In 2005 I attended a student retreat in Gettysburg, PA with a number of friends from the University of Washington. Days earlier we attended events in Washington, DC (the “other” Washington, as it’s called around here) and then headed to rural Pennsylvania for leadership training with students from around the country.
But that is not all we did.
After the first meet-and-greet day, and all of the awkwardness that comes with it, everyone pretty much settled on with whom they would spend any voluntary time. In fact, we were given four free hours the next morning to do whatever we wanted: mistake number one. We were also given a choice of steak or crab cakes for dinner that evening, and I chose crab cakes: mistake number two, though I wouldn’t find that out until later.
The leaders suggested we invest in our country’s history and take a guided tour of Gettysburg. I had already done it, and it’s something one needn’t do twice in a decade. The rest of my crew hadn’t done it, but for some reason didn’t find it necessary to learn about the Civil War. That left us perusing the brochure stand to find a viable alternative.
What a relief that the good people of the Carroll Valley Resort had included the brochures to every antique and quilt store in a 50 mile radius! And look at the literature on the ten thousand museums on the Civil War — every college sophomore’s dream!
Skipping past those thrilling options, our eyes settled on a tourist’s heaven-on-earth: a brochure for Boyd’s Bear Country.
“Welcome to Boyd’s Bear Country!” it read. “A picturesque country setting of the world’s largest teddy bear store, perfect for a family day trip or weekend destination. Yer heart will melt as ya look at all the lil’ bear cubs. Enjoy the day with those you luv!”
It was like all our minds together formed one thought bubble above our heads that read “WHAT THE…?”
We immediately got into the car.
Annie, Hunter, Casey and I were on our way to the most heinous tourist trap imaginable. Who needed Gettysburg?
After a ten minute drive through winding roads lined with endless fields, we arrived to a parking lot that rivaled Costco’s in size. We stared in wonder at the largest red barn any of us had ever seen (but really, how many red barns have we Seattleite’s encountered?).
We walked inside and were immediately visually assaulted by so many thousands of stuffed bears, even the Berenstain’s would have turned and run back to the car.
Hunter: “This is like the mothership of bad taste.”
Annie: “I don’t know whether to be horrified or amazed.”
Casey: “Get me the HELL out of here.”
Abby: (Stunned silence)
Allow me to paint a picture of just how insane the entire concept of Boyds Bear Country truly is. As we walked from room to room, we saw bears in various human situations – at school, at a picnic, sitting around the Christmas tree at home. Things went from appalling to creepy when we found the Boyd’s Teddy Bear Nursery. It was built to look EXACTLY like a real nursery – one stands on one side of the glass looking into a room of infant incubators filled with STUFFED BABY BEARS. The nurse on duty (yes, this is someone’s actual job) walks up to you and asks if you’d like to hold a bear to consider for adoption. I briefly considered poking her in the face to see if she too, was stuffed.
However, the real low point came when we happened upon “Peeker Boo’s Folkus Pocus Portrait Studio” (I couldn’t make these names up). We saw cute families getting their photos taken together against a typical brown backdrop. The photographer was printing out some results so we walked over and took a look.
It pains me even to write this.
When the picture came out of the printer, the nice family’s bodies were gone, and their heads were superimposed onto STUFFED BEAR BODIES. Bear, bear, bear – human face, human face, human face. It was all I could do not to light my hair on fire.
We immediately signed up to be photographed. How else would anyone back at Carroll Valley believe that we had seen such atrocities?
After wandering around with our eyes glazed over as we toured the FOUR FLOORS of bears, it was finally our turn to have our bodies replaced with bear fur. There was serious debate as to who should get which kind of bear body, but given that we were all different in size, it quickly became obvious. Hunter was stocky, Annie was shortest, I was average, and Casey had dark hair and eyes – obviously the kitten bear.
As I sat to have my picture taken, I realized this was one of those moments in life when I’m sure I have left Earth and entered an entirely different planet comprised of a wack-job species. How else to explain that in some boardroom a group of people decided there needed to be a Wal-Mart sized barn full of bears and people who take pictures to look like them?
The resulting picture caused such a scene of laughter and hysteria between the four of us that you would have thought we had just won the lottery and discovered it was tax-exempt. That’s right, we were all going to split $65 million and the government wasn’t getting a dime. We were THAT ecstatic.
Except for the cashier. The tears of laughter streaming down our faces probably caused her to feel somewhat suicidal due to her form of employment.
And to think we almost passed this up to tour Gettysburg.