining legs. She looked at me with those big brown eyes while I shot her in the head.

But nothing was stranger and more bizarre than helping to train the new seasonal rangers. Each year there would be two or three new rangers who had never before served in law enforcement in any capacity. They were fresh from one of the NPS academies and had never done an actual traffic stop. Our part in the training process was not informative or instructional in any way. Other, more professional rangers did that. Our involvement as Resource Management rangers was to get drunk. Yep. Bill and I got drunk for the Park Service. Here’s how it happened.

We were given about thirty US government dollars to go and get ourselves some beer, wine or liquor of our choice at the Hamilton store. Bill, my partner, who looks like Steve Martin and is almost as funny, got a few six packs of Corona and a fifth of bourbon. Another RM guy was with us, but he was our guardian and so he stayed sober. We retired to Bill’s residence and proceeded to drink un-responsibly.

After an hour or so of drinking, they took us over to the maintenance yard inside the locked gates. They set us in the driver’s seat of a car (without the keys). We were supposed to be drunk drivers and the Sub-District Ranger asked us to be somewhat co-operative as the new rangers acted out a traffic stop. We answered questions, blew into the Breathalyzer, walked the straight line, pointed to our nose with our eyes closed, and counted backwards. All went well and if we were real drunk drivers we would have been arrested and booked. Bill and I were having an absolutely wonderful time. I can’t remember if anyone else was quite so enthused. But we drank another beer and they asked us to do it again. We traded rangers and Tara, the Sub-District Ranger asked us to be un-cooperative drunks this time. That was a little harder. I am normally law-abiding, friendly and cooperative with law enforcement when I have been stopped because I think it only makes sense. There is no percentage in pissing off the gendarmes. But I tried my best to cooperate by being un-cooperative. It was fun to be a bad boy with parental blessing. I tied screwing around but the ranger was pretty cool and I was put in my place.

But Bill was spectacular. He’s a very funny guy, always upbeat and ready with a snide comment or a joke. He’s smart and witty. He teaches high school back in Maryland and has probably taken more shit from teenagers than anyone I know. I think he remembered every piece of shit flung at him over all those years. He was like sassy drunk lawyer who had a legal argument to deny every request. Bill couldn’t walk the imaginary line because he couldn’t find it and went looking for it. He blew in the wrong end of the breathalyzer. He counted in prime numbers instead of backwards. I think at one time he was doing knock-knock jokes. He had a smart-ass answer for every question and then a smart-ass question followed that. You know the old trick where you point at someone’s tie and then when they look down you tweak their nose. I think Bill did that. He had me feeling sorry for the new ranger. If there hadn’t been an audience standing by, that guy might have shot Bill on the spot. It was funny and pathetic. But it was good training for those new rangers and I imagine every traffic stop after that was much easier. And we were glad to help.


Anonymous said...

At last! A job description I am perfectly suited to fulfill..."drunken park visitor"! Where do I sign up?

Luke is still looking for her "niche" in life...have I finally found it?

Anonymous said...

HA!! I think this sounds like a pretty good job for you Doug!

Anonymous said...

Hey Doug, enjoyed you job description as a RM. Nice job if you can get it. I am in Denver visiting my Mom and sister. Going back to VA on the 13 of March. We are all well and doing fine. Kaleigh is 16.5 years old now and driving. We still homeschool and enjoy every minute of it. Still flying the Cessna 170 and will fly to Oshkosh again this year with a trip to Denver in June. Hi to Amy.