WAPITI, WYOMING—When we awoke this morning, it was a crisp 46F outside. So said the weather report on Ed’s iPhone, and he suggested that we take out time getting on the road. We’d had enough cold on our way over the Bighorn Mountains that stood between Gillette and Wapiti (waa-petey, an Indian word for elk). The temperature drop with altitude is the lapse rate, and at more than 8,000 feet, Ed figured the temperature, with the BMW-induced wind chill at 36F, using the new wind chill formula. Using the old formula, it was 10 degree colder. And, he said, the F stood not only for degrees Fahrenheit, but for “freaking’ freezing.”
Comfy under the covers, he handed me the complimentary basket from the mini-fridge that contained an orange, chocolate chip crunchy granola bar, apple juice box, Otis Spunkmeyer blueberry muffin, and instant oatmeal. I ate everything but the oatmeal because Ed made coffee, not hot water, and he handed me a cup as I typed away here on the Road Warrior, my diminutive HP laptop that fits in Blue’s saddle bags has a keyboard large enough to accommodate my phalanges. Out the window I can see the sun playing on the mountain, and the power pole and its transformer. Life couldn’t be better.
The historic Trail Shop Inn & Restaurant was originally built in 1922, and subsequent owners have added onto the original log cabin that was a general store. Among the mounted ungulates hung on the dining room walls are black and white history from 1932, when the gravel parking lot was filled with open touring coaches that looked like Model Ts turned into topless stretch limos with bench seats. Circling around the main building are five cabins, each with two rooms served by all the modern conveniences, light, electricity, heat, and a full bath, but no Wi-Fi.
The food was excellent, but the service puzzled us. Searching for words to describe it, but best I can do is polite and courteous disinterest. When we arrived around 1445 there was no one around, so we wandered about until a 20-something blonde with a pony tail, asked if we needed something. When I mentioned our reservation, she said, “You’re early. We don’t open until 4 p.m.” Then she turned to find the owner for instructions. Yes, she could check us in, which she did.
It seemed clear that I had inconvenienced her schedule, but she wasn’t rude or didn’t punctuate our intrusion with an eye-roll, exaggerated or subtle. And when asked if we could but a few beers to rehydrate before the bar opened at 1600, she agreed and led me to the cooler to make my selection. She said a six pack of Sierra Nevada IPA would be cheaper than four, so I traded her $10 for the six bottles she put in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade cardboard carrier. Ed was a little disconcerted when I walked into the room with it, but all was well when the IPAs emerged.
After dinner, sucking on an IPA and a cigar on the porch of what turned out to be the employee bunkhouse, I got some insight to the root of the disinterested service. The cook Jeff, a retired Air Force aircraft fueler, joined me for a smoke break. A Pittsburgh native, this was his third summer cooking at the Trail Shop, a job he found online that supplemented his retirement and got him out of the city for the summer. I thanked him for an excellent dinner. the chicken cranberry salad, and passed along Ed’s good words about his trout. He truly seemed to appreciate the compliments.
In the course of our cigarette-long conversation I learned that the Trail Shop was only open during the summer, although he was urging the owner to stay open a bit past Labor Day. I surmised that like him, the other members of the staff, the pony tail who checked us in and Gabrielle, our server, another college-age blonde, were from someplace else and working here for the summer. That, with their being members of the millennial generation, explained a lot.
Being the father of two millennial boys who have a lot of friends, my experience is that this generation is stereotypically narcissistic because every influencing adult in their lives, parents and teachers, have been overly concerned with their self-esteem. And because their parents both work, they overcompensate for the time they don’t have to spend with their kids by giving them everything they never had. Growing up in a world that’s all about them, being disinterested in others they are being paid to serve makes sense, and doing with politely is their subservience to the summer working world.
The waitresses of similar ages at the small town diners where we’ve had lunch have not displayed this disinterest. Antipodally, they were happy that we stopped in to eat and were genuinely concerned with providing good service and excellent food. The difference is that they were working in their hometowns, and most of their customers were their neighbors and friends. Both groups were, most likely, working because they had to, but the small town servers were dedicated to doing it well because they’d have to live with the reputations they’d earned during the workday.
And I’d have to include Ed in the small town category of excellent service because it’s not every bike ridin’ buddy who’ll serve you breakfast in bed. And the view from the Trail Shop window isn’t bad, even with the power pole and transformer.