The town that I grew up in holds what people like to call, with a kind of pride in poverty, the World’s Shortest Parade on the fourth of July. A number of small towns make similar claims, but our parade, next to the beach on Maxwelton Road in Clinton, Washington, deserves it. From the field by the old Steiner farm it continues just two blocks, ending at Dave Mackie park, where a series of foot, sack, and three-legged races are run and the national anthem sung. It’s not required to register in advance to march; one simply arrives and lines up in either a motorized or non-motorized line. This year, the parade’s ninety-seventh iteration, the lineup included a number of dogs, a few Republicans, one guy in a gorilla suit, many bikes (some of them “Occupied”) and a truck full of violinists. As we waited for the start, a bored-looking high school baseball team called the Crabs slouched, chins in hand, on their hay bales, and a grandmotherly woman in a mermaid costume had her picture taken with one of two groups of pirates.
Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.
Laura van den Berg: A friend and I once spent two summers running an equestrian summer camp. Our qualifications? We knew about horses, my parents lived on a small farm, and my friend’s job as an elementary school teacher provided us with an eager clientele. But we had never run a summer camp before, which might explain why we fed all our charges peanut butter sandwiches; saddled up a white pony as old as Gandalf who lived to stomp the toes of small children; failed to require release forms; offered cold, hard cash to the camper who could go the longest without asking another question; and decided our time together should culminate in all the campers spray-painting psychedelic designs on an edgy 1,300-pound Pinto aptly named Art. Miraculously, no one ever got hurt, lawsuits were never filed, and no horses were harmed in the making of this summer camp.
Maile Meloy: After college, I had a summer job in Utah as a river ranger in Desolation Canyon, on the Green River, working for my uncle. It wasn’t even really a job—it was a volunteer position that came with a stipend and a tiny trailer to live in, which looked like it was full of hantavirus. The job usually attracted very crazy people, so I think my uncle was using me as a buffer against the lunatics. The river trip down Desolation Canyon takes five days, and the launch is in one of the most remote places in the country, at the end of a long, tire-eating dirt road through the desert. I’d brought a friend along, who also wasn’t crazy. We had Bureau of Land Management baseball caps and a list of permits, and our job was to check the boaters onto the river early every morning. We told them not to touch the pictographs on the canyon walls and made sure they had firepans and groovers. Firepans keep ash and cinders out of the sand. A groover is a rectangular ammunition can, repurposed as a toilet. Nothing decomposes in the desert, so everything has to be packed out. Some people say it’s called a groover because the steel can left grooves on the backs of your thighs before people started adding toilet seats. A couple of kayakers showed me an empty plastic mayonnaise jar and insisted that they were going to use that. There was an odd intimacy in having such conversations. People invited us down the river, and we declined, so some left us beer and all were gone by 9 A.M. Then the day stretched out, empty and unimaginably hot, with no TV, no phone, no Internet, and a crackling CB radio for emergencies, and I wrote stories.
According to festival lore, in 1981, the film director Sydney Pollack suggested to Robert Redford that he move Sundance from Salt Lake City in September to Park City in January, arguing that the lure of fresh powder would attract more Hollywood types to Utah. Redford did exactly that, and now, after touching down in Salt Lake, Sundance-goers must drive almost an hour into the plush Park City, which stands at seven thousand feet above sea level and is home to one of Utah’s four Whole Foods and the United States Ski Team.
It’s easy to feel like you’re sitting in a model train as your bus snakes around the bottom of the mountain to get to a theater. The infrastructure from the 2002 Olympics lingers. The houses are built for renting, as if they were meant to be on reality television: beds and bathrooms galore and, of course, a hot tub. Like many resort towns where the tourists outnumber the locals, there’s a weird hybrid of heartland authenticity and city-slicker trendiness. On Main Street, women walk around in fox coats and Sorrel boots, though at night, you might catch one in bare legs and stilettos, trying to avoid the black ice, feeling just as out of place as Pale Male, the Central Park–dwelling Red-Tail Hawk, would if he were ever to venture to the Rockies. In the mornings, you can observe people in ski gear, their feet locked into plastic boots, waiting for buses next to publicists, reporters, and the occasional obnoxious-man-on-his-cell-phone who is, one is made to presume, making a big deal.