This last weekend, I got offered a unique experience. A man who runs corporate expeditions with clients from France all across the Southwest and around American had reached out to see if I would be available or interested in helping him set up a Glamping experience for his client in Monument Valley. I hastily agreed. Getting paid to have unique experiences has become my standard of living. I mean, most of my adventures and accomplishments in the last decade have been job motivated, from kayaking in Texas to climbing mountains in California. During the weekend of the Harvest Full Moon, I was invited to stand-up-paddle-board on the river in the moonlight, and despite that I have been mourning my lack of river time, and yearning for a paddle board for the last few months, I declined. It's been a pretty crazy month, so I opted instead to stay home and dutifully work toward a deadline. (Had I been invited more than an hour in advance I'm sure I would have accepted). Immediately after declining, however, I ached with FOMO (fear of missing out). Why had I neglected this incredible opportunity? Probably because I wasn't getting paid. I have been so blessed with the opportunity to experience unique events and get paid for them, albeit a relatively small wage, that it didn't seem worth my time. So, I jumped at the opportunity to get paid to drive five hours to Monument Valley and set up some tents.
After I agreed and told my partner about the opportunity, he suggested he could come along. Now, as much as I enjoy his company, he and I have very different working styles, and it has become evident over the three years we've known each other that working together is not always the best idea. However, the man that hired me suggested I bring someone else along to help, so things fit into place for my Significant Other to come along and for us to spend his birthday weekend within the beauty of Monument Valley, in exchange for a little work.
I.Leading up to this weekend, I became increasingly nervous. Obviously, I trust and respect my partner, but I also acknowledge that he has different perspectives and values of worth ethic than I do, as molded from his different experiences. That's part of what makes me so attracted to him. But he was a big part of the tensions with my last boss, that (thankfully) led to me quitting that job which also involved setting up tents in the desert, so inviting him into a new, similar situation made me nervous. In my last job he argued that I was being undervalued and working too hard compared to his experiences, but lacking those experiences for myself, it felt normal. What I didn't see when I said yes to this adventure was that this was a similar situation of exploiting my willingness to help for a relatively low wage. Still, I wanted so badly for this to be a weekend of fun adventure and not the difficult learning experience it turned out to be.
Friday, the day we left on our journey, set the stage for my anxiety. My partner couldn't make it home in time for our internet-switching appointment, so I had to barrel into town with the dogs thrown in the car and try to communicate about something I didn't understand. When I returned to the house there was a series of delays and miscommunications that ended with us setting out for our journey earlier than expected but later than would have been ideal. The whole drive I felt familiar butterflies build as I worried I would let down my new boss by not getting the van in time.
The first drive was fine. 1.5 hours to Santa Fe. We picked up he rental van, we drove to the shed that was absolutely packed full of stuff for us to take to the valley, and it clearly became evident that it would be impossible to fit this pile of stuff into this small of a van. This is where my first learning experience began. My partner, apparently, expresses his frustration very vocally. He couldn't believe that we were set to do a task and this essential piece (the correct sized van) was incorrect. I, however, have been through so many headaches and scraping together-of-situations, including years of crisis after crisis with things falling apart and being physically or metaphorically duct taped back together, that this impossibility felt almost comfortably familiar. My partner on the other hand, who had never worked for this person before, and who has been paid more than we were offered to do much simpler things, and who had not been presented with the entirety of the situation, was understandably agitated. Nevertheless, somehow everything got stuffed into the van, and we began our journey into the valley.
II.As we departed Farmington around 10 p.m. with groceries in my lap for lack of space to put them, I began to feel sad that my S.O.'s first view of the valley would be int he dark, without so much as the moon to highlight incredible features around us. Shortly after that thought, however, an orange slice of the moon rose in the blackness along the horizon. By the time we made it to the valley, the yellowing moon was just high enough to be framed by the darkened sky-reaching spires. We pulled into the campground at midnight, staked our tent into the hard ground between RV's, and had a quick snooze before the sun came up. In the morning, after being shocked to discover that there were no bathrooms at the campsite, and that the road we needed to take would be closed until the moment we needed to finish our set-up, we worked the magic that our relationship tends to exude, and arrived at the site of our camp before 8 a.m.. This was to the dismay of the people who had paid to stay the night before and were just waking up as we bounced into the private campground. This was a hiccup we were not expecting. French and British people exited their Hogans as we dumped loads of gear on the ground outside their bedrooms. I found myself in a place I find myself often-- empathetically between two differing views on a situation, understanding both sides. Often this is an emotional weight that becomes difficult to bear, but just as often, being able to see two sides unbiasedly allows me to be somewhat of a conflict resolver. This time, I tried to explain to the foreigners visiting this beautiful space that I was just doing my job, and that's kind of the American way. There had clearly been some communication issues that were not my fault, but I couldn't wait for them to take their time and wake up. Eventually my boss offered them some compensation! to leave quickly, and we were left in the crisp desert air with our pile of gear to be built into a temporary kingdom.
