Opinion » Maxed Out

Drawing the line... as a volunteer



It's a jungle out there. You only need to watch any local if-it-bleeds-it-leads news broadcast. One can never be too careful, can one?

Well, yes, one can.

For reasons as debased and suspect as pride in my happy mountain home and a love of sharing it with others not as lucky — those living, well, anywhere else, for example — I used to volunteer with the Village Host program. Yes, I wore the red, made regular appearances in and near the Punch and Judy kiosk, froze my toes and nose and answered a regular stream of questions from an irregular parade of tourists.

I learned where the public washrooms were — there are a surprising number of them, many hidden more cleverly than green eggs on a manicured lawn at Easter — I learned not to call them washrooms but toilets; I learned where the nearest ATMs were, how to give directions to the base of both mountains in a mix of gibberish and universal sign language, how to direct people to McDonald's without showing outward signs of revulsion at their choice or suggesting if they really wanted a burger they might try Splitz instead, and, most important, why I shouldn't misdirect them just so they could have the unbridled pleasure of experiencing Whistler the way St. Beck intended it to be experienced: lost and wandering.

There were bitterly cold days when I wished I hadn't signed up for a four-hour shift. But even on those, Scotty from Citta would show up with a warming cup of hot chocolate or one of the waitstaff from La Bocca would bring over coffee and we'd feel the glow of appreciation. Other days were fabulous, bright, sunny and busy or spring days when it was clear winter would eventually give way to bike 'n' hike season and days when Tom Thomson would alternately make me laugh and then wonder how he got away saying some of the things he'd say to passing strangers.

So after missing a couple of years for reasons beyond my control, I decided to go back this winter. Sadly, I've opted out. Oh, I still wander the village, answering questions from puzzled tourists, offering my misguiding services and trying to spread local cheer, but I do it on my own time and wherever the need seems to arise. As it turned out, I couldn't meet the requirements to be a Village Host again.

I still know where the toilets are, where the ATMs are, which nights someone so inclined might go to which clubs to find which kind of action and how to get to dual mountain. I'd still be willing to numb my toes for four hours, be helpful and answer the same question 50 times as though I'd never been asked it before. And I'd still don the red and help humanize what can apparently be a very puzzling experience for more people than you might expect, visiting Whistler.