November 4, 2005
By Jay Meehan
From across the street it looked to be one of those classic old Volvo station wagons held together by bumper stickers, rollin’ papers, and rust. You know the kind packed to the gunwales with an antique-road-show’s worth of skis, boots, poles, bikes, sleepin’ bags, backpacks, and Labrador retrievers. If Main Street was a border crossing, a thorough search of the suspect vehicle no doubt would have also turned up a camping stove, a flyrod, a bent kayak paddle, a pile of climbing rope in macrame form, and enough spilled and mashed Purina Dog Chow to last the new kid in town until his first paycheck.
He wasn’t the most talkative sort to ever hit these parts, but beer and a smile and a bit of patience seemed to loosen him up some. He offered what he called the "short version." He would rather make telemark turns in the trees than eat& and, for the most part, that’s about how things had gone down the last couple of years.
Recent ski-mag hype had put Park City on his map and, if he could make it work, he’d like to spend this season in the Wasatch. Especially since he was already here& and broke. Actually, he did have a few resources tucked away in the form of a couple of local phone numbers of friends of friends and a credit card that had balked a bit the last time it was plopped on a counter. Anyway, the drive train and transmission had held together long enough to get him here. He’d worry about the hubs and horn and headlights after he hired on somewhere. Everything in its own time, he figured. And his cooler and dry goods box still held enough beer and gorp and oatmeal to pull him through. Coming up and over Slumgullion Pass in the San Juans had proved a bit dicier than he’d planned, what with the early snowfall and all, but he had been dead set on checking out Crested Butte. That vibe didn’t fit, however, so he lit out for Park City& but the gas pumps just about done him in.
Hopefully, he had blown into town early enough to acquire a night gig of some sort and digs within stumblin’ distance from both place of employment and ski slope but, so far, on what was turning into a rather cold and blustery first full day out looking, not much was goin’ his way.
He might have found couch space for a couple of nights but roommates weren’t exactly lining up and neither were any of those cool ski-town jobs he’d held down in other resort towns in other mountains in other winters. But, no worries, he’d give it a few more days. Something, or someone, would turn up.
His first job interview a bar manager who seemed to like him well enough but couldn’t put him to work until the season "really got rolling" led to one with a guy who ran a fleet of snow-plow, pick-up trucks but didn’t have much use for anyone who would rather make turns in trees than move snow in parking lots once the fluff hit the ground.
It’s a jungle out there – strange town, strange faces, competition for comfort. They come to town and hop from "job fairs" to the "classifieds" and back again. Meetings with prospective bosses and landlords most often take place on adjoining barstools.
Last winter in Telluride he was actually offered a "large walk-in closet with a cot." He took it. Then a mattress on the floor of a "hallway going nowhere" down in the basement became available. He took that, too! He was moving up! By the time he packed up and blew town last month, he had sub-leased the hallway and was crashing in a room with an actual bed.
Since then, it’s been tent and car camping and, generally, rolling with the ebb and flow. The ebb would probably include discovering his spare tire was in worse shape than the right-front he blew out near Paonia& while the flow would involve, among other liquid assets, the follow-up brew I signaled the barkeep to place in front of him. This one got him talkin’ about ski bummin’ in the new millennium. It seemed tougher goin’ for him now than it was back in the day but it wasn’t any less fun. Ski town cops, he said, were a lot less uptight these days but skier-friendly jobs and dog-friendly housing were "hard nuts to crack" if you didn’t know anyone. The best ski job he ever held down was as a weekend swing-shift bartender where the "chicks" shared tip money and traded him haircuts for ski tuning. It also came with a loft apartment above a storehouse out back that only cost him time spent on twice-a-week inventories, daily hauling of booze to bar, trash management, and assorted handy-man operations that came up.
"You don’t find those kind of set-ups much anymore," he offered. Obviously, he wished the lifestyle didn’t have so much "survival baggage," but he wouldn’t trade his time spent negotiating trees in powder for "a more-secure-but-less-free trip through time." Another round had the talk turning to books, music, organic cotton, alternative energy and the skyrocketing cost of tequila. He had more interviews and more job fairs staring him in the face tomorrow but, with many of his neighbors at the bar chiming in with suggestions and rumors, he figured things were looking up. Besides, he said he had a vision while sleeping with his dog in the back of the Volvo the other night.
Just before drifting-off in that trance-like state that precedes sleep a classified ad appeared. It was a siren’s call. "Single young female with means looking for itinerant dog owner with questionable past and prospects to share spacious ski-in/ski-out, hot tub- and fireplace-equipped, slope-side log home. No cooking, cleaning or rent required."
Maybe he’d give it another day or two. Sure hope so. He and his ilk are the glue that holds this whole thing we call ski-town living together. They fill in the voids that annually appear in the fabric, continually provide more diverse mindsets to the mix, and raise car living to an art form.