Dispatch from a Cabin

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The last few weeks have been difficult.

At the end of September, I drove the van down to the mercantile so The Man and I could use the internet on our day off. As we were heading back to the campground, I noticed the oil pressure gauge was wacky, the needle bouncing around and showing the oil pressure was way, way high. The Man said an oil pressure gauge would never read high, that the gauge is there to tell the driver if the oil pressure is too low. We walked back to mercantile, used the internet again, and the man figured out the problem was more than likely the oil sending unit. Our boss was in town, so he picked up the part for us. The next day, The Man put in the new oil sending unit, and the gauge went back to normal. Disaster averted for the cost of a $28 part.

Last Tuesday was to be our final day off before we left the mountain. We decided to leave the campground to escape campers who wanted to chitchat even after politely being told we were on our day off. We parked in the woods for a while, but then The Man decided he needed to go back to the campground for a reason I can no longer remember. I turned the van around and stopped at the main road to look both ways before pulling onto the asphalt. The van died. It happens sometimes, so I wasn’t too worried, but then I couldn’t get the van to start. Then I was worried because my van always starts.

I tried starting it again and again and again. Nothing.

Both The Man and I wondered if something had come lose after the replacement of the oil sending unit, so we removed the doghouse from front part of the van between the two seats, and The Man fiddled with some parts. I tried to start the van again. Nothing.

We figured we’d have to get the van towed. The problem was getting to a telephone. The nearest phone was twelve miles away.

We walked down the road a ways and waited for cars to come by so we could stick out our thumbs. The passing cars were few and far between, and those we did see didn’t stop.

After a couple of hours, we walked back to the van and tried hitchhiking from there. We had no luck for the longest time.

We had just decided to walk the couple miles back to the campground and try to find someone there who would help, when a pickup truck that had just passed us came back in our direction. The driver had turned around to help us! Our faith in humanity was restored.

The elderly couple in the truck drove us to the campground where our boss and his wife stay. The boss was on an errand, but the wife handed us the phone. I called my insurance company and found out my roadside assistance only coveres a tow of 15 miles. That wasn’t going to be much help, since we were sixty miles away for the repair shop The Big Boss Man recommended. The Man called AAA and arranged to have a tow truck meet us the next morning. In the meantime, the wife offered us the use of the campground’s vacant cabin. We jumped at the chance to have a shower and sleep in a queen size bed in a heated building.

We found we got internet in the cabin, so I got on Facebook while The Man looked at minivans for sale in several states. I saw I had Facebook messages from The Man’s sister and cousin, asking him to call home. He immediately knew something was wrong. I borrowed the satellite phone from the wife, and The Man called his sis and found out his mother had passed away. I don’t think he slept at all that night.

We met the tow truck driver on Wednesday morning, and The Man, Jerico the dog, and I piled into the cab of the tow truck. The driver, a nice man young enough to be our son, attached the van, and away we went. The ride into town was blissfully uneventful.

We had the van dropped off at the mechanic recommended by The Big Boss Man. The owner of the shop said he’d take a look at the van and call me in about an hour. Two hours later, as The Man and I watched the batteries in our phones lose power, I called the mechanic shop again. If we were going to have to get a motel room, I wanted to do that early enough in the day to get some enjoyement out of the money spent. The owner said he still hadn’t had a chance to look at the van, but he’d call me in half an hour.

About that time, I got a call from The Big Boss Man. He was in town. If the van wasn’t ready to go, he was willing to drive us back up the mountain and let us spend another night in the vacant cabin. He was bringing his personal truck to the same mechanic in the morning, and we could ride with him. We jumped at the chance. I called the mechanic and told him we’d see him in the morning.

In the morning, the repair shop owner was still not able to tell me what was wrong with the van. I don’t know if it had even been looked at yet, but it had been moved onto the shop’s tiny concrete lot. About two hours later, the owner of the shop called me to say the problem was the distributor modulator. I told him to go ahead and fix the problem. It wasn’t like I had a lot of choice. I needed my van to run.

I wasn’t so lucky with the expense this time. The total with parts and labor came to $226. Groan. It’s always something.

So how did we celebrate the van running again? By taking an epic five hour road trip through the greater Los Angeles traffic zone so The Man could buy a minivan…but that’s a story for a different day.

