Off The Record: Going undercover at state resort

July 26, 2004|HERB BROCK

CORBIN - The record showed that I was on vacation for three days the second week of July at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. But the truth was that I was on a volunteer undercover operation.

The reason for my one-man, self-assigned, three-day spy project was inspired by recent words and actions by Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his Parks chief, Jim Host. As you no doubt realize, Ernie and Jim - I call them Emily and Judy, in honor of those mavens of manners and propriety, Emily Post and Judith Post - have been on a crusade to cleanse our state parks of all those surly, slovenly slobs previously known as state parks employees.

I have visited numerous state parks over the last three decades and found employees generally to be efficient, hard-working, courteous, clean and dressed better than most visitors. Ever been in the buffet line at Lake Cumberland's lodge wedged between "sailors" with the "Ohio Navy," especially those middle-aged male midshipmen with midriffs the size of medicine balls hanging over their Speedo swimtrunks and middle-aged female ensigns who try to squeeze themselves into short shorts only to look fat fat?


But you have to take the word of a Parks pro like Judy, er, Jim, and a political wiz like Emily, that is, Ernie, who have seen what the casual visitor cannot and issued a policy to rid our parks of many of those people who have made them among the best in the nation. The parks can be even better if the workers are cleaner, neater and harder working, Jim declared and Ernie agreed in a joint, eye-rolling, "the help these days" harrumph as they designed their policy.

The policy is aimed at saving visitors from having to view employees with arms and other body parts that are covered with tattoos; ears, noses and bellybuttons that are pierced with rings; male hair that falls way below shirt collars; female skirts that rise way above knees; shirts and blouses that are untucked; faces that are unsmiling; and work ethics that are uninspiring.

And above all, the policy ensures that visitors no longer have to look at or smell the riff-raff in lodge dining rooms. I don't know how many times I've had a hard time scarfing down and digesting the contents of my buffet feedbag because of the indigestion caused by just looking at a table of employees on their half-hour meal breaks. The very sight and body odor of those peons has been an assault on my tastebuds.

In other words, Fletcher and Host have decided to turn state parks workers into a bunch of little Republicans - but Republicans who must live at or only slightly above minimum wage. The closest most of these workers get to a country club-like setting is a state park golf course and that's usually to mow the fairways and pickup the balls. Perhaps if they clean up their acts per Emily and Judy's policy, they'll be allowed to caddy for Ernie, Jim and their buds.

So I decided to use the three-day cottage stay that my wife and I had planned last winter, way before the policy went into effect, as a chance to check out how the new policy at Cumberland Falls is going. I wanted it to be an espionage opportunity. I wanted to see if Ernie and Jim, the Orkin men of state governments, had succeeded in removing the nasty pests, also known as employees, from our beloved parks. I wanted to see if they had employed apparel police or coiffure cops to enforce their policy. I wanted to become a tattoo tattler and relay what I had found to Ernie and Jim.

And I was going to provide my service as a sleuth all for free. Somehow I doubt Ernie put any money in his contingency budget for spy services, especially those provided by someone who didn't vote for him. I'm sure he didn't have enough money left over after paying off the cronies who now serves as his commissioners.

Well, after three days of sleuthing, the only violation of the policy I witnessed was a pool lifeguard with a relatively small tattoo on his upper back. Somehow I doubt any tattoo taskmaster would bother with this tattoo wearer. He was built like a Mac truck, and I'm sure anyone wanting to blow the whistle on him did not want to be turned into a speed bump.

No, I found the park employees much like I had before - generally hard working, efficient, pleasant and, yes, clean. I did notice no employees were eating in the lodge dining room the one time my wife and I ate there; thus, I could swallow my bag full of macaroni salad, pickled corn, green beans, hushpuppies, fish sticks and cobbler without so much as a burp or a gag.

These workers may have cut their hair, removed their rings, covered their tattoos, lowered their skirts or tucked in their shirts, but I likely wouldn't have noticed or cared what they were wearing. They did what they always had done and that's provided a clean, comfortable cabin, good, fresh food and a well-kept park to walk, play and swim in, and they had done it quietly, largely behind the scenes.

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