12 things that will never be the same after this summer –

1. Fried egg sandwiches. I was taught to make them with ketchup on wheat bread and always hated it, but the unicyclist Cody showed me the light by using less healthy bread, grape jelly and mayonnaise. Delicious!

2. Healthy cooking. Our resident French chef and twerking expert, Kevin, has showed me some amazing recipes, including a kimchi salad that is healthy and scrumptious. He also made amazing vegetarian gravy, but let’s face it, I don’t want to mess around with gravy.

3. Sunsets. I’ve never seen ones as beautiful as I have here.

4. Bats. I know their smell now. Thanks to a guy in the office, I also know that if you coat a 2×4 in foil and let some light reflect off it in the dark, bats will fly into said piece of lumber and knock themselves out long enough for you to dispose of them however you see fit.

5. Cell phones. Never again will I take them for granted. You have to work so HARD here to get them to pick up anything and most of the time that sucks the battery dry. We currently have a system of duck taping them to the window of an outside door and it’s been working pretty well.

6. Cheese. I’m pretty sure every time I eat cheese I’ll think of all the times we just sat around and ate cheese. By itself.

7. “Crazy Kids” by Ke$sha and “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus.

8. Batman.

9. Secrets. In reality, there are none. I’m pretty sure almost every person I live around in the park knows everything about my summer and I know everything about theirs. (And if they don’t know, someone else does and would totally clue them in.) This includes but is not limited to sleeping, bathroom, and eating habits, along with previous relationships, family, “that one time at band camp” stories, accidental nudity in front of windows, and online shopping purchases.

10. Bugs. While I still don’t enjoy their presence, I’m much more tolerant now.

11. Ferrets.

Meet Penelope.

Meet Penelope.

12. Boys’ bathrooms. Seriously, the cabin we always hang out in is inhabited by three guys who I don’t consider to be hairy men, but the way their bathroom looks says otherwise.

Narrative

I am 21 years old and I have the legs of a boy half my age who has spent the summer away at camp for the first time. I am itchy with chigger bites and my knees bear the scars from nights playing sand volleyball and days spent hiking. My feet are covered with a kaleidoscope of tan lines from various sandals and my pink toenail polish is all but worn off. As I lie in bed at night and stare blankly at my computer screen, a tiny gnat – one of many – lands on my bright screen. I am surrounded by the type of wood paneling that makes you think of dank flannel shirts and as I try not to think about the ghosts that surely inhabit these walls, I have never been happier.

But summer is ending. I can hear my new friends outside in the hallway saying cheerful goodnights to each other, but we all know this bacchanalian is about to end. Nobody wants to talk about it though, because frankly, we all might start crying, and the scary part is we’ve all become so close that it would totally be ok.

I have one week of work left and I am almost hoping my boss forgets and just lets me keep working. The only thing keeping me from begging for a full time job and dropping out of college completely is the fact that my mother left school after 3 years and I know I can’t disappoint her like that. But it would be so easy…and it would feel so right. And the whole point of college is to go out and get a job, right?

It isn’t just the woods and the animals and the smell of campfires accompanied by the joyous laughter of children. It isn’t just that I love my job. It isn’t the buffalo and it isn’t the deer who live so near to our dorm that we talk to them like they’re our community dogs. It’s the people here that have made this experience so amazing, so the only comforting thought I have about leaving is that perhaps, in years to come, the same people won’t be back here and therefore it won’t be as awesome and I won’t be missing out. It’s selfish, but I’m a girl and I’m feeling sentimental, so cut me a little slack.

You see, I have Fomo Syndrome – a term we coined at the dorms that stands for “fear of missing out.” I’ve always been like that; Fomo kept me from taking naps as a child because I thought I was going to miss out on something important and I hated going to bed early because I knew that was when all the juicy stuff happened. I don’t want to miss out on more of the phenomenal experiences I’ve had while working at Custer State Park. Hopefully in the future we all will still see each other; a few of us already have plans to visit and those of us with significant others in the park are all going to try and make it work. There are quite a few of us who are going to come back for the Buffalo Roundup in September, so as I look forward to that I can only bite my lip, carry on through this week, and soak in every last drop of goodness in the air.

Blue Bell for life!

On my second day of working at Blue Bell gate selling bike bands, the ladies, who I consider my friends, cornered me.

“So, you know I read your blog.” Barb said. She’s the matriarch of the gate and one of the funniest ladies I’ve ever met.

There are no words to describe the awesomeness.

There are no words to describe the awesomeness.


