Sunday, May 10, 2015

Summer 2015: Pigs, Balls, and Elk

Hello dear readers! After an almost a six month hiatus I am back! Back on the road, back in a National Park, and back to blogging. I'm sorry I took such a long break. I won't go into too much detail, but basically grad school threw a few unexpected roadblocks my way (which have yet to be unblocked) and I found myself stretched very thin between that unexpected problem, keeping up with schoolwork, and trying to stay on-task with my freelance writing. That being said -- now it is summertime and the living is easy! Or, rather, easy-ish since I still have to deal with that damn roadblock, but oh well. Now is no time to think about that! Instead, let's jump right into the new trials and tribulations of this nomadic twentysomething year old.

I left the state of Georgia two days ago with my father, a packed Odysseus (my car), and two Garmin GPS systems. Did you know that most GPS systems only contain maps for half of the country? My dad's had the eastern United States in it and mine had the western. My dad's GPS could not fathom anything past the Mississippi River and mine just floated in space while I drove through Atlanta, trying to make sure I made the correct turns. Dad and I went north of GA a little ways and then headed straight west to Estes Park, Colorado, where I will be working as a Front Desk Clerk at a hotel we will call the Elk Inn (and just to throw this out there now -- that is not a code name for the famous Stanley Hotel).

Our drive went pretty well until we hit Kansas and, while beautiful, I found myself missing the cornfields and random mosque sightings of Indiana. Kansas was sunny and warm -- about seventy degrees. By the time we reached Colorado the temperature had dropped a bit and I felt silly in my flip flops and running shorts, but not totally insane. The next morning it was almost forty degrees...and sleeting...

Colorado has not quite been what I was expecting. For starters, there is snow -- everywhere. Estes park is a little over 7,500 ft high. I hear it "snows all summer" at 8,000 ft, but that Estes can get a sprinkling here and there. My leg sank calf-deep in a snow bank today and word on the elk-lined street is that we are supposed to get a foot of snow tonight. This is a sprinkling?! I feel like the two kids from that YouTube video: It's raining. No, it's sprinkling. No, it is actually snowing.

When dad and I arrived at the Elk Inn I checked-in with my new boss and was given a very brief rundown of the next few days: I will be sleeping in a room in the hotel until I clear my drug test on Monday. My boss pointed to numbered squares on a map of the hotel. "You're going to be in this building," he said, drawing a blue highlighter circle around a rectangular building that was adjacent to the rest. "It's empty right now so it'll just be you in that building." I wanted to look at him and ask, "Have you learned nothing from The Shining??" Nevertheless, I accepted the key and went to check it out.

After this brief check-in, Dad and I drove around the corner to the employee housing. The housing is a long, narrow, rectangular building. There is a small sitting room and afterthought kitchen by the entrance and then rows of doors leading to bedrooms. I found my bedroom, knocked (because I have a roommate who has already been here for a month), and let myself in. The only word I can think to describe the room is "ramshackle." First off, the doorknob just hangs from its hole in the door. It's not actually functional. There were two double beds, but it was hard to tell which one was currently being used and which was not. The room was dark except for a small, dim lamp on a tiny table between the two beds. The bathroom fan was on even though no switch was thrown and the whole place was just dark, dingy, and looked like the kind of hotel room where drug rings are busted. My heart immediately sank and I started to think, This may not work out. On my way out of Drug Ring Central I ran into three other seasonal employees, two of which will be working at the front desk with me.

My housing! Just kidding. This is the condemned building behind the hotel that I thought was my housing and even tried to get into one of the rooms. Luckily, my actual housing is behind this building, but I am not sure which looks shabbier. 

Not wanting to waste our day, Dad and I grabbed some lunch and then headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. It started to snow as we pulled up outside the Visitor Center. Dad laughed and said, "Isn't this great?" I scowled and mentally calculated how long I would have to stay in Colorado in order to tell people, "See? I tried! It just didn't work out. Darn."

Although snow-covered and feeling like the middle of winter, the Rockies are beautiful. We saw some elk, drove to about 9,000 ft, and felt the impact of the altitude after climbing up a small hill.

