See Ya!

   Boy Howdy, don’t things change?! Time was when outfitters needed their guides. Back then, in the Neoprene Age, guides just about defined what was happening on the river. They did the dirty work and got the job done, pretty much like normal.

   Nowdays its different. Outfitter advertising, lobbying efforts and political clout say much to define the industry. River running has grown into a bigtime business—and Grand Canyon has become the destination river. Guides are standing ten deep to work the Colorado.

   With demand like that, who needs the old boys? And if they’re not needed, like if a company is tired of them, how to dump ‘em?

   A commonly popular method uses violations in company policy. Some examples: One drink and you are outta here; one wild night and pack your bags, dude; one ghetto blaster and...gone. The caveat: You May Be Fired For ANY Reason. Doesn’t that just rankle real bad?

   You bet it does. Not that a firing is, or, isn’t needed once in a while. Fair is fair, and works both ways. But when somebody—anybody—gets fired on a pretense, especially if they’ve been around for a while, like 15 or 20 years, it says something about the industry and how guides get treated in the long haul.

   There’s more to life than money. I know a fella who was asked to sign a contract stating he wouldn’t be eligible for a bonus; he was further required to swear company loyalty in the same document. Am I given to understand this behavior is becoming a common practice in an industry defined by the unique and individual nature of it’s very guides? Specific contracts for everyone?? Horseshit. He didn’t get the dough anyway. Is that such a huge surprise?

   Some river companies just about demand admiration from their workers. Its not an entirely unreasonable request. It’s been a long, tough haul for many of them. But river companies should admire their guides just as much, and for the same reason. Guides work for companies and, generally, do their damnedest to please customers and employers alike. Call it respect: Everybody’s out there with the same goals and interests and trying to get along while working toward a common end. That’s what a job is all about.

   Until somebody gets canned on a misdemeanor—or has a piece of paper shoved in their face that will get ‘em canned on a misdemeanor. If they sign it. At that point it’s guide versus company. By then its obvious there’s funny stuff in the air. Not necessarily the mesmeric sort; this more the sleight-of-hand variety. At that point Company Policy has grown legs and can walk around all by its ghostly self. You never know where it’ll pop up next.

   That is some place we don’t want to be. What counts is that we’re in it together. Grand Canyon isn’t such a huge place after all. Its easy to get wrapped up in a ‘company perspective’ or a ‘guide mentality thing’ or some other oddball ‘deal’ and forget what’s really important to everybody. As a community, we don’t want to grow apart. What we want—need—is to grow together. Are we in it for Grand Canyon, or The Company? Is that what guiding has come to? If so, I’m gonna go out back and throw up.

   Boy Howdy! I hope not. “The quality river experience” is all the rage these days. To working guides, this is not a discussion devoted entirely to improving camp chow. Company ethics play heavily in the experience “equation” for visitors and guides alike. When guides get duped—for whatever lousy reason—its the same as feeding a good customer tripe: hard to chew, impossible to choke down. Like any customer, the guide wants to know why he, or she, must eat the stuff. A responsible trip leader would, in the very least, offer a rational, sincere explanation.

Shane Murphy