"Stick shifts and safety belts, bucket seats have all got to go."
Most days begin and end with two similarities: it's dark and it's cold. I usually have to be at work by 6 am which means the alarm goes off at about 5:45. First, I offer a very heartfelt prayer that I won't break down that day. That leaves just enough time to put on boots, socks, toe warmers, long johns, insulated pants, thermal top, turtleneck, fleece vest, coat, beanie, work, gloves, brush my teeth and walk to dispatch while pulling on my headlamp. I begin the day as a fledgling mechanic checking the Bombardier ("bomb") over and coaxing it to start. She's no more excited than I am about waking up in the cold and dark. These coaches are at least 40-50 years old.
Once the coaches are running, we take a break for breakfast, and then it is time to play bellhop and load luggage. So I stand on top of the coach and another driver passes luggage up in the "cage" where I play tetris to try to make it all fit. I have no idea what people bring here that is so heavy. But I can do anything with bungee cords--secure skiis, poles, or crates of alcoholic beverages. Forget diamonds, bungees are a girl's best friend. Once luggage is loaded I switch to taxi driver and guide, put in my ear plugs, and get rolling. There are, luckily, rare moments of glamour to the job. Most of these moments come from these awesome amber-coloured sunglasses I have that not only really help on flat light days, they also make me feel pretty cool. Case in point:
Some questions about the coach and the ride: Will my makeup freeze up on top? I reply, "I can't promise you that your makeup won't freeze. Yes, of course you can carry it on your lap if you would like." Is there power steering? This question usually comes as I throw my body weight into cranking the wheel and try to quiet my panting after a three, four, or five point turn. "Yes," I respond as I flex my arm, "The power steering is right here." Is there wi-fi in the coach? "Umm, no." Is there any other way to get there? "Umm, no again." Good news, the bombs are loud enough that I can hum to myself the whole way and no one ever hears. As long as my lips don't move they have no idea that I'm being my own radio.
Any number of adventures can occur throughout the day. For example, this week my throttle cable froze as I tried to turn a corner in West Yellowstone. The bomb doesn't steer well in West anyway because the streets are too slick and there's nothing to grip, but in this case because the cable froze the gas pedal was literally frozen halfway down to the floor. I had a coach full of passengers I'd just met and we were suddenly gunning it across the intersection at an alarming rate, not turning at all, and headed directly for a gas pump. I flicked the power switch and we sat blocking the intersection while I made a few radio calls and pretended to act calm. I decided to not mention in the call the fact that I was blocking the intersection--no need to announce that to my boss, all the other drivers, and every ranger in the Park. Got the cable thawed, did a three point turn, and got out of there as fast as possible. Just act natural.
On another day, I stood with guests and watched 15 wolves cross the Hayden Valley, sneak up on some bison, and chase them for a bit. The bison then decided they'd had enough of that running thing and turned on the wolves. So much for dinner for the wolf pack. I watched an otter swim in the thermally-thawed edges of Yellowstone Lake. Plus, of course, the usual assortment of elk, bison, trumpeter swans, and bald eagles. In addition, there's always a nice walk around a geyser basin in the fog that frosts everyone so we all age to about 70 years old by the time the walk is over. Fabulous sunrises and sunsets.
The days end as an evening glacial technician. In other words, it is now dark and I'm lying under my coach beating all the ice and snow build-up off with a hammer. After 30 minutes (give or take) of this I fill it up with gas (don't get too close to the fumes, they give you zits), park it, and plug in the block heater. I am not good at parking a regular vehicle and I'm even worse at a snow coach.
I did get a great compliment this week. One fellow who also drives remarked, "Girls who drive snow coach are tough chics." Normally I don't like being called a "chic" but in this case I couldn't agree more. Besides, it was the closest I'd gotten to feeling like a girl in a month.