It was Wednesday, around noon, and I was patrolling in the campground across the street from the trail because it was the camp hosts’ day off. As I drove the company truck through the campground, I stopped to pick up trash and looked for campers I needed to check-in. At the back of the campground, I noticed something unusual.
A minivan was parked on site #7, but the picnic table on site #8 was loaded with food and cooking equipment. There was a reservation tag on site #8’s pole, so it looked as if the people with the reservation had arrived, unpacked onto site #8 but parked on site #7. Oh, if it had only been so simple…
I parked the truck across from the campsites and got out to tell the campers they needed to park their vehicle on the site they were camping on. Before I was out of the truck, I saw a man next to the minivan, waving me over. As I walked up, the man said something like I’m sure glad to see you…
It turned out these folks (the man who was glad to see me, probably in his mid-30s; a woman about the same age, with reddish-blond hair; a younger, shorter woman with curly dark hair; and a boy about 11 years old) didn’t have a reservation. They didn’t even want to camp. They’d just been driving through the campground and had pulled into site #7 and had gotten a flat. (They said they’d pulled into site #7 to turn around, which I realized later didn’t make any sense. The street through the campground is a one-way loop, so if they’d followed the street around, they would have soon come to the exit.)
The man said when he pulled into site #7, he ran over one of the short wooden posts that mark the boundary of the parking space. He said he hadn’t seen the barrier because it was shorter than the rest. He seemed to imply that his flat tire was the fault of the company I worked for or maybe the Forest Service, whoever was responsible for the difficult-to-see wooden post. I remained calm and noncommittal when he insisted I walk over and see the wooden post. Sure, it was shorter than the rest of the barrier posts, kind of worn down with age, but it wasn’t invisible. None of the other people who’d pulled into site #7 during the summer had run over it.
When I went around the minivan to see the post that had caused the damage, I also saw the damage. To call the condition of the tire “flat” was quite an understatement. A better term for the condition of the tire was “blowout.” The tire was seriously damaged. The tire was not going to be repaired. The tire was a goner, an “ex-tire” a member of Monty Python might say.
I told the people they couldn’t’ occupy sites #7 and #8. The woman with the reddish-blond hair said when the tire blew out, they’d been so hungry they couldn’t think and decide to have some breakfast. I told them cooking was fine, but they should do it on site #7 since the minivan was parked there.
The man wanted to use the phone to call AAA. I told him there was no phone at the campground. I told him the nearest phone was about eleven miles away. I told him his best bet, if he wanted to use a phone, was to walk out to the highway that ran alongside the campground and stick out his thumb. I told him I wasn’t allowed to let anyone ride in the company truck. I didn’t tell him that no way was I putting him (or any other slightly twitchy male stranger) into my van and driving him through a practically deserted forest eleven miles to the nearest phone.
I’d begun to notice that the man was just a little twitchy, just a little off. I wasn’t sure if he (and the two women with him) were currently under the influence of methamphetamine, but I was pretty sure they’d been under the influence of some kind of upper recently and hadn’t gotten the amount of sleep they’d really needed the night before. NO WAY was I driving any of those people anywhere in my van.
At that point, I asked if they had a spare tire. They allowed that they did. I told them they should put the spare on the minivan, then drive to the payphone and call AAA. But the man really wanted AAA to bring them a new tire. He insisted that he really wanted to use the phone. I explained again: no phone in campground, nearest phone eleven miles away, you’ll have to hitchhike if you want to use the phone.
Several times throughout the summer, people acted incredulous when I explained that there was no means of the communication at my campground or at the trail’s parking lot or at the campground next door. I think people thought I was lying because I didn’t want them to use the phone I had hidden away. But no, there was no landline, no cell phone service, no satellite phone provided by the company I worked for. For real, the closest place to make a telephone call was eleven miles away.
The man was becoming less glad to see me, as I was proving most unhelpful. He said he wanted the Forest Service to help them. Wasn’t the Forest Service supposed to help people? he asked. He was not clear as to whether he thought the Forest Service should a) give him a ride to the pay phone so he could contact AAA or b) change the flat tire for him. I let him know I did NOT work for the Forest Service and said I’d talk to the other camp hosts and see if they had some ideas.
When I approached the camp hosts (who were trying to have a day off in their RV), they said they’d seen the minivan drive to the back of the campground around 10am. That meant the people had been back there with a blown-out tire for two hours and had done exactly nothing to change their situation. The camp hosts had the same suggestion I did: put on the spare and drive to the payphone.
I told the hosts the man had insinuated that the campground was somehow at fault for the blowout, and the female half of the camp host duo decided she’d better walk back to site #7 with me. She wanted to take some photos of the situation so she could cover her ass (and the company’s, I suppose) if the people tried to sue.
When the camp host and I returned to the back of the campground, the people had moved their things off site #8’s picnic table. I took that as a good start.
As the other camp host took photos with her phone, I told the man our best suggestion was for them to put on the spare and drive to the payphone to call AAA. Our second best suggestion, I told him was to walk out the highway and stick out a thumb. (I was polite, but I was losing patience.)
I don’t know how he did it—Jedi mind trick, I guess—but the man convinced me to drive the company truck to the Forest Service work center nine miles away and ask a Forest Service employee for help.
I swung by the parking lot first to tell my co-worker I might be late for my shift. When I explained the situation, my co-worker said—in his Shakespearean tone and cadence—I’d tell them to go fuck themselves.
That’s basically what the firefighter at the work center said, although in an infinitely more polite way. He said the Forest Service employees were busy fighting a forest fire, and in any case, they don’t offer roadside assistance. He said if the people needed help changing the tire, they should ask a camper on a neighboring site.
The people with the blown-out tire were not happy when I told them Forest Service personnel were not coming to their rescue.
I worked for a couple of hours in the parking lot, and around four o’clock, I went back to the campground to see if the folks with the blown-out tire were gone. They were not. However, they did have the spare on the minivan. The woman with the reddish-blond hair was all hyper when she told me they thought the spare was under the back storage area, so they’d taken everything out of the back, only to find there was no spare tire there. In fact, the spare tire was under the van. So not only had they wasted time taking out all their supplies, they had to spend time putting everything back in. But now everything was packed up, and the spare was on, and they’d be going.
Great! I said and went to tell the camp hosts the good news.
The camp hosts were not amused. In fact, one of them had driven to use the phone and called the company office and asked the office manager to call the sheriff of the Forest Service or someone who could kick out the people on site #7.
After I’d been gone a while, the female camp host walked to site #7 to see what progress was being made. When she walked up, she found a blanket strung from the minivan across to some bushes. As she was trying to figure out what was going on, the man and the woman with the reddish-blond hair jumped up from behind the blanket, pulling up their pants. The camp host was incensed and decided the messing around was going to end.
Five minutes after I’d told the camp hosts that the people from site #7 were ready to leave, we saw the minivan come slowly around the curve and then exit the campground. I was glad they left before some authority figure showed up. I wanted them gone too, but I didn’t want them to have to get involved with the cops.
I was glad to see their tweaker ways hit the road and leave me behind.