Category Archives: Work Camping

Phone Home

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Seven Assorted Colored Rotary TelephonesNot three minutes before the young people walked into the Mercantile, I’d been telling the new camp host how The Big Boss Man did not like visitors using the phone in the store to make calls for any reason he did not consider an emergency. He’d allow phone calls for fire and bleeding, and I bet broken bones would have met his criteria for an emergency, but to him car trouble didn’t count. Car won’t start? Flat tire? Keys locked inside the vehicle? The Big Boss Man thought you should go to the payphone eleven miles away to make your call.

This phone policy put me and the other clerks at the Mercantile in an awkward position. I didn’t want to displease my boss, but I certainly wanted to help people. Also, it wasn’t the boss who had to tell the woman traveling alone who’d locked not just her keys but her phone, her ID, her cash, and her credit cards in her car that she couldn’t use our fully functioning phone—it was the store clerks who had to do the dirty work.

I explained all of this to the new camp host in the course of our conversation, and he just shook his head. He was really into helping people and couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t let a driver having problems with a vehicle call for help.

Just as the camp host left the Mercantile through the back door, three young people walked through the front door. I’m not sure how young the people actually were, but they all looked at least 18 to me. The two women could have been a little younger than 18 or maybe a little older, but I’d be astonished to find out the fellow with them was younger than 22. In any case, the three young people before me appeared to be adults.

The tallest woman stood in front of the counter looking sad. She had straight dark hair and wore a loose shirt over a bikini top. She started talking to me in a voice so low I couldn’t understand her words.

Could you speak up? I asked. I can’t hear you.

She looked completely startled. Maybe I’d spoken too harshly. Maybe she’d learned speaking softly helped her get things she wanted from people. In any case, she raised her voice and started again.

We don’t have any phone service out here, she began.

No one does! I interjected.

And I need to call home to let my parents know I made it to the campground safely, she told me.

A big girl like you? I wanted to say.

How old are you? I wanted to ask. For once I kept my big mouth shut.

If my parents don’t hear from me, they’re going to file a missing person report, she told me. Whether she was exaggerating or if she had really grown up under such helicoptering, I do not know.

I gave her a big speech about my boss and the phone, how he thought it should only be used for emergencies and he definitely would not consider her situation an emergency. I’m going to let you use the phone, I wrapped up my speech, but you CANNOT. TELL. ANYONE.

She solemnly agreed not to tell anyone, and I handed her the phone. She dialed the number, and there was a long wait while the phone rang before the young woman reached her mother’s voicemail. She explained she’d reached the campground, had no phone service, and would not be able to touch base until the next day when she returned to civilization. She hung up the phone, and I was glad the entire interaction was coming to an end. It was time for me to close the store and count the money in the drawer and go home for the day.

But wait! There’s more!

I’d assumed the young woman’s two companions were there for moral support, but no, each of them also wanted to call home and reassure their parents that except for the lack of cell phone service, they were fine. I couldn’t believe this! Grown ass people (or at least it seemed to me) insisting on calling mommy and daddy to check in from the first day of a camping trip! What would they have done if there had been no telephone in the campground?

I let the two other young people use the phone. I couldn’t tell them no after I’d told their friend yes. This was the problem with letting a visitor use the phone—it was never a quick 30 second call; it was always some sort of ordeal.

Where are y’all from? I asked the first young woman as her friends used the phone.

Orange County, she replied.

They were only a few hours from home! They hadn’t even left their home state!

Finally all calls home were complete. The young people thanked me, and I ushered them out so I could close up shop.

As I was closing the front windows, the phone rang inside the store. I ran to get it and answered it using the script taped to the counter, identifying specifically the store where I work and myself, then asking How may I help you?

The woman on the other end of the line seemed flustered. She must have the wrong number, she told me. She thought her son had just called from this number.

I sweetly assured her that he had. There was no cell service up here, so he’d used the store phone to let her know he was ok and that she wouldn’t hear from him again as long as he was up here.

She laughed and agreed that’s what he message had said. (Then why did you call here!?! I wanted to shout, but I held myself in check.) She thought maybe she could catch her son if she called right back.

No, ma’am, I said, he’s already gone, which was the truth.

I’ll be damned! It was some kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario.

If you let a gal from the O.C. use the phone, then her two friends will want to use it too, which will make you close the store late. Then the young man’s mother will call back and interrupt your closing procedures with her chatting. She’ll want to talk to her son directly…

I was beginning to understand why The Big Boss Man didn’t want us to let visitors use our phone.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/seven-assorted-colored-rotary-telephones-774448/.

Cups

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The campground where the Mercantile was located didn’t have running water. It didn’t have running water during the three previous seasons I worked on the mountain. At the beginning of last season The Big Boss man was confident the campground would have running water before Memorial Day. As of late July, the campground was still bone dry. As far as I knew no one was working on the water system. After Independence Day, The Big Boss Man had stopped talking about getting the water to run in the campground.

