Summer of 1993
Chapter 2--Facing Tomorrow
I woke up that Friday, anxious. It was tomorrow.
Why was I so anxious to begin this day? It was not the fear of leaving
my family. I had no problem with that. I had spent a year in
college already and had not the slightest problem with homesickness.
It was not so much the insecurity of the mystery. I had no problems
with mysteries I thought would be worthwhile. It also had little
to do with ministry in the national parks. It seemed to have to do
with one thing and one thing only. I had no confidence that I could
succeed at my job.
I had only had one job in my life that had paid.
When I turned sixteen, my parents made me get a job. We were poor,
but they did not want me out so much to make money but to gain life experience.
I found a job working at a seafood fast food restaurant called Long John
Silver's. I lasted one month before they fired me for incompetence.
The working conditions were atrocious, but the problem was that I was a
scared sixteen-year-old kid who had not the slightest idea of how to deal
with my shyness in a world that demands that we not be so shy. I
had no skills to speak of. I was very good at school, very good in
athletics--track being my forte--but had been of no use to my mother around
the house. She told us to clean the house nearly every day, but I
had a lazy streak that was generally stronger than my mother's will.
It may not have been as strong as my father's will, but it was easier to
fudge the cleaning with him. I could not even hold a broom right
until working at Long John Silver's, and I had convinced myself after doing
abysmally in a shop class in junior high that I was not set out to work
with my hands. Generally, I still feel that I am not very gifted
with my hands, but the notion was extremely intense when I was nineteen.
It was not that I was thought of as your typical geek in high school because
I happened to be a track star, but sports was probably the only thing that
saved me. I was very scared of jobs in general, and any job that
brought me anywhere near the food business scared me silly.
Furthermore and more to the point, I have a fear
of people that I still have in some ways. I learned to bear my soul,
but I really doubt that I have learned the art of small talk. I write
an autobiography now, but that is not to say that the past does not live
now. That is not to say that I have realized now what I saw as my
faults then. My fear of people is as real now is it was then.
My first reaction to anyone I do not know well is one of intimidation.
I was scared to meet many new people who would be my bosses and coworkers
whom I knew I would find instantly intimidating. Jobs require communication
and relationships, and I was afraid of those relationships. I was
afraid of appearing incompetent and less than worthwhile to my colleagues.
Did I really believe I was someone to be looked down upon? No, I
have always had a high self opinion of my abilities. I am in some
ways arrogant where people despise arrogance and shy where people despise
shyness. If only I were confident with the way I dealt with people
and humble about myself, then all might be well. Yet, I doubt I would
like myself, then. In any event, fear will be everpresent in this
story. Fear took the image of tomorrow the night before. That
morning, it took the image of succeeding at my job. In reality, the
root of the fear is always one thing. I am afraid of interacting
with people I do not know and of little else.
We woke up and had the usual morsels of granola
bars. We had a long drive ahead of us to West Yellowstone, Montana.
Although we would see a large part of the park, the park was not the goal
of the day's travels. Yellowstone is so marvelous, however, that
it beckons on us to interact with her. So, inspite of being with
a heart of anxiety, the magic of the park has a way of softening the blow.
When we have had a bad day, a loved one gives us a hug, if we are lucky.
In Yellowstone, the park never fails to give us a hug of her own.
We began driving north through Hayden Valley.
Hayden Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the park. The
Yellowstone River rolls through this green, marshy valley twisting and
turning at just the right points to create many a pretty photograph.
Bison are often plentiful in the valley, and it is a wonderful spot to
see wildlife. The bus had taken us through the valley the day before,
but I really took little notice of it. I do not know if it was the
rain or the hunt for a sight of a herd of bison or what, but I know that
it made little first impression. It made little second impression,
too, but a beautiful event took place in this valley nevertheless.
As I drove, we came upon two bull elks.
The noise of our car coming through in the early morning startled the elks
and they began running. They, however, did not run away. They
ran parallel to the car as I drove at forty miles an hour. It was
a sight I had never seen. Here were two beautiful ungulates running
in full stride, and we were able to witness it. Frankly, the sight
of the elk racing with us scared my mom. It delighted me. The
elk is a most graceful animal. It is large, powerful, and always
in control of itself. I have always thought them, especially the
females, to be the most beautiful creatures in the park. As we outdistanced
the elk, my mood was more calm.
We drove the loop, going opposite of the route
we took the day before. We had no time to stop as we drove past Canyon,
and then we took the boring stretch to Norris. After that, the road
became very bad. There were plenty of chuckholes (or potholes, as
most of the world outside the Cleveland area calls them). I could
not very well look at the scenery as I played a game of dodging the craters.