On the second-to-last day of our work season, The Big Boss Man made us a proposition. We could stay in the cabin and do some work around the campground to make up for the two and a half days we had missed during the week. We’d get a warm place to sleep, electricity, hot water, and fatter pay checks. We agreed, but an hour later, The Man couldn’t take it anymore, and decided he was out of the campground business. He packed his minivan and headed to civilization to line up insurance and jump through the hoops of getting the car registered.

Me? I decided I wanted a few days in the cabin. I finished my paperwork this morning and I’ll pack up all the items in the cabin’s kitchen this evening. Tomorrow I’ll paint picnic tables, maybe do some raking and fire ring cleaning on Wednesday and Thursday. In the meantime, I’ll schedule blog posts and enjoy the electricity and hot water.

 

Spider-Man Shoes

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The family walked the trail early in the day. They were leaving when I arrived for my shift.

The man of the family was carrying a toddler. The boy was wearing only one shoe, a sandal decorated in a Spide-Man motif. The man removed the shoe from the boy’s foot and walked over to the garbage can. While I watched, he lifted the lid and deposited the shoe in the trash.

I must have given him an inquisitive look because the man shrugged and said the kid had lost his other shoe somewhere on the trail. I suppose it was easier for the dad to toss the remaining shoe than to retrace his steps on the trail to look for the lost one. Presumably, the child had more shoes at home or the family could afford to buy him a new pair.

How does a person (even a tiny person) lose only one shoe? Maybe he’d kicked off the shoe while a parent was carrying him, but why had he kept the other one? Life is mysterious.

Later that day, a large extended family came off the trail. A small family (mom, dad, toddler) was part of the big family. The dad was holding a sandal decorated in a Spider-Man motif.

They’d found this shoe on the trail the man said. Did we have a lost and found?

I explained how the shoe had been lost earlier in the day and its mate had been left in our garbage can.

The man said he thought the sandal would fit his son. He asked if I minded if he dug the discarded shoe out of the trash.

I love dumpster diving and otherwise acquiring perfectly good cast-off items. I didn’t see anything strange or gross or wrong with rescuing the shoe from the trash. I told the man to be my guest.

He poked around in the garbage can and found the sandal close to the top. It had been a slow trash day, and the shoe hadn’t gotten dirty.

The toddler was excited about his new Spider-Man sandals. I guess one kid’s Spider-Man shoes trash is another kid’s Spider-Man shoes treasure.

Telephone

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My boss is a pretty easygoing guy, but he’s uptight about garbage and telephones.

He hates it when people who don’t pay to stay in one of his campgrounds use the trashcans in one of those campgrounds. He feels like he shouldn’t have to pay to haul off trash brought in by someone who didn’t pay a camping fee. I think it’s better for people to deposit their trash in a trashcan—any trashcan—than to drop the garbage on the side of the road.

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

In the past, I wasn’t subjected to his uptightness about telephones because there were no telephones where I worked. Not only was there no electricity or running water at the campground or day use area, there were no telephones. There were no landlines, no satellite phones, and no cell phone service. My boss didn’t have to worry about me letting the teaming masses use the company phone because there was no company phone.

Now that the mercantile is open, there is a company phone. It runs off a satellite or works through the internet—I don’t really know. All I know is that the phone is necessary for doing business, so the mercantile has one.

The company I work for pays for a phone plan offering unlimited calls within the United States. The way I understand it, the phone bill is the same whether one call or a hundred calls or one thousand calls are made. The boss has invited employees to use the phone whenever we need to make calls within the United States, but he doesn’t want the general public using the phone except in emergencies.

My boss understands people may need to use the phone in an emergency. I think he’s even a little proud he’s making it possible for folks in need to call to 911. However, even though we’re in a remote location, he doesn’t consider routine car problems an emergency. Maybe he’d be ok with using the company phone to call 911 if a car burst into flames, but he doesn’t want us to let people use the phone to call AAA (a toll free call even if the phone in the mercantile didn’t have unlimited free long distance calling) for help with a flat tire or a lockout or for a tow.