Almost every day, people came into the Mercantile looking for a faucet or a water fountain. I’m sure the camp hosts saw as many (probably more) people looking for water than I did. Visitors wanted to fill a water bottle or wash their hands. Every time someone asked for water in the campground, I had to explain there was none.

We sold cold water in the Mercantile, and a significant portion of people did buy it to drink. However, fewer people (significantly fewer people) spent $2.50 for 16.9 ounces or $3.95 for a gallon of water to use to wash their hands.

One Wednesday afternoon, I was working alone in the Mercantile. Two older men came through the door and ignored my greeting. Both men were probably in their early 60s, and each was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt despite the heat. Their clothes were not trendy, and while not shabby, didn’t look new. These men had not dressed up to come up the mountain. They looked like hunters or fishermen (or maybe both), working class outdoorsmen. The skin on the second man’s face was a strange mottled red, as if his sunburn had been sunburned, and he wore an expression of anger or maybe just impatience.

I could tell they were looking for something, but before I could offer to help, their eyes lit up. They’d seen what they were seeking.

They made a beeline to the beverage cooler and considered their options. I heard some mumble grumbles about the cost of the water. I understood their consternation, but there was nothing I could do to change the price.

The first man who’d come through the door carried the gallon of water up to the register where I scanned the barcode and asked for $3.95.

Clear Plastic Cup on Gray SurfaceDo you have cups? The fellow making the purchase said.

We have coffee mugs right over there, I said while pointing helpfully,

No, said the red-faced man. Paper cups. To drink this, he said gesturing to the gallon of water.

Oh no, I said. We don’t have anything like that.

I guess they figured if they paid more for water than they paid for gasoline, cups to drink it should come with the purchase.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-cup-water-drink-87383/.

Whistleblowers

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The most annoying items sold at the Mercantile were whistles.

The first season the store was open, we sold a plastic device consisting of a whistle, compass, thermometer, and fold-out magnifying glass. The whole deal was on a clip so it could be snapped onto a backpack or zipper pull. We displayed these items in a small basket on a low shelf. Sometimes little kids picked one up and blew into the whistle. Usually when this happened, the kids’ parents didn’t want to buy the whistle, and who could blame them? If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want it further annoying me by tweeting on a whistle for hours a day. If one of the other store clerks or I could intercept the blown whistle before it was tossed back into the basket, we’d squirt it with some Windex, wipe it with a paper towel, and call it clean enough to sell.

Late in the first season, the Mercantile received whistles carved to look like bears, owl, eagles, hummingbirds, and blue jays. Made in China, hung on long cords to be worn around the neck, and brightly painted, kids loved these. The problem was, if a kid blew a whistle and the parents wouldn’t buy it, it was difficult to clean. Can mouth germs on wood be killed without damaging the wood? We tried to solve the whistle problem in the Mercantile’s second season by hanging them out of the reach of little kids.

We thought we’d solved the problem. Turns out medium-size kids, big kids, and even adults like to blow whistles they have no intention of buying.

Personally, I would never go into a store and blow on a whistle because yuck! How many people before me had the same idea and already put their mouths on the whistle? Germy!

If the other clerks or I saw someone messing with the whistles, we told them if they blew a whistle, they would have to purchase it. Sometimes we even used cute little slogans we made up like You blow it, you buy it or You try it, you buy it. Some people got very defensive and told us they had no intention of blowing the whistle. You’d be surprised how many people do blow them, we told the defensive customers.

I was surprised by how many parents didn’t think it was gross to put back a whistle their kid had put in its mouth. One dad picked out whistles for his kids who were both under seven years old. He handed the whistles to the kids and let them blow on them for several minutes. Then the kids saw the other whistles and decided they’d rather have bears than eagles.

Can we switch these? the dad asked me.

I had to tell him no. Your kids already had their mouths on them, I explained while he looked perplexed. He just didn’t see the problem with selling something that had been in the mouth of his child to someone else. I’m not even a germophobe, but yuck!

Adults blew the whistles too, then didn’t want to buy them. At best, they just blew air through the whistle, then assured me they didn’t put their mouth on it when I called them on their action.

Hello, I wanted to say. You just blew your germs into that whistle!

They must be like my five year-old childhood neighbor who got downright pissed at the suggestion she had germs. I do NOT have germs! she howled before running home to her mother. I wasn’t taunting her, just telling her the facts.

Some adults full-on wrapped their lips around the whistles and blew. The other clerk had it out with a grown man one morning while working alone. He blew a whistle and she told him he had to buy it since she couldn’t sell it to anyone else. The guy moaned and groaned and complained about how he didn’t understand why he had to buy it. My coworker stood her ground despite her pounding heart. Even the guy’s friend told him he needed to buy the whistle. Finally the guy did pay for it, but left none too happy.

One Saturday afternoon in early August of my second season in the Mercantile, I almost lost my mind over whistles.

It started when three little boys came into the store unsupervised. The oldest was maybe ten, the middle kid eight or nine, and the littlest boy probably six. I was working the register, so I said to the other clerk, Unsupervised children.

I know, she said, but she didn’t walk over to keep an eye on them.

