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For the fourth summer in a row, I returned to work at a restaurant in my hometown. I had no idea what to expect this summer. Under normal circumstances, my little town would be packed with tourists the entire season due to our proximity to Mount Rushmore and location in the beautiful Black Hills. I worried that no one would be traveling and that my town might crumble without our main moneymaker. I imagined myself begging for shifts and having to save every dollar of my tips to make a dent in my college expenses.

Turns out I was completely wrong. People across America were ready to get out and travel. I suppose South Dakota seemed like a good location due to our wide-open spaces and minimal cases compared to the rest of the country. In fact, my town had zero cases until about a month after I returned home.

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The restaurant I work at is huge. There is a large dining room, a sports bar, a loft, and an outdoor deck. It can fit hundreds of people. I was thrilled at first when we started to get busy. At that point, we were at half capacity, which made me feel relatively comfortable. I also wore a mask all summer. Toward the middle of June though, we were no longer able to stay at half capacity because of the sheer amounts of people wanting to come in to eat. This was when the anxiety started. 

I worked overtime every week and took huge sections because we were painfully understaffed. Waiting on hundreds of people and walking through a packed restaurant all day, I was constantly thinking about coronavirus. Every minor cough I had sent me into a spiral of worry. My low point was during the Sturgis Rally, an annual motorcycle rally that happens in a nearby town. The attending bikers spread throughout the entire Black Hills. The event brought in nearly 500,000 bikers (the largest event in the country since the beginning of coronavirus). There was no social distancing or masks whatsoever. Waiting on coughing bikers for two straight weeks really took a toll on my mental health. I wanted so badly to be done with work at that point and to regain my calm.

Luckily, I stayed healthy all summer but I’m glad to be back at school and no longer around so many people every day. Unfortunately, my small town now has over a hundred cases. I was expecting it to be much worse with the crazy busy tourist season we had, but the effects of this summer could be long-lasting. 


Elizabeth Mertz

U Wyoming '21

Liz is a junior at the University of Wyoming studying English Education. She's a book enthusiast, Spotify playlist creator, and movie buff. Her life goals include traveling as much as she can afford to and being an awesome teacher.
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