Acting in Yosemite 3: People

In his latest letter from paradise, Portland actor Phillips J. Berns considers the oddity of being surrounded by people while you get away from it all

[Editors’ note: Portland actor Phillip J. Berns has been spending the summer at Yosemite National Park, playing the title role in Ranger Ned’s Big Adventure, a kids’ show for visitors produced for the park by Portland-based Traveling Lantern Theater Company. He’s been filing reports to ArtsWatch on the astonishments of performing in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. This is his third letter home. Read Part One and Part Two as well.]


Photo courtesy of Yosemite National Park.




“People are strange when you’re a stranger.” – The Doors

It’s an amazing juxtaposition, when you take the time to think about it, that this place that has been here for time unfathomable is constantly being swarmed by tourists who will be here for a few short days, or employees (like me), who will be here for a few shorter months. Like tides, people come and go to certain spots daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. And The Park, it remains more or less the same, changing imperceptibly with each tide of individual lives, just as those individual lives are changed ever so subtly by the intrinsic influence it carries.

The people of Yosemite fascinate me almost as much as the place itself. The tourists range from the entitled rich who have everything planned to the minute, guided tours each day (not too far, mind you), and dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel each night. To the families who have been coming here for years, always camping at the same site, and creating or continuing traditions that have lasted, and will last, generations. To the visitors from other countries, possibly visiting the United States for the first time, and choosing (wisely) to see its most beautiful parts. To the transient climbers and through-hikers, not truly guests of  The Park, but easygoing enough to make friends with employees equally transient in their lifestyles to let them crash in their tent for a few nights in exchange for some weed or a six-pack of beer.

The employees are equally varied in everything but age and feelings toward the tourists. For some reason, about half of the employees here are 24. Not 24-ish, 24. I suppose 24 is that sweet spot when you’ve been out of college for a few years, still restless and eager to explore the world, but not yet settled into a job that expects or even promises fidelity, so you think “I’m going to go to Yosemite for a while, see how that is.” Either that, or it’s just a weird coincidence. In any case, it takes a certain type of mindset to choose to work here. I’m in a fairly charmed position where I know where I’m coming from, and I know what I’ll be doing when I return there. Most of the people I’ve met, when asked, “How long you here?” will anwer, “Not sure.” Some have been here for years and will never leave, saying, “Not sure,” as in, “Not sure when I’m going to die so I can’t answer that silly question.” Some are running away from an unhealthy life, and are hoping to start anew. Some are simply trying to find themselves in Yosemite’s wilderness. And some are just true wanderers, never at home except on the road.

When you really think about it, it must take a certain type of personality to come to a place like Yosemite to work. Miles and miles from anything like a city, yet constantly being surrounded by strangers. I mean, most of the employees here serve (in some aspect or another) hundreds of people a day, thousands a week, and they will (almost) all tell you they are not here for the job, they are here to spend time away from people. It’s being surrounded by people who hate people being forced to work with people on a massive scale.

This is all, obviously, some enormous generalizing I’ve been doing here. I have met some really remarkable people and great friends who do not fit this mold in the least. Still, the most overheard conversation in employee common spaces is, by far, how awful the tourists are.

I, however, have no complaints. I’ve said often since I’ve been here and will tell you, dear reader, the same: I have the best job in The Park. I get to do what I love and make kids laugh in the most beautiful place I have ever been, or will likely ever be again. What an awesome experience. What a marvelous opportunity.

I will end this post on a rather sad note. I was informed today that Greg Tankersly, who played Bob in the Ranger Ned show for years, recently passed away. Although I never got to meet him in person, his enthusiasm and lust for life shone though over the phone, and is even more apparent in the lives he touched. Sleep well, Greg. The loss is being felt deeply here in Yosemite.



CHILD (4 yrs.): When I was little, my dad had a beard, but now he doesn’t. I still like him though.

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