Every so often, we would find ourselves jolted by a giant kerplunk as we
sank into the depths of the road's abyss. Actually, it was a little
fun. The roads in Yellowstone are by and large horrendous.
There are stretches of good road and stretches of road on which you probably
would find a smoother ride on the surface of the moon. The harsh
winters add to the problem. Anyhow, this stretch of road was pretty
At Madison Junction, we turned West toward West
Yellowstone, Montana. This was a very pretty ten mile drive.
The sun had burned away the morning fog, and so the light upon the mountains
along our path was just right. Again, I had this sense of delight
and exploration that I had had the days previous. This was another
terrain unlike those we had seen before. We traveled along the Madison
River along beautiful roads as small brownish mountains covered in forests
lay on both sides of the flood plain. It is a very pretty valley
that few people talk about. It, too, soothed me as I drove toward
the doom of employment. On the far horizon, the Gallatin Range covered
in snow seemed to invite us to Montana. However, when Montana came,
I became quite nervous.
Soon before leaving the park, a small wooden
sign informed us that we had entered Montana. I knew that West Yellowstone
was near. I knew that soon I had to report for work. I became
anxious about very small things. Who do I report to? Where
do I go? What will happen to me? It was as if I knew the aliens
were coming to abduct me! Why was I handing myself over to them without
a fight?! Before I knew it, we had exited the West Entrance.
No sooner had I exited the West Entrance that
I found myself missing the turn into Hamilton Stores. Their offices
are the very first left turn in West Yellowstone upon leaving the park,
and the sign is small enough that one can drive right by it if one does
not quite expect to see it. We turned around at the gas station on
the corner and headed back. Nothing makes one more nervous than making
mistakes like this in traffic. I was visibly stressed, and I found
myself getting a bit shrill. I probably said a few angry words to
my mom in the process.
We turned into the Hamilton's compound.
Things didn't get any easier. It is not exactly clear where one is
supposed to drive when one enters the Hamilton Stores offices. One
gets the feeling as they drive in that one is entering some kind of fort.
There are cabins and other buildings, but there was nothing that screams
out at you, "This is our main office!" So, what else can you do but
drive on? You drive on, but there is a fork in the road that I recall.
This time, I took the right one. Another time in the future, I know
that I have taken the wrong turn. Anyhow, at the end of this road,
it becomes clear of where you are. I was clear of where I was, but
I was not clear about what was to happen next.
I went into the main office to be processed.
Normally, when one goes into Hamilton Stores to be processed, there are
many other people waiting to be processed, too. However, I was a
special case. Because of my commitment to A Christian Ministry in
the National Parks, they had asked me to arrive on June 12. June
12 was a Saturday, and so Ham's had me sign a contract coming in on Friday,
June 11. This was two or three days before the third crew for Grant
Village was supposed to arrive. This was good fortune for the traveling
plans of my mom because I was not asked to sit through any orientation.
The woman working in the office, it may have been Charlene Owens--I was
so scared that I doubt I could possibly remember--processed me. I
turned in the materials I needed for work, proper identification, etc.l,
and she gave me more paperwork. I do not think that I calmed down
very much even though she was very nice. I probably looked a little
pale, even. When she told me that the people at Grant were excellent
and that I would like it there very much, I was still slightly skeptical.
However, when she told me that we had the nicest dormitories in the park,
I think I cheered up a little. Indeed, she was right.
Anyhow, I had my picture taken for my Ham's ID.
I had a name badge all ready for me. She gave me my work shirts and
two leather aprons. I was slated for food service, and I really was
not smart enough to figure out that that meant that they planned on me
to wait tables. Even the skinny leather apron left me wondering.
Maybe, I was deeply scared to admit the truth. I did NOT want to
wait tables! Finally, she gave me an information packet on Hamilton
Stores and Yellowstone National Park, and a card that I was to present
to my manager at Grant Village. The next step in the process for
me was to go to the store in Grant Village and show the card to Tom Lambert,
the name of my manager.
Phew! That was not so bad, but I feared
the worst was to come. She told me that I would probably have to
work that day, and so whatever she had said about nice dormitories vanished
in the anxiety of the approach to Grant Village. For a place that
I would soon call home, it seemed to me to be the last place in the world
I wanted to go.
