One Saturday morning, I arrived at the parking lot and saw a sign which read Traffic Survey Ahead. When I asked my coworker what was going on, he pointed to a man wearing a fluorescent orange vest and a large straw hat. The man had set up a car counter across the entrance to the parking lot. He was supposed to survey people after they walked the trail. My coworker was unclear on who this guy worked for, but the man had assured my coworker the results would go all the way to Congress.
Before the lot got busy Survey Guy tried to chat with me and my coworker. After all the hours he’d spent in the library working on his master’s degree in history, he was excited to have an outdoor job for the summer, he told us. I think he was trying to impress us, but he failed miserably. I just don’t think being in grad school necessarily means a person’s smart. This guy cam across as a big, bumbling loser. He was trying too hard, and he didn’t say anything witty or intelligent or thought-provoking.
Survey Guy thought he’d have an easy day surveying the few people who came through the parking lot, enjoy the cool mountain air. He seemed really surprised when we got slammed and the lot filled with cars and the cars kept coming. No way was this guy going to be able to interview all the trail visitors who parked in the lot.
I watched Survey Guy all day, even after my coworker went home. I only saw Survey Guy talk to white folks. Maybe he’s talking to other people when I can’t see him, I thought, but I doubted it when I saw him walk right past a young Latino family without even asking if they had time to answer some questions.
The next day when my coworker and I rehashed Survey Guy’s visit, I said, He only talked to white people! My coworker said he’d noticed the same thing. We agreed that only surveying white people would not give an accurate representation of the variety of tourists who actually visit the trail. We also agreed we were glad Survey Guy was gone.
Of course, he came back a few weeks later. We figured he’d gotten hot at home and wanted to spend the day in the (relatively) cool mountain air. Also, My wife’s been acting really weird! he announced, then told us he’d figured out the next day was her birthday, I gave my coworker a knowing look. In addition to the cool mountain air theory, I’d predicted his appearance at the parking lot was related to wanting to get away from his wife on a Saturday afternoon.
Survey Guy got his folding chair and put it between my coworker’s perch on the metal trash can and the iron ranger where my coworker sets his clipboard. Every time a car pulled into the parking lot, my coworker had to reach over Survey Guy to get the clipboard holding his day passes.
When my coworker left for the day, I moved my chair into the shade next to the iron ranger. I moved Survey Guy’s chair as far from mine as possible, which put him right next to the trash can. I didn’t even feel bad.
I told myself I wasn’t going to engage with Survey Guy. I wasn’t going to speak to him, I wasn’t going to acknowledge him. I was going to do my job and let him do his, and there would be no interaction.
However, after seeing him interview another white family, I could no longer hold my tongue. When he plopped down in his chair, I asked him, Is this just a white people survey? Because I’ve noticed you’re only talking to white people.
He told me I didn’t realize how hard he’d been working. Since he didn’t speak Hispanic, he could only survey people who spoke English. He tried to listen to Asians and Hispanics talking before he approached them. If he didn’t hear folks he perceived as non-English speakers actually speaking English, he didn’t even try to talk to them. Apparently Survey Guy did not understand that some people are bilingual.
About that time, my boss drove into the parking lot, and I had to remove my attention from Survey Guy. However, during my conversation with my boss, I looked over and saw Survey Guy interviewing a Latino family. About time! They seemed to be communicating just fine.
My shift ended, and I left the parking lot before Survey Guy.
When I arrived for my shift on Sunday, the car counter was still stretched across the parking lot’s entrance and chained to the gate. My coworker and I wondered if Survey Guy had forgotten to take the car counter with him when he’d gone home the day before or if he’d left it on purpose to pad his results since he’d arrived so late the day before.
We’re not going to see him today, I told my coworker. It’s his wife’s birthday.
I was wrong. He showed up later in the morning. He’d served his wife breakfast in bed, which seemed to have been enough of a birthday present for her. (She probably had really low expectations.)
Survey Guy packed up the car-counting equipment, but before he left, he approached my co-worker.
I cost you about $20 yesterday, he said.
Oh? my coworker said.
Some people wanted to pay me, Survey Guy said. I told them I didn’t work here. Then I told them the iron ranger was broken. I didn’t realize it wasn’t broken until the other woman [the camp host at the campground next door] came over and opened it. So I probably cost you about $20.
(Why would a broken iron ranger be left in a fee area? Why would a broken iron ranger be labeled “Pay Here”? In what way could an iron ranger be broken?)
My coworker held out his hand. You can pay me now, he said.
Unfortunately, Survey Guy took it as a joke.
I can’t stand it when people get over-involved in something that isn’t their business. All Survey Guy had to say was, I don’t work here collecting money. From there, people would have either figured it our or not. He didn’t have to tell people anything was broken.
Survey Guy left. We haven’t seen him again. I hope it stays that way.
I took the photo in this post.