OK…there is a gap of about one week here in my Backcountry journal, so I can use this time to fill in with some other CCC stories.
One day shortly after I had promoted from Crew 3 Crewleader to Fisheries Special Corpsmember, I was having a hard time getting site plans for fisheries construction projects to correlate to the actual work sites. I was coming to the conclusion that the consultants I had been surveying the sites with had been off on a critical aspect of the plans. This was not a good feeling. I thought about what that meant in terms of all that money spent on the contract, and the possible consequences of building the structures wrong. Even worse…what if I was wrong? The consultants had PhD’s. They had years of experience in the field. I had a high school diploma and about three or four months total in salmon habitat restoration projects. I had a grand total of about two years’ experience if we factored in every other sort of natural resource project I had worked on. What if the problem wasn’t in the plans, but in mistakes I was making in reading them?
I was talking this over with Lee Howard in the office at the end of the day. Lee was a Corpsmember on my old crew. Lee looked kinda like Art Garfunkel…receding hairline and all. I had trained him how to run chainsaws, and he was well on his way to promotion to crewleader. Lee had been having a particularly grueling week on the grade and had his own stresses that had been weighing on him. We were both just dog-tired.
As we gathered up our gear to leave for the day, Lee said, “I am not looking forward to whatever it is they’re serving up in the kitchen tonight.”
“Wanna go down to the Salmon Jerky?” Since promoting, I’d had to move off center, and I could no longer eat meals regularly up in the Center kitchen. I had learned how to cook beans and rice. And tortillas. I frequently went to went to Crescent City to eat as well. Paul’s Cannery Smoked Salmon Jerky was a lot closer than Crescent City. It was a restaurant/bar down at the bottom of Requa Hill and on the main highway. It also served as the local Greyhound stop. Every Corpie at Del Norte Center had either arrived or left by a bus here at some point in their career. Some staff called it Paul’s Cannery. I suppose that was the proper name for the place. However, the biggest sign out front said ‘Salmon Jerky’, so that’s what most of us Corpies called it. They had pretty good greasy spoon-style burgers. And every once in a while those burgers were a good change of pace from the Center food. Lee was sold!
We loaded into my Chevette and headed down the hill.
It was a beautiful and sunny warm day. There were just a few people in the Salmon Jerky as we walked in. It was brighter in there than I thought it would have been. I was surprised by the amount of sunlight that actually found its way into the place. We ordered our burgers, and I made the observation “A beer would be really great with that burger.”
Lee looked at me sideways and said,”Yeah. It would.”
Now…the CCC is very particular about certain rules concerning fraternization between staff and Corpsmembers. They can hang out together a little bit, but one of the Big Rules is “Staff shall not drink with Corpsmembers.” There are solid reasons for these rules. I agree with them. I support them.
But just a few weeks before, Lee and I had been Corpsmembers together. We could have come down to the Salmon Jerky and gotten hammered together and it would have been totally within the rules…but we never had. The opportunity had just never come up. We were friends who had never had a beer together. How sad!
But now I was a Special Corpsmember. A staff member. And now it was totally outside the rules. This should have been an easy call…drink a Coke. But I thought about it for a minute, and that got me in trouble.
Here we were, tired and hungry, it was warm out, and a beer would be really, really good with that burger and fries. And it’s not like we were going to get hammered. It was one beer with a meal. We were off center, and who was ever gonna know?
“I’ll have a draft with that,” I told the bartender.
“Make that two,” Lee said.
Conversation was good as we leisurely ate our burgers and fries and enjoyed our beers. We talked about everything except work. Life was good.
And then a solid hand smacked down on my shoulder. Slowly I turned. There stood the night duty Special Corpsmember, John Calkins. He had a hand firmly on each of our shoulders. He did not look happy to see us.
“Busted,” he said.
He’d had to bring a Corpsmember down to catch a bus. He saw my car outside and came in too say hi.
He glared directly at me and said, “We need to discuss this.”
Well…’discussion’ implies a two-way conversation. It was not like that at all. There wasn’t really much for me to say. The rule was clear. I had broken it. If John even mentioned this to any other staff, I would lose my job. He must have believed me when I told him that it had never happened before and never would again.
And it didn’t.