Leaving Hamilton Stores led to an accidental
discovery of sorts. I made the wrong turn out of the parking area
of the main office. I found out that I had when I found myself at
an opening on the park side of the gates! Without going through the
gates, I found myself in Yellowstone National Park again. I doubt
the National Park Service is very happy that I have shared this information
with you. However, it is possible to enter Yellowstone from the West
Entrance without passing through the gates. However, for those who
are daring, the route takes you only about fifty or one hundred feet outside
of the gates. I would not be surprised if the Park Service sometimes
monitors that road. However, I confess that I have used it a couple
of times for reasons that I will explain in next summer's portion of the
The drive to Grant Village was uneventful.
We drove through another field of mines on our way to Old Faithful and
got stuck behind our share of RVs. When one is already anxious, one
has a tendency to remember incidents on the road. This would not
be the last time I would be anxious nor stuck behind so many slow moving
vehicles. The speed limit in Yellowstone is 45 mph for very good
reason, but 25 is a little unacceptable, especially if such vehicles fail
to use the turnouts. Of course, I did not mind prolonging the inevitable
a little while longer.
The inevitable came soon enough. We drove
south past West Thumb, made a left turn two miles down the road, and proceeded
into Grant Village. After passing the ranger station, we came upon
Hamilton Stores. I parked the car. I was shaking. I had
to find Tom Lambert, but I had no idea who he was. I would have to
The reader will correctly surmise that my shyness
is quite neurotic, but my fear of people is so great that the thought of
asking a simple question like that scares me greatly. I do not make
special orders in restaurants, nor do I ever ask where the bathroom is,
nor do I ever go to information booths. I do not like using the telephone
because I might have to ask if the person I am trying to seek is home.
I have no fear of getting up on stage and giving a speech, or writing this
autobiography, or of death, or of my eternal fate, or whether someone notices
that I am a bit of a slob at the table, but I hate asking for information.
For whatever reason, it seems to me that I am bothering whomever I am asking.
I do not know how many times I have felt bothered by the most innocent
of questions. At Hamilton Stores, that question usually takes the
form of "Where's the bathroom?" I suppose I have transposed that
frustration onto every person on the planet one hundred times over.
Deep down, my motives are good. I do not want to be the cause of
frustration for someone. However, I am well aware that I take this
to an unhealthy extreme. I still do it today. For instance,
today I was asked to work. My boss had sent me a message that I never
got telling me that I was no longer needed for today. So, I showed
up, and another co-worker was there. I had no problem asking her
what was up because she was familiar to me. However, to get it fully
settled, I had to ask the head manager whom I do not know well at all,
and that question scared me. Today, I timidly knocked on his door,
stumbled through my question, nervously talked to him, until the experience
was over. Now, if he came to me and said, "Jim, let me tell you what's
wrong in my life," confidence would have overtaken me and I would
have no problem being his friend. I realize that I am a strange man,
but to tell my story, I must tell you about my life as I was and am.
I entered Hamilton Stores at Grant Village near
where the Apparel Department meets the Indian and Jewelry Department--I
would say the front door, but I am not sure which door in that store is
the front door! Anyhow, I soon found someone in the Apparel Department.
I was so in a daze that I have not the foggiest idea who I asked.
She told me that Tom Lambert was around somewhere and helped me find him.
Within a couple minutes, I gave my card to Tom and was introduced.
Tom Lambert was a thin older man, somewhere over
sixty I assume. He had a tattoo on one of his arms that I never took
the time to discern, but that had at any event wrinkled up a bit with age.
Like anyone I meet for the first time, he intimidated me. I do not
remember much of our brief conversation, but he handed me over to his assistant
manager and told him to show me around, get me checked in, and then taken
His assistant manager was Ron Dilling, and it
was now his job to take my frightened self on a tour of the store, checked
into my dormitory, and reported to Ralph, the manager of the Village Grill,
the restaurant that I was scheduled to work in maybe this very day.
While my family waited in the car, Ron showed me the store and began explaining
some of the procedures at Hamilton Stores.
Ron Dilling was also an older man, though certainly
younger than Tom probably by at least ten years. He was about average
height, a little plump, with brown hair. He often walked around with
a fixed smile on his face, his mouth slightly open. As for his personality,
he was exceedingly friendly and spoke with a voice that made it sound like
he could have been a broadcaster or perhaps a car salesman. He was
one of three assistant managers, and his job was to work the floor on the
other assistant manager's days off and inspect the dorms. The system
at Hamilton Stores is split into what are called the A shift and the B
shift. This has nothing to do with the times the shifts work, Ron
explained. Most people were assigned to a shift and always worked
with the people on that shift. One week, the A shift would work the
early part of the day while the next week the B shift would work the early
part of the day. This rotated every Sunday. Anyhow, since Ron
covered days off for the A shift and B shift assistant managers, he was
called a floater. Also, at Hamilton Stores, very few people worked
a straight shift. The early shift would open the store at 7 am, work
until noon, be off until 3:30 and then work until 6 pm. The late
shift worked from noon until 3:30 and 6-10 pm. At this time of the
year, the store was on early hours, so there was some overlap in shifts.
