I arrived at the Hostel in the Forest in time for dinner. The twenty bucks I'd paid for the night included a vegetarian meal. There were to be two bells the manager told me, the first one a warning telling us dinner was on the way and the second one announcing it was ready. Dinner was served on the screen porch. I didn't know what to do in the meantime. Alone, I was scared to mingle with the other guests, what was I going to talk about with my fellow travelling hippies, so I paced the grounds, went to the laundry and grabbed blankets for the night, and hid in my bunk. I heard the first bell. My nerves tightened. I wandered back outside, crossing in front of the inactive firepit, eyeing the other guests. There was a chubby kid from the UK talking to a husky guy who looked like he had played college football. Next to him was a skinny guy with a hawkish face and wire framed glasses. I looked down as I passed, looking up briefly to give a quick smile to convey at least some semblance of friendliness. I went back to my bunk and contemplated calling someone but then realized that's not why I was down here and put my phone away. I sat there, doing nothing. Terrified I was going to make a mistake, but not knowing what kinds of mistakes could be made in this unfamiliar atmosphere. Finally the second bell rang.
Before we ate there was a circle. Everyone present sized me up, as I had been the only one not to participate in the socializing earlier. Everyone joined hands and said their name, where they were from, and what they were thankful for that day. I cracked wise about being thankful for not being surrounded by concrete and the easily navigated roads of Georgia and got a few warm laughs. Most were thankful for their loved one present (there were a lot of couples), nature, the lake, and the vibes. After the circle parted and dinner was brought out a couple approached me. The guy I recognized from passing earlier, the one who looked like he was a jock in a former life, had been thankful for doing yoga in the glasshouse and his wife were from Tampa. They had a friend with them named Mike, he smiled and made small talk about me being from New York and what a long way I was from home. He was in his mid-thirties and had close-shaven hair to help him bald more gracefully and by the way he looked at me I could see the ideas about some woodland lovin' form underneath his hairless dome. He had the non-threatening face of a romantic and I could tell he was both unlucky and awkward in love, so I did my best to avoid him.
I met the other staff members. There was a dishelved boy named Joey with a septum ring and glasses, a bearded boy with dark close-cropped hair who always wore overalls and had a heavy southern accent named Mike Joe, and a little blonde hippie dude named Trey who talked in adultish baby talk, a little flirtatious pixie of a guy. Joey came from Pennsylvia, he had been brought there by the absent Mikey, a New Yorker and his boyfriend. Mike Joe hailed from West Virginia. His story was that he had seen some hippies in Brunswick and asked them where they were going. They took him to the hostel and he stayed on to tend the gardens during the winter months. Trey's origin was more mysterious, he seemed as though he had emerged from the mushroom (the nickname for the four room domed hut all the staff shared) attributes fully intact.
Aside from the Tampa folk there was a couple from Berlin (the bald guy and a woman), two roommates from Gainsville, a yoga-inspired young couple from Staten Island, and the chubby British kid who was making a six month long solo trek across the US. Everyone was nice but no one was going to rob me of my loner status. I'd traveled alone and my mission wasn't to make friends it was to explore places instead of people for once.