“Yes…” I trailed off, not knowing why she was standing so close to me with her hands on her hips in a stance that said don’t mess with Texas.

“Well, I’m just hoping you don’t plan on writing anything about us…you know…and some of the stuff we’ve said,” she menaced above me.

I giggled.

So, I can’t write about any of the insanely hilarious comments we made about bikers as they passed wearing nothing but pasties and ¼ of a shirt. I can’t write about the dogs on bikes in their little doggy goggles and little doggy Harley Davidson gear. I can’t write about getting locked in the Port-a-Potty. I can’t write about how badly we wanted a clean, good-looking guy to offer to give us a ride. I can’t write about the stories Melissa and I swapped and I definitely can’t write about…well, I’ll stop there.

I can, however, write about how much I respect and revere the gate attendants so much more than I ever did before. Technically speaking, it’s easy work, but I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting it can be just to get people to drive in the right lane of traffic. Even with chairs and a fan, it’s really draining talking to people, answering the eternal question of “Where are the buffalo?” and selling entrance passes. Blue Bell is the gate at the west entrance of the Wildlife Loop, so if you came through in the last three days, you proabably saw me. I was usually the one dancing around waving neon green bands in the air.

And in case you were wondering, THE BUFFALO ARE SOMEWHERE ON THE WILDLIFE LOOP ROAD. Just keep driving until you see giant, hulking brown mammals.

Print this off. Bring it with you.

Print this off. Bring it with you.


What makes this park great is that everyone working supports each other during the rally (or at least that was my observation). One of the park administrators brought us brownies and the resort company gives us lunch if they aren’t busy. I even got some coffee delivered after begging for a while, and Barb and Sheila were constantly making sure nobody was nauseous at the gate because heat exhaustion is a real threat.
Must...have...water!

Must…have…water!


On my last day at the gate, the ladies even made me a makeshift goodbye card – I’m Blue Bell for life now!

Kindness

You know when you walk into a room and you immediately get that bad feeling that everybody was just talking about you? Then you start to wonder, “Were they saying something bad? Probably…I bet it was the story from the last office Christmas party, or maybe I forgot to turn my timesheet in…”

Well at Custer State Park, it’s the exact opposite.

Everyone here is just so nice. For instance, on my way to work this morning, a random park employee I had never met before stopped and started singing “High ho, high ho, it’s off to work we go!” to me to get me to smile. Trust me, it’s pretty hard to get me to smile in the morning, but this guy managed it.

I haven’t met one disingenuous person yet. Because I’m a woman, I pick up on little things. I always notice when the waitress is cranky and being passive aggressive when my male friends never do. I notice when other women are pretending to be nice but can’t wait to leave and tell their friends horrible things about me. Some men might say this is a bad ‘skill’ to have, but they don’t get it and never will (ladies, can I get an “Amen!?”).

But again, everyone here is just so nice. An older couple who live in a camper near our dorm cabins once brought us a pizza…just because. Craig Pugsley is always interested in how everyone is doing. A gate attendant named Bobbie is so hilarious and awesome that we’ve all met up for dinner with her a couple times. The secretaries even took time out of their day once to help me figure out where a mysterious cake came from (and then proceeded to help me eat it when we discovered that it was unclaimed).

Everyone my age is great too and on my first night I couldn’t believe it. Sarah was welcoming and hilarious and Beth’s sense of humor put everyone at ease – just to name a couple. The guys were equally as nice, but I still waited to encounter that one person who was going to mess everything up and be…not nice. A couple of days later, a volunteer named Tess walked up to the fire; she was tall, blonde, skinny and beautiful with some of the prettiest eyes I have ever seen, so my first thought was, “Oh, she’s going to think she’s better than all of us.”

I will forever be sorry for thinking that, because it immediately became clear that not only was she down to earth, she was goofy and friendly to everyone. She has turned out to be one of the most honest and hilarious girls I have ever met.

Actually, this is her.

Actually, this is her.


I wish more of the world operated like this place. We’re all going to die one day anyway, so why not be nice while we can? It’s just not worth it to be angry and hold grudges. When I see tourists on the side of the road looking confusedly at a map, I stop and ask if they need directions. When I get annoyed at how long someone is taking to get gas at the park shop, I get out and talk to them – I’ve met some really great people that way and even made friends with the Park Ranger intern (which I feel might come in handy). When I encounter an angry park visitor, I ask them what’s wrong and listen while they tell me about their horrible car/job/spouse/child, which is always the ultimate reason they’re cranky in the first place.

Trust me; it’s much more fun to run with the buffalo than it is to fight with them.