He’s never said why he doesn’t want people to use the company phone to call for help in situations of auto trouble. If it’s a matter of people tying up the company phone, well that I can understand, but he’s never cared to explain himself. He’s also never said what he expects people whose cars don’t run to do in order to get help. The nearest pay phone is ten miles away from the store. I suppose someone with a broke down car would have to hitchhike to the payphone and ask to have the AAA driver meet there.

The Big Boss Man’s desire to keep the phone off of the ears of the public in cases of car trouble is all well and good, except he’s not the one who has to turn away the young mother with three kids and a car making a grinding noise or a group of just-out-of-their-teens young people who locked their keys in the truck. The job of turning people away usually falls on me, and I hate it. How do I explain to someone stuck in the mountains without cell phone service that my boss doesn’t consider their emergency a true emergency? It’s the worst part of my job.

One Sunday afternoon, the situation was a little easier for me.

A young man stepped up to the counter and asked me if the store had a phone. He was probably in his mid-20s and tall.

I asked him if he was having an emergency. I expected him to tell me about some problem he was having with his car.

He said he was sort of having an emergency. I thought he probably wasn’t having an emergency at all if he described it as sort of an emergency.

He said he needed to call his boss to say he wouldn’t be coming into work.

Even I didn’t see that as an emergency. He had a problem, maybe, or a situation, but certainly not an emergency.

I told him my boss didn’t want customers to use the phone except in cases of fire, flood, or blood (my words, not the words of my boss). I told him about the scenic lookout where he might be able to get cell phone service. I told him about the payphone ten miles away. I very politely sent him on his way. I’m sure my boss would have been proud.

Candy Man

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When I returned from my ten-minute break, there were more people in the mercantile than I’d seen in the yurt all morning.

The store manager was trying to give directions to a young couple looking for the nearby Boy Scout camp, but she didn’t really know the area. She looked at me for help, so I pulled out a map and showed them two routes that would get them to their destination. Their thank yous said, they left, and I remained behind the counter.

A tiny child holding a red box of peanut butter M&Ms stepped up to the counter and looked at me slyly.

M & M's Chocolate Candies, Peanut Butter, 1.63 oz, 24-Count (Pack of 2)
He placed the box on the counter and continued to look at me with big brown eyes.

I looked around the store. While there were adults browsing, it wasn’t clear what family the kid might belong to. There were certainly no adults in his immediate vicinity.

That will cost $2.50, I said—not unkindly—to the boy. Do you have any money?

The kid never said a word, just took the box of candy from the counter and headed for the door. When he had one foot on the deck and the other still in the mercantile, I called out to him—again, not unkindly—Hey! Please don’t take that outside without paying for it.

This got his family’s attention. An older woman (Mom? Grandma?) and a younger woman (Mom? Sister?) both started hollering at the kid from across the store where they were looking at t-shirts.

George! Get back in here!

George! Put that back!

George turned around, returned the box of M&Ms to its place among the other candy boxes, then went over to stand with the women.

Sorry about that! one of the women called across the store.

No problem, I said. I handled the situation.

 

Increasing Weirdness

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Have you ever started doing something fairly normal only to have your actions turn into high weirdness? That’s the story of my life.

One morning at the campground, I opened a garbage can in order to deposit trash inside. Sitting on top of the trash in the can, still perfectly clean, was a pretty little padded envelope. I’m a dumpster diver from way back, and I often need such envelopes when I send out jewelry, so I scooped it up. I saw the envelope had been addressed to the camp host. He must have tossed it after he’d emptied it.

I started peeling the post office stickers from the front of the envelope. I knew I could cover up any leftover sticker residue with whatever I wrote the recipient’s address on.

This is when my perfectly normal (at least for me) action of reclaiming something useful from the trash started getting weird.

I looked over at the little pile of sticker peelings I’d set on the garbage can lid. If I threw them into the garbage can and the camp host noticed them, then noticed the envelope was gone, would he think that was weird? I told myself I was being silly. He probably wouldn’t even notice the padded envelope was gone. (Most people aren’t aware of the contents of garbage cans, right?)

As I was about to walked away from the garbage can, I looked into the padded envelope.  Inside was a plain white envelope. I removed the plain white envelope. I knew I needed to return the plain white envelope to the camp host, but that would require me telling him I’d been digging in the trash (although the padded envelope had been right on top and I hadn’t actually had to do any digging to get to it) and had taken something he’d thrown away. Would he think my taking his trash weird and stalkerish?

