Glorious summer sunshine in a lush valley, a host of new friends, amazing kids and a four-month US visa; does it get any better than this? As a young person travelling alone, a summer as a camp counsellor was absolutely perfect for me.
While I was on summer camp I had the time of my life. I met Aussies and Americans, Chileans and Colombians, Israelis and Dominicans, plus a whole host of fellow Brits. These people became my family for the summer and many of them remain my all-time besties. They were there for the ultimate highs and lowest of the lows, whether that was dancing on tables in the hillbilly bar or getting caught stashing an un-kosher pizza into the bunk.
New friends and great weather are just some of the perks of the job; there are also the not-so-perky points, like the early morning wake-ups and fatty fatty bum bum food. However, the after-hours adventures make it all worthwhile. Think hitchhiking, skinny dipping, bar dancing, shot drinking, ER visiting, local chatting, flag stealing… the list goes on.
One night a week we would be taken to a local bar. This wooden shack had a luminous “open” sign that hung by its hinges and, on the inside, it was small and rustic, dark and dingy. A jukebox sat in the corner, a deer’s head hung from the wall, and chilling at the bar were a few locals sporting heavy mustaches and white vest tops, a typical US stereotype.
Full of energy we would rock up, run straight to the bar and, high on life – everyone would be dancing on tables to DJ Dennis’s raving tunes in no time. But after a few hours it was time to get back on that bus.
There was always someone who missed it by seconds and then faced the dreaded walk back through the woods. Missing curfew could mean big trouble if you were caught by the camp director, but I have no doubt that the highlight of his week was watching the nervous, and not-so-sober teens stumble down to HQ giving their best performance of sobriety.
Most people managed to conceal the dozen jello shots they’d had, but there were always a few whose catatonic state slipped them up. There was the time John underestimated the distance to the bathroom and peed on a sleeping camper; the time James woke the next morning in the wrong bunk, and in the wrong bed; and who could forget the night Sam sat outside bunk 12 wailing as he confessed his undying love to the goat.
These were just the nights off; the days off took such shenanigans to a whole other level.
Each Saturday a taxi would arrive and cram 20 of us into the 12-seater to take us all to Honesdale. 45 minutes away, this was the closest town to camp. There was a Walmart, a movie theatre and a McDonald’s, so you’d expect that there wouldn’t be much fun to be had but you should never underestimate a group of international youths.
We’d cram in the food, raid the supermarket shelves and often stay in the dodgiest motels just to get a lie in.
On one occasion, desperate to relax in the sun and swim in clean water instead of the spider-infested lake, a few of us decided to seek out Honesdale’s outdoor pool. Unsure how to get there we got the thumbs out and tried to hitch a ride. Stupid idea. A semi-naked 40-year-old farmer was delighted to pile us into his pickup truck as long as we didn’t mind his sleazy chat up lines.
We got there safely, averting his suggestive comments and enjoyed a day in the sunshine until it was time to hitch a ride back. For hours we stood on the deserted road doing our best to cadge a lift. Just when we had begun to give up hope and imagine that this was where our days would end, a family of four pulled up. They were heading home from a church fete and were “super excited” to meet four Brits.
The friendly family were so enthused by our accents that daddy driver lost concentration and crashed into a lamppost. Despite the clunking sound coming from the bonnet, he refused to stop, intent on getting us to our destination. Shaken up by the day’s catastrophes we were relieved when finally the green hills speckled with white bunks appeared in the distance. In one day we had managed to break a US law and crash a car but somehow return to camp unscathed.
Other days off followed a similar pattern of chaos. On one occasion a trip to the ER was needed after a girl took a funny turn that meant we had to call 911. I searched the hospital for a George Clooney-esq doctor but no luck.
Another time a group of the boys were escorted back to camp by state troopers after they had crashed a golf cart during their day off. And there was the time that local police arrived at our hotel to investigate noise complaints. All of the girls used their feminine charm to sweetly apologise to Officer Dimples and partner. Luckily they accepted our apologies and even agreed to have us take a series of posy pics with them. Jail averted.
But it wasn’t the run-ins with the emergency services that generated the most gossip at camp. It was the summer romances. With little else to talk about rumours flew from bunk to bunk speculating on the latest hook-ups.
The camp director often went on the hunt for out-of-bed counselors only to find numerous couples shacked up in the art room, getting frisky by the lake or canoodling backstage. It became such a regular occurrence that he soon opted out of his midnight walk and left the flurry of summer love hanging in the air.
Of course that didn’t stop the rumours. There were the break ups and make-ups, the drunken hook-ups and the next-day denials. Oh yes, camp romances provided a hell of a lot of entertainment but, while a lot of these were just summer time flings born out of proximity and more often than not camp giggles, many a couple have made their “summer lovin” last.
So, while families back home assume that the summer of a camp counselor is spent running after crazy kids and working yourself to the ground, they wouldn’t be wrong, but the wild Wednesday bar runs and silly Saturday shenanigans are something we can keep under wraps.