Anyhow, Ron was very good at explaining the system as he walked me through
the stockroom, into the basement, and throughout the store.
This took about five minutes, and Ron was now
ready to take me to Ralph to see what he wanted me to do. Ron took
me to Ralph, introduced me, and then asked Ralph if he wanted me to work.
Ralph, a man about seventy years old, a bit slow in movement with a flare
that I would not hesitate to call eccentric, simply shook his head and
said, "Noooo, have him come in tomorrow at noon." Ron told me, "Okay
Jim, come in tomorrow at noon." Of course, Ralph could easily have
told me himself; and as I look back on it, the redundancy is a bit amusing.
My family had crawled out of the van to use the
bathroom and see what was taking me so long. My mom was anxious to
get on the road as they had hotel reservations for Gillette, Wyoming, in
eastern Wyoming, that evening. Finally, Ron was ready to take me
to my room. Normally, he would have taken me over to the dorm to
meet the person in charge of the dorm, or the dorm parent as this person
was called, but Jim and his wife Sandy were off this day. So, Ron
took care of it himself.
We drove over to the dorm area. It was
no more than a quarter mile away, but it is hidden from the normal tourist
traffic. In the dorm area, there were two large dormitories on both
ends separated by about twenty cabins. Around the eastern perimeter
of the parking lot were a number of campers. My dorm was the large
one on the far end shaped like a huge brown barn. Although, it did
not please the eye from the outside, it was sure to be quite a nice surprise
on the inside.
I was still nervous, but the feeling had subsided
a bit. The people I had met had been so nice, and Ron was very courteous
and helpful. I knew I was off for the rest of the day, and it made
me happy that I could settle down for a day. Nevertheless, the nervousness
could not subside. I was about to meet my roommate, whose name I
was told was Price Roberts. I had had a couple of terrible roommate
experiences in college. One was extremely bad. This guy had
vomited on our floors from drunkenness, would go to his friend's room and
crank call me in the middle of the night, listened to gangsta rap, had
once stolen one of my souvenirs from Spain for an afternoon, and once had
the gall to be having sex in the middle of our floor at five in the afternoon
unbeknownst to me as I was coming back from cross country practice.
The roommate I had had after him was his complete opposite, but this was
hardly better. This guy was always in bed by ten o'clock, warned
me that if I gave him my cold that he would hold it against me, whined
that lying on the carpet would make me sick, and was so self righteous
in his religious practices that he left me feeling that I was a heathen
in his eyes. Besides, he was the geekiest geek I ever met, which
is not so bad, except that he was upset that I was not one. His annoying
voice still rattles my ears. I know we are supposed to feel sorry
for people that society disadvantages by being different, but not all of
those people are truly likable. I liked him more than my first roommate,
but I was not sorry to be out of either living situation. With such
experience, it was no wonder that I was still nervous.
Ron took us up to our room. It was on the
first floor above groundlevel and right next to the stairs. He knocked
on the door. No answer. He knocked again. No answer.
So, he assumed that no one was in, and he opened the door with his key.
It was inauspicious for there was Price passed out on his bed looking about
as unattractive as he could possibly look. He was sprawled out in
a t-shirt and boxers with his mouth wide open and his blond hair all over
the place. He quickly awoke, made some sort of inaudible groan, apologized
for being asleep, and then went back to sleep. It was comical.
I just shook my head and told my mom as we went to get our things.
I grinned, "Looks like he's a winner." She laughed and shared my
sentiments. I could not have judged the book by its cover more incorrectly.
Ron left us to unload my things. We all
proceeded to unload the van as quickly as I could. I did not bring
very much. I brought a lot of clothes because of the discrepancies
in climate, some Bibles, some writing material and letters, my stereo and
CDs, a print of an El Greco that my sister Janis had bought me, and a souvenir
sword I bought in Spain--the very same souvenir stolen for an afternoon
by my roommate. It turned out that I had more than most everyone
else, which was odd. At college, I had less than most everyone else.
The world was turned upside down.
We finished unloading, and my family was ready
to leave. I gave my mom a rare hug. She told me to keep in
touch. It was a small moment, but such moments are very rare in my
family. They left, and I went into my room and faced tomorrow again.
It was noon.
to next page
back to Table of Contents
Go back to
the front page