My next thought was that I should maybe throw out the white envelope and keep the padded one. The thought after that was I should check the white envelope and make sure there’s no money in it. I swear I had no intention of keeping any money I found. Any money I found would have gone directly to the camp host.

I could have stopped the weirdness right there. I could have told the camp host, I dumpstered your discarded padded envelope and found this in it, while handing him the sealed white envelope. Did I do that? No. Instead, I ripped open the white envelope. I found no money in it, only a pretty little notecard. I opened the notecard to check for money. There was no money, only words.

Then I did the unthinkable. I read the words written on the notecard!

I’m going to blame my breach of etiquette on my lack of sleep (less than five hours) and the coffee I’d drunk to get through the day, but the reality is, I knew better. I knew and I know it’s not ok to read someone else’s mail.

So there I stood, padded envelope and open white envelope in hand. My first impulse was to put the white envelope in the garbage can. Actually, I hid the white envelope under some other trash. Then I realized I’d only added to the weirdness instead of ending it. What if the camp host talked to his friend who’d sent the mail and she mentioned the note? What if he went to the garbage can to retrieve the padded envelope in order to find the white envelope and the padded envelope wasn’t there? What if he dug around in the trash can and found the opened white envelope?  He’d know someone had opened his correspondence, then threw it away. Every scenario I considered as a way to solve the problem only added to the potential weirdness if the camp host got involved.

There was only one thing to do. I had to confess, even if I was confessing to being the world’s biggest weirdo freak. Sigh.

I dug the open white envelope out of the trash. Thankfully, nothing gross had happened to it.

As soon as I saw the camp host, I explained the whole situation. He didn’t seem upset, even when I told him I’d read the note on the card. (Maybe it helped that the card wasn’t highly personal.) Luckily the camp host has seen a lot of weirdness in his life. Perhaps my weirdness barely registered. One can hope.

 

Placemat Evangelist

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Do you have placemats?  the woman enthusiastically asked the mercantile manager.

Placemats? I thought. Do people still use placemats?

I kept my mouth shut.

No, the manager said, we don’t.

I’m sure they’d really sell here, the woman said. You should get some.

The woman and her kids walked around the store a bit longer, then took their items for purchase up to the register.

We were in the John Muir Woods last year, and we bought placemats, the tourist woman told The Man.

Placemats? he asked, obviously perplexed.

Yeah, placemats, she said. You know, you go into any store, any grocery store, and they sell placemats, she said.

I tried to remember the last time I’d seen placemats for sale in a store. Maybe Wal-Mart? Maybe a small-town thrift store, way in a back corner? I certainly didn’t recall seeing placemats in a grocery store any time since we moved into a new century.

The Man must have still looked confused, because the tourist lady clarified by saying, Plastic placemats.

Oh, those things, I thought. There was a brief time of tackiness in the late 70s or maybe the early 80s when my family used plastic placemats, but they were long gone before the 90s rolled in. I was surprised to hear someone was still using plastic placemats.

They’re great souvenirs, the tourist woman was telling The Man. They’re inexpensive and easy to pack. They have really pretty photos on both sides, she went on. Now whenever we eat dinner, we can remember our trip. You should get some, she said. They’d be really easy to make. You just need photos to put between the plastic. I bet you would sell out of them in two weeks.

I bet we wouldn’t sell out of plastic placemats in two weeks since this woman was the only person in almost two months who’d ever mentioned such a thing. But I kept my mouth shut.

At the end of the transaction, The Man handed the receipt to the tourist woman.

Is there a phone number on here?  she asked while waving the receipt.

The Man retrieved the receipt from the woman’s hand and looked it over to find a phone number. Once found, he pointed it out to her.

Oh good! She said. When I get back home, I’ll look on the placemats and see if there’s an 800 number for the company that makes them. If there’s a phone number, I’ll call and give it to you. I know they would sell really well out here. Is there someone particular I should ask for?

We all named the manager who was standing right there and had not said a single encouraging thing about selling plastic souvenir placemats.

The tourist woman and her kids left the store.

She really likes placemats, I observed. All of my coworkers agreed, that woman really likes placemats.

She’s a placemat evangelist, I told them.

