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"Visitor Centers" by Tyler Dempsey

In my fancy Park Service clothes. Stupid hat and everything.

First day “opening” the Visitor Center. With COVID, this means unfolding tables outside and taping a laminated map of the Park on top. And, giant Plexiglas sneeze guards to ensure nobody can hear what you’re saying through your mask and the wind.

First-of-the-season tourists wander like plane crash survivors. Imagine them blurry-eyed from tears freezing in the wind, muttering, “Why?” Inside, two female Rangers dance in place to stay warm, praying no one outside has a question. In their parkas they look like bloated pickles.

App that delivers pickle-flavored french fries.

Duck behind a cardboard cutout of a moose.

It’s time. Panorama’s open, we could go on a date :hearteyes:

Katie G: I can’t tell if you’re serious…either way, take it back. Currently in no state to date. Idk about you. But, have my suspicions.

Was kidding! Take it back. You may be right about me not being ready. Kicking it/being vulnerable has been nice, tho.

Katie G: Ugh my gif didn’t send :angryface:. It has been fun. Thanks for being there.

Step away from the moose like, nothing-to-see-here. Sidle up to my sorta-friends, “What’s hap’nin?”

“Thank god. These people are terrible. Everyone’s pissed. The bathrooms aren’t open. None of the buses are running yet. All the trails still have four feet of snow. I can’t do it, Tyler. Tell them to leave.”

Set up my register. The other girl asks where the hell Luke, the Ranger taking over her shift, is. “I think I saw him applying for a different job.”

A woman in a blue fleece that says ALASKA tries at our attention, her hood drawstringed so only her nose and bottom halves of her eyes show. She’s on tiptoes with her arm all the way up, waving a pink, frilly glove. Like we’re soldiers leaving harbor and she hopes the image burns in our minds before we die.

“UGgghhhhhh,” the Ranger grabs her mittens and walks out. “Do you have a bathroom,” is heard as the door shuts.

Katie G: Pretty much free tonight. You’re closer to pizza, but I have a shower, soooooo…

I’ll bring pizza. Need a shower.

Katie G: Don’t bring shitty pizza.

Walk outside.

A family approaches wearing blue fleece jackets that say ALASKA. The wife has bleached hair and, fifty pounds ago, probably captained the cheerleading squad. A white, caterpillar-of-hair spans the husband’s upper lip.

A joke: How do you know if someone’s from Texas? They tell you.

Two girls, about three years old, look to be twins. Each puts weight on one of their mom’s hands and hang. Their toes barely graze the ground and they slowly twist like abandoned marionettes. Somehow, punctuating the look of despair/desperation on mom’s face.

“Do y’all have a toolet?”

“We have port-o-potties, in the parking lot,” gesturing with an open palm, trying to nail a look like everything’s normal. It doesn’t work.

“Come on, girls.” In defeat, she drags the twins while they yell, “Nooo!!!”

“Gah lee. We’s from Taxes. Didn’t think id be suh bloomin cold.”

Expressing surprise through eyebrow movements, I say, “Wow,” but the wind blows it away. He cups a hand around his ear. We lean in. Without the Plexiglas it’d be intimate.

“Wow,” I yell.

“Me and the wifey, well, y’all know whut they say, we ain’t gettin no younger. So, we saddled the girls for they’s old nuff tuh protest, flew um to Worshington. Took at Inside Passage turr. Gah lee, thas purty. Wells, n musta seen bouta hunnerd bald eagles. Glaysers fallin n the wadder. Gahd.”

“Different world down there for sure.”

“Huh? Got these plates uh halbut big is yer hedd,” he makes a circle then palms his belly where the fleece is stretched to capacity, “Gahd, they’s damned spensive, but gooood. I says, Margret, we gotta get to Denali quicker I might not make it through is bucket list.” He laughs, genuinely taken off-guard at how funny he is.

I smile with my eyes over the facemask. Staring at the mustache. It’s trying to tell me something.

“Glad you made it.”

He’s suddenly serious, “Gotta ask. For the girlser back,” he checks over each shoulder, like it might be listening. “Where’s, Denali?”

“Bout seventy miles away.”

Luke joins the table, pointing two women toward the frozen plastic toilets. His face has a supremely stoned and flabby look.

“Suh, you sayin we cayn’t even see it?” He looks incredulous.

“You’d have to probably take a bus in the Park to get a decent chance.”

“Could we steel take one?”

“They aren’t running.”

“Gahd! Can we do anythang, then?”

“Have you paid your entry fee?”

Visitor Centers are like wombs. Mirrors, showing the disregard for planning, the total helplessness, we long for signing up for “vacation.”

I step back in the warmth inside.

The building.

The Visitor Center.

Should I bring beers?

Katie G: Only if you want something other than fireball.

I’ll mull it over, decide if it’s tonight we make out.

Katie G: What a thing to contemplate. I normally decide in the moment. I have blue moon and a few IPAs, so no pressure.

I’ll bring a six-pack.

Katie G: I still don’t know how I feel about beer/IPA’s. Sometimes I’m really into it and sometimes I just want high abv. Maybe I should keep you away from the fireball :tongueout:

We can toe that line.

Katie G: Looking forward to toeing that line dew, and the beers :cheers:. I think I have to attempt to clean now. Just enough that you won’t worry about me.

You’d have to be an entirely different person for that.

Four girls, early-20’s, walk up in black leggings and white sweaters. The sweaters say UCSC and PINK across the chest. Luke is visibly upset when they choose my side of the table.

“Ughhhh, is that liiiike, Savage Alpine Trail, like, good?”

“It’s pretty good.”

“You, ughhhhh, think we could, do it?”

“What kind of shoes are you wearing?”

They turn side-to-side, asses in profile. Luke bites his knuckle.

I assess the Crocs and Chuck Taylors.

“Yeah, you’re good.”

Their faces brighten, “Thank you!”

Watch them walk away. I could take those legs and snap them, all the way up with me, to the windy blue.

I walk to the port-o-john and piss.

(Sorry again, for the go on a date joke, I wasn’t thinking about your current situation. I fucked up.)

Katie G: It’s all good. Just so long as you know where I’m at.

Totally do. Caught me off guard, when you reacted. Here, I thought you didn’t feel, but you’re a big SOFTY! :kissheart:

Katie G: Don’t remind me! It hurts so much to feel :nervouslaugh:

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