The frustration started it's uphill climb to a peak that would be met around noon, four exhausting hours later. Once the sun rose over the iconic rock structures, the chilly desert temperature rose about thirty degrees. As the sun moved West, we moved heavy bundles, pounded stakes into impossibly hard ground (okay, my man did most of them. I did 10 stakes, he did 110), siphoned stagnant water into shower bags and gussied up the dirt. But a pervasive theme kept popping up. In my nativity to accept a unique experience for money, I trusted this boss to see through all the details. Only 10 stakes in, we broke the mallet included with the tents. We borrowed a real hammer from the land owner and broke that, too. My S.O. was using rocks pretty successfully until he was reminded by a pain in his wrist of the helpfulness of handles for such tools.
Without the right van, or hammer, you have to work harder. I have worked in Education my whole life and with a lot of non-profits and between the two there very much seems to be this understanding that you have to do whatever you can with whatever you have and more often than not you do not have the right tool for the job. This has encouraged me to be creative, but also to be satisfied with an imperfect job, because it was the best you could do. My S.O. however, is a craftsman. A woodworker, gun smith and tattoo artist, he prides himself in measuring twice, focusing in and producing the finest product possible. What vastly different approaches to a simple sort of job...
After hours of head-scratching, yelling, complaining and looking into the beauty around us for a break, we jumped in the van and made the arduous trek thirty minutes into town in quest of the correct tools.
III.On the drive into town we talked out what was going on. I had agreed to trade my work-ethic for an adventure-- going to a new place with my S.O., without fully thinking through the details, and the result was the two of us busting our butt for someone who was underpaying us for the work we achieved. I had undervalued myself, and had to find a way to correct it to make this experience worthwhile. Fortunately I had some nice long hours to think about how to do that.
When we returned, I was sweating. Not from the heat- but from the fear that my craftsman S.O. who had been breaking his wrists to build a dream for someone who hadn't brought the right tools for the job, would pull the plug on this journey. Instead, an old friend showed up and offered some much needed comic relief and two amazing helping hands. By the time the boss showed up, we were just about done. Four canvas tents with well tucked sheets rose tightly out of the ground, surrounded by lots of little details more appropriate for a permanent glamping company. We finished up and rolled out to The View to be treated to some Navajo tacos and front-row-views of tourists taking pictures of rocks. All I had to worry about now was making breakfast before their 6am departure, and then tearing down and packing up all the work we had done.
We slept on the soft red dirt. I awoke at 4:22, and carried a stove a tenth of a mile across the dark sand listening to a Frenchman talk loudly in his tent, wondering how I got myself into this position. To many people, this would be a totally novel experience, but to me this sort of hard work at weird hours in outdoor spaces is a days-work. "Is it time to retire from this world?", I wondered. Or is working hard for little pay just my gig?
I made the coffee, burritos for 30, and fruit salad. The blue dawn stretched into the dark night, and the fire roared with Frenchman around it. Beside the fire an aging wagon flapped an American and French flag, as the silhouettes of the Monuments could be seen against the brightening sky.
After they had packed up, the Frenchmen loaded into their convertibles rented for their trip, did some donuts in the soft red dirt on the sacred ground that didn't belong to them, and got an intense talking-to by one of the land-owners.
When all was quiet, we began to tear down and fold up our four 16-foot tall canvas tents, three showers, 30 shower bags, six tables, 30 chairs, 18 cots with sheets, pillows and blankets, lanterns, torches, coffee pots, food, solar lights, kitchen pots, dirty dishes and gather the trash. We left by noon. We drove a beautiful seven hours in a tightly-packed, very heavy van, and made it home in time to go to dinner.
Unfortunately... we went home. The van rental place closed at 2 on Sundays, so we couldn't return the van. This was another example of a waste of my time that wasn't paid for. This morning I woke up, drove the van to Santa fe, unloaded it, drove it to the rental place, got a ride back to my car by a man who's main job has been kidnapping kids to take them to residential treatment centers, and then sped back up to Taos in time for work. All that drive time gave me a moment to reflect on my own. "Never say no to an interesting opportunity" is a mantra that has guided the decisions in my life thus far. However, as I'm noticing changes in desires and habits as I age, perhaps this is something I can change, too. I still want to be known for being hard working and helpful. I don't want to seem money-driven even though I obsess over budget-sheets. I can earn $25/hour to watch children sleeping, but in this case received about $12/hour for a good-steady-workout far away from home. So I wonder... was it worth it? I guess I'll have to ask myself that when the next opportunity arises.