Some photos from Rocky Mountains Trip #1
After driving around winding roads for a few hours, Dad and I headed back to the hotel to rest a while before dinner. I decided to explore the hotel a bit and began following signs to the Fitness Center, but somehow missed it and ended up in the front lobby. This was fortuitous because two of the three people I had met earlier were working and I was able to chat with them. The guy asked me what I thought about the housing. I hesitated, trying to think of something nice to say, and the girl finally spoke for me: "It sucks, doesn't it?" I breathed a sigh of relief, happy that if I am going to be miserable, at least I can commiserate this misery with others. 

Also, brief side note -- while talking to my boyfriend on the phone, I stood at the end of the hotel's second floor hallway and watched people walking in and out of the hotel. The Elk Inn accepts pets and I watched this walk inside:

 Apparently this is a therapy animal: Ziggy the Piggy.

Dad and I ate at the Elk Inn's restaurant for dinner. I am allowed one meal during every shift that I work this summer so I was anxious to see what my options would be. Turns out they are fairly limited, but the food wasn't bad. Our waitress, also a new employee, was from Minnesota and asked if we would like the fried Rocky Mountain oyster appetizer that was on special. Islanders who are not known to pass up seafood, Dad and I said yes, but regretted this decision as the oysters tasted horrendous. Each bite was chewy and bitter and had an odd burnt flavour to it. Obviously, being over 900 miles away from the nearest ocean, we didn't expect much, but these were just plain weird. Still, they didn't taste like they had gone bad and we were compelled to finish the ten between us because a) who wastes oysters? and b) we didn't want to be rude (although I'll admit the islander in me was going, How did you mess these up so egregiously?). When the waitress asked how they were my dad responded, "Were those actually oysters?" The girl look confused. "I think so," she said. "Did they not taste like oysters?"

"They were a little strange," I admitted.

"And they were flat," Dad said, "oysters are normally thicker."

The girl nodded. "I've never actually had oysters before so I wouldn't know."

"Are they supposed to be fresh?" I asked, genuinely curious as to whether there were salt water refineries in Colorado. I remembered a couple sitting behind us at the restaurant from the previous night (our first night in Colorado) eating oysters on the half-shell. Maybe Colorado was trying to reap the benefits of expensive seafood.

The girl said she found the concept of Rocky Mountain oysters strange, too, but assumed they came out of the ocean and were frozen.

Dad and I then headed over to a grocery store to pick up some things for breakfast. We ran into the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine and by the time we headed back to the hotel it was snowing...again. The predication was a foot of snow by 4 a.m.

Before bed, I called my boyfriend again and told him about the rest of the day. I started to tell him about the Rocky Mountain oysters and he stopped me: "You didn't eat those, did you?"

"I know, I know," I said, knowing he's as much of a seafood snob as I am (basically meaning, if you're not within an hour of the ocean then you can't call it "fresh"), "we thought we'd give it a shot."

"Those aren't oysters."

"Not fresh oysters. They were probably frozen beforehand --"

"No. Those are not oysters."

"...what are they?"


After much "what? no they're not!" I looked it up on Google and found the horrendous truth: Rocky Mountain oysters are fried bull, goat, or cow testicles, depending on what's on hand.

OH. MY. GOD. First, let's talk about how strange it is to eat something so disgusting, and be aware as you are eating it that it is disgusting, and yet you still eat it because you don't realize what it actually is (sort of like a placebo effect, but much more nauseating). Also, WHY were the testicles served with a traditional horseradish cocktail sauce? The kind you always see served with shrimp? That was clearly put there to fake out Colorado tourists and newbies into thinking that these are actual from-the-ocean, out-of-a-hard-shell, pearl-producing oysters.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. My first day in Estes Park and I have learned that I will be living in a crack house, there's snow on the ground and I am still wearing flip flops, there are pigs in my hotel, and I have had more balls in my mouth than I ever preferred to. Do I hear the faint sounds of Blue Ridge banjo plucking?

Feeling super unsure and super cold outside of Estes.

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