A few days later while I was alone in the mercantile, the phone rang. I answered it, and the woman on the other end of the line asked for the manager. I told her the manager would be in on Friday. I asked the caller if she wanted to leave a message. She did.

She gave me her name and number, and when I asked her what I should tell the manager the call was about, she said, Regarding placemats.

It was her! It was the placemat evangelist! She really had called about the placemats!

When The Man came back into the store, I said with a grin, Guess who called.

He couldn’t guess, so I said, The placemat evangelist!

Well, he said, when she says she’s going to do something, I guess she really means it.

 

Coupons

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I’d come down from the mountain to get supplies. I think I had an appointment with a dentist too, otherwise, I don’t know why I was in the large (by my standards, if not by California standards) city. It was hot in the valley, and as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t get back to my campground on the mountain soon enough.

I’d already been inside the discount grocery store. In addition to my week’s supply of food, I’d gotten a good deal on hummas and crackers for my lunch. I had the side doors of my van open, trying to cool the interior as much as possible, even though the outside air wasn’t much cooler than the air inside. The giant SUV next to me was parked as close as possible while still being inside its yellow line, so I could only open the doors partially. I was sitting in between the open doors, perched on the edge of the floor, trying to benefit from the slightly lower outside temperature.

I was enjoying my hummas and crackers when I heard a voice say, Excuse me.

I looked up and saw a young boy (no older than 13) had slipped between my van and the SUV and was peeking around my open door. I don’t like strangers getting that close to me when I’m alone in public, so I was immediately on edge.

Are you selling coupons? he continued politely. Free printable babysitting coupons clip art image

Coupons? I thought. WTF? I didn’t know what in the world he was talking about, so I was pretty sure I didn’t have what he was looking for.

No, I told him, and he left.

What was that all about? I wondered.

The next time I talked to the Lady of the House, I told her the story.

Do you think he was looking for drugs? she asked.

Drugs? I asked, increasingly perplexed. He was really young. And polite. I don’t think it was about drugs. Besides, do I seem like I’d be selling drugs?

I’m firmly middle age and totally unhip. Would anyone possibly mistake me for a drug dealer? Well, maybe if the parking lot were at a Dead & Company show, but probably not in a strip mall parking lot. Do people even buy drugs in strip mall parking lots?

Well, The Lady said, you were in a van. (Does all the world see people in vans as drug dealers?)

Maybe he was looking for LSD, she said. Maybe “coupon” is code. LSD comes on paper, coupons are made of paper…

She made a strange sort of sense, although I didn’t think a preteen boy was combing strip mall parking lots asking middle age white ladies (even the ones wearing colorful long hippie skirts and hanging out in 1990s-era conversion vans) for LSD using coded language I’d never heard. But—kids these days—who knew? Maybe she was right.

Later I figured out what (maybe) had been going on.

Nolagirl works for a major newspaper conglomeration. She told me about people who go into stores on Sundays and pilfer the pullout coupon sections from the newspapers on the rack. The thieves don’t take the entire paper, just the glossy pages featuring coupons. When a genuine paying customer gets home and finds the paper is sans coupons, said customer is often pissed by his/her inability to take advantage of the savings. Clip Art Coupons

When my friend told me about purloined coupons, I thought the thieves worked for their own cents-off benefit. However, after the young man asked if I sold coupons, I realized the thieves may work for hard currency profit. But how much money can a person make selling coupons, even stolen ones? Does the thief sell the whole glossy coupon section for a couple of bucks, or does each coupon bring in a few cents? How much will a shopper pay to save a few cents? If coupons go for half off face value (and that’s just a guess on my part), is it worth seeking out a coupon seller and paying 12 cents to save 12 cents? If coupons go for just pennies each, can a coupon thief really turn much of a profit? And is the risk of jail time and a criminal record worth making a few cents per coupon? I think it would take a lot of coupon sales to make the effort and danger pay off. Even coupon theft for personal use seems like too big a risk for too little payoff.

Furthermore, do middle-age-lady coupon thieves post up in conversion vans in front of discount grocery stores and peddle their ill-gotten wares? Did that young man really think I was in the coupon business? Also, was the boy coupon shopping for himself, or had he been sent out on a mission?

So many mysteries remain.

Coupon images from Clipart Library.