With Jim Beam in Hand and a Tiara on My Head, Rest in Peace

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Driving Through Death Valley National Park

Driving Through Death Valley National Park

“What’s it like LIVING in a national park?” is usually the second question people ask after asking, “What is your favorite national park?” when they learn I spent 10 years living and working in America’s crown jewels.

National Park Life is Family Life
“It’s like living with family,” is my response, because it is.

Let me clarify. Living and working in a national park is like living with your average, dysfunctional yet loving family. You’ll find the motherly and fatherly types along with the quirky, black sheep aunties and jovial gay uncles. There are those who are like your perfect younger sister and others like your geeky, yet brilliant cousin. Sometimes you fight like cats and dogs but in the end, you love each other because you share a bond of that particular park’s awesomeness which is the common thread connecting everyone.

Like family, you can’t choose who you’re spending most of your time with and sometimes end up eating lunch daily across from someone who you don’t like. On the flip is, you quickly find those “relatives” you connect with and end up spending quality time with them.

Me and Barb in Mexico, Nov. 2008

Me and Barb in Mexico, Nov. 2008

An Introduction to Barb
This week, I learned one of those “relatives” passed away. Her name was Barb and she was one of the most brilliant minds and thoughtful beings I have ever met. She was wickedly smart, embraced life with zest, and it gives me comfort knowing she lived life on her own terms.

I met Barb in 1996 when my then boyfriend Peter (who later ended up being my now deceased former husband) and I took jobs at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley National Park. Okay, Peter was the one they wanted as the Rooms Manager and I was just part of the deal. Although I had my own work-ethics, merits and abilities, I still needed to prove that I was not some hussy riding on his coattails.

Barb was one of my first friends in Death Valley and one of the few who did not judge me, which was typical Barb. The woman I knew didn’t have any expectations of others and never judged a book by its cover (had to throw that in there because she was an avid reader). She was pure and innocent in her acceptance of people yet very wise and a bit skeptical when it came to life. She  was a genuine free spirit which was not the person I was, or at least I did not think that quality was inside me.

BarbFest Forever
During our Death Valley days, we spent many evenings philosophizing and the later into the night, with assistance of adult beverages, the deeper our conversations became. We discussed everything from civil rights to lost loves and UFOs to human rights. Our greatest adventures were associated with “BarbFest,” a celebration of her 50th birthday. She and two male friends took a trip to Las Vegas where we enjoy VIP seating during a drag queen show and confused the house photographer who could not figure out which of us were couples. Perhaps that’s another story for another time.

The second portion of BarbFest was a jaunt to Crystal, Nevada,  to visit the Brothel Art Museum we had seen advertised so many times on billboards in Pahrump. And, prostitution is legal. We stopped in Pahrump where a guy at a gas station encouraged us to use the “dry lakebed” to shave about 30 minutes off our drive and silly us. We took his advice and soon my blue Berretta learned it was NOT a dry lakebed. In fact, it was a very wet lake.

We got stuck a few times and by some miracle, or maybe it was me getting out and pushing in the mud, we made it to our destination – the Brothel Art Museum – which turned out being a bar with various newspaper and magazine articles about prostitution plastered on the wall. We walked in and the bartender asked how he could help us. The only other patron sat at the bar, unfazed by our presence.

“Is this the Brothel Art Museum?” Barb asked.

“Yes,” the bartender replied.

“Oh, okay,” we said in our best trying-not-to-be-disappointed-voices.

I’m not quite sure what we were expecting but I’m pretty sure that was not it. We hurried through and then tried to visit a brothel to see what it was like. The closest one was closed for remodeling and a signed instructed us to visit a neighboring brothel for service.

Hmm.

We found the other brothel which had a sign advertising some of the goods it sold, such as T-shirts. Although we thought we were confident to walk in, all we had the courage to do was walk to the door and peak in the window to see a sea of crushed red velvet everywhere.

Barb and Me in Mexico, Nov. 2008

Barb and Me in Mexico, Nov. 2008

Lived Life on Her Terms
Those are some of my favorite memories of Barb. Over the years, we remained friends. She worked with Peter and I in the Everglades, she attended our wedding in Buffalo, and she was the one asked by the corporate office to call and tell me Peter had passed away. She told me many times she hated having to make that call and I don’t blame her. We grieved together on  Peter’s passing along the passing of other mutual national park friends. She was also the voice of reason when I cried to her about the men (or lack of) in my life. 

She eventually moved to Mexico where I visited her over Thanksgiving in 2008 and saw how she was adjusting to a new life and culture. Over the years, she found her group of friends, or I should say, her new family in Mexico. She created a life where it also ended. I knew she was happy and she was living life on her terms which is why I am comforted knowing she is now at peace.

Flowers in Mexico

Flowers in Mexico, Nov. 2008

Carpe Diem
Thanks to technology, we stayed in touch but not as much as I should have. She was always there giving me a dose of reality in response to my #vaguebooking on Facebook. When I was down or needed advice, I went to her not because she would sugarcoat the situation and tell me what I wanted to hear, she dished out reality. And that’s one of her characteristics I appreciated about her. 

Unfortunately, it takes the loss of a loved one to reflect and realize I did not give a thoughtful reply to their last email. I did not tell them enough how much I appreciated them. Or, tell them how grateful I was for having them in my life.

Of late, I feel as though I have been stressing myself out trying to make others happy. I wonder if I am wasting time and energy trying to impress others who do not matter or care. All the while, I have been ignoring, neglecting and taking for granted those who matter and care about me. I know what Barb would say.

Will Barb’s passing change my life? It should, but right now, I don’t see how I can change things. I do know I miss her terribly, especially knowing we will no longer have deep conversations. Although she lived thousands of miles away, I feel a bit more lonelier.

Cheers to you, Barb. I’m toasting you with a glass of Jim Beam and water while wearing a sparkling tiara. I know you’d expect nothing less.

Sidebar:
Since my wedding, this song has forever reminded me of Barb. She had told me she was a go-go dancer back in the ’60s and this song, well, it has that groovy, go-go vibe. We had our wedding DJ play Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ On the Sun” for her.

 

Note: Someday I’ll find photos from our Death Valley days!

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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