The story of our summer in the Tetons would not be complete without a shout out to our comrades who shared the same experience with us, working The Store at Jenny Lake, taking hikes, doing laundry in Jackson next to a great little Mexican dive, shopping at the local Kroger store, finding affordable restaurants and sharing tales of wildlife seen and photographed. Everyone of us was into the vibes of the Tetons and the incidental job that brought us all together.
Where The Jenny Lake store is situated, on the banks of Jenny Lake, was the site for over three years of a massive overhaul of the visitor center, the Ranger stations, the parking lots, the restroom facilities, the paving of paths to the water’s edge, the improvement to the trails that make up the network of some of the finest hikes to be had in the National Park System. Needless to say this reconstruction caused a huge problem to the infrastructure of the area, with access to many facilities cordoned off and indeed making certain key areas inaccessible for days and even weeks at a time.
A key part of the reconstruction is the main plaza with many interpretive displays, a visitor center and a revamped Ranger Station.
We were six couples that worked the store, five of whom are pictured above. The couple to the right of us were the managers. John and Sharon had managed the store for three years prior to taking the summer of 2018 off because of the crazy construction going on. Every year they worked a new revenue record was set and their return after a year off was to much fanfare of another record that might be set. The previous high was just over a million dollars set in 2017 and talk was by no means confident that that could be broken. John managed the grocery side of the store and Sharon managed the gift side. The guys worked with John and the girls with Sharon.
To the left of John and Sharon are Michael and Michele. They were the other early couple, along with us and John and Sharon, arriving the end of April to five foot snowbanks and a storm that dropped another foot on us the first night there. That first week at the store was tough…there was a lot of dust, dirt and grime all over the store, the result of a winter’s closing and the residue of construction on the plaza. Ice had to be chipped from the paths leading to the storefront, ceilings were dusted and thorough cleaning went from top to bottom. And on top of all the cleaning our first grocery order was delivered, a bit premature to say the least. Michael and Michele are also full timers, hailing originally out of California but now based out of Texas.
To the left of Michael and Michele are Mark and Pam. They hail from Columbia, South Carolina where for a couple of decades they ran a day care center, not an easy task given the huge number of federal and state regulations that they had to meet. I suspect that the ever-increasing restrictions put on them led to their decision to sell, and I also suspect that they are thrilled to have done so. They were a little more fair-weather workers, coming in towards the end of May and leaving in early September but their effort was no less nor was their commitment any different than the rest of us to the success of the store. As I write this, they are in Australia visiting friends and where the Australian government has shut down all immigration due to Covid19 – I hope their ability to leave the country is not problematic.
To the left of Pam and Mark are Angel and Peter. They are the kids age-wise of the group, and like John and Sharon and Michael and Michele, are committed to the RV lifestyle and accordingly need to work. All three of those couples worked at Amazon during the fall after the Jenny Lake stint, truly backbreaking work with high production goals to be met and failure to meet those goals a definite negative on workplace reviews. It’s a very difficult environment, on your feet for ten-hour days picking, walking from station to station with only federally mandated rest periods allocated. The money is very good, very good indeed, and one can make a good amount in the ten weeks prior to Christmas, but I have to think there is a certain price to pay. In addition to Amazon, John and Sharon and Peter and Angel have worked the beets. Yes, the beets, real beets, red beets, muddy beets, the beets that are used for feed, the beets that grow from Montana to the Dakotas, and that are harvested in a brief short three week period in the fall. (They do this stint after the Tetons and prior to Amazon, sort of a bootcamp if you will to get you ready for Amazon.) The pay is also very good, and if the weather cooperates one can make over $5,000 in that short time, but you are talking the upper mountain states where blizzards and sub freezing weather are not uncommon. My hat is off to them That’s the shit country western songs are made of.
Finally there were Gerry and Robert. They were returnees from the previous administration and also fair weather employees. They came in late May, same as Mark and Pam, and also left in early September. They were from the Tampa area, actually just north in a small town called San Antonio, or SanAn as the locals call it. Gerry ran a catering business for years, starting out as a one person operation that expanded to over 20 employees when she sold it some 20 years later. Robert worked for IBM for a number of years, enduring numerous transfers until he finally called it quits and went to work for a medical supply company until he retired from that. Affectionately nicknamed “40 head of cattle”, a moniker bestowed upon him because of his frequent tales of his cattle-raising neighbors, Robert, and Gerry’s dream, is to visit every national park and national monument in the United States. There are over 200 such animals at last count, assuming I haven’t missed any park closures by this current administration, and Robert’s last count of sites visited stood at 100. A ways to go.
We hit the new pavement running, setting daily and monthly records. Each month we guessed a new number the final one being $1,750,000. As you can see a proud Sharon stands by the new Jenny Lake achievement. We commented through the year about the camaraderie that came to be, the dedication to having John and Sharon create a sales figure that not even the highest pundit in Vail Properties could dream of. And it was worth it. John and Sharon were promoted at year’s end – John to Director of Grocery Operations for all of the Vail operations in the Tetons, and Sharon to manager of the Colter Bay gift store, the highest volume store in the operation. John would often say during the course of the year that no-one ever returned for a second year at Jenny Lake, that the work was too hard, the crowds were too huge and the reward maybe not quite as expected. It is to the credit of John and Sharon that four of us have re-upped. Michael and Michele will be the new managers replacing John and Sharon, and with the exception of Robert and Gerry who are off visiting as many national parks as possible, the rest of us are returning to try to help Michael and Michele set another record.
Tetons in French refers to a particular part of a woman’s anatomy, that of the upper chest. The first trappers, Frenchmen, when arriving in the valley and gazing at the incredible sight before them muttered “Mon Dieu, les Grand Tetons“, thus cementing for eternity a tribute to both the mountains and to women all over. Sophia Loren was no blushing bride either; an Italian actress born in an impoverished part of Rome in the 1930’s, she rose to become not only a voluptuous starlet but one of the most talented actresses to ever come out of Italy. One of the most desired women in the world, she once famously said “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” The following recipe is a simple but delicious blend of lemons, garlic, parsley and spaghetti. Amp-ed up Lemon Spaghetti inspired by Sophia Loren. Try it!