I saw the boys were near the whistles, but I was busy with a customer, so I didn’t say anything to the boys. Then I heard it: the unmistakable tweet! of a whistle being blown.

You’re going to have to buy that whistle now that you’ve blown it, I called out, and everyone in the store went silent.

When I looked over, the big boy and the little boy had stepped away, leaving the middle boy standing alone holding an eagle whistle. He’d gone pale beneath his freckles.

I can’t sell it now that you’ve had your mouth on it, I told the boy sternly.

Can’t you wash it? the big boy pleaded.

No, I said. It’s wood.

At that point the big and little boy left their friend behind and walked out the Mercantile’s door.

I don’t have any money, the whistleblower said, then I’m really sorry.

I figured getting his parents would be fruitless. Anyone who’d send three little boys into a store alone probably wasn’t going to pony up for a whistle the kid had blown. Besides, the kid’s apology had softened my heart. I think the kid really was sorry, at least that he’d been caught, at least that he was in trouble.

I held out my hand for the whistle, which the boy handed over. I accept your apology, I said, but next time you go into a store, you better think about where you put your mouth.

I thought surely I was done with the whistle drama for the day, but there was a little bit more right before I closed the store. The other clerk had gone home, so I had to deal with the drama alone.

The family came in about 15 minutes before closing time. Judging from the way the women were dress, I was confident they were Muslim. In addition to a mom and dad who were probably in their early 30s, a girl who was maybe nine, and a boy who was probably 12, the man pushed an old woman in a wheelchair.

The family stopped by the wooden whistles, and I thought I heard a tweet. I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t say anything. The family made their way slowly through the entire store before the man came up to the counter to make the purchase. He had a whistle in his small pile, so if someone in the party had blown it, at least he was buying it.

I thought the family would leave once the purchase was made, but no. All but the young boy went back to the whistle display. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking to each other, so I figured they’d decided the family needed more whistles.

The younger woman took two whistles from their hooks, put her mouth on the business end of one, and blew. Tweet! She handed the whistle to her young daughter who followed her mother’s example. Tweet! The girl handed the whistle back to her mother who blew into the second whistle. Tweet! She handed the whistle to the girl who also blew it. Tweet!

The family was delighted by the mother/daughter whistle duo. I could see the delight on their faces. Mom was delighted. Daughter was delighted. Dad was delighted. Grandma sitting in her wheelchair was delighted. (The young boy was nowhere near the whistle fest, so I didn’t see his face, but maybe I would have seen embarrassment there instead of delight.)

I would have been delighted too, if they had brought the two whistles (each priced at $8.95) to the register for purchase. Instead any potential for delight I felt turned to chagrin when I saw Mom hand the whistles to Dad and Dad reach to rehang them on their hooks.

I’m sorry, I called out. I can’t sell those after you’ve had them in your mouths. I held out my hand so Dad could give them to me.

Every member of the family (except the boy, who I still couldn’t see) looked confused. Why can’t she sell the whistles now? their faces seemed to ask.

I just hoped they wouldn’t think I was being weird because they were Muslim. Of course, I would have reacted the same way if they were white or Latinx, African American or Asian, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist. The problem was not where they were from or the religion they practiced. The problem was that they were human, and humans got germs!

The next day, the other clerk and I decided the only solution was to put the whistles in the glass display gas with the knives, the hand sanitizer, and the Claritin. If even adults can’t resist blowing into a whistle they haven’t yet purchased, our only choice was to keep the enticing toys under lock and key.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/whistle-attention-warning-referee-2475470/.

 

 

Potato Chips

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During my second season as a clerk in the Mercantile, the most talked about products we sold were not the Smokey Bear souvenirs or the t-shirts or the plush birds that made authentic calls provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. No, the most talked about products in the Mercantile were the large bags of potato chips.

The bags of chips were purchased in the lowlands with an elevation of only 470 feet. They made the trip up the mountain with The Big Boss Man to our elevation of 6400 feet. According to the AZ  Central article “Nothing Says Fun Like a Bursting Bag of Potato Chips,”

The amount of air in a bag of chips is fixed. If the package was sealed at a lower elevation and carried to a higher elevation the air inside of the bag will swell against the reduced atmospheric pressure.

Kids and adult alike noticed the expanded bags. People often thought the bags were about to explode, but in the time I worked at the Mercantile, I never experienced a bag of chips spontaneously bursting.

Some people thought the bags were full of extra chips. I bet those folks were disappointed when they opened their bags and found them—like most every other bag of chips in the world—only half full of salty, greasy, potato-y goodness.

One man told his family the heat had expanded the bags. I almost started laughing. I’d never seen a bag of chips expand like that in the heat of the desert or the hot humidity of the Deep South. The man spoke with great conviction, even though he was wrong. Actually sir, I said, it’s because of the change in elevation from the valley where the chips are bought to up here.

The fellow looked skeptical, but he didn’t argue with me.

If everybody who talked about the bags of chips actually bought a bag of chips, we wouldn’t have been able to keep the bags on the shelves. Unfortunately, most people were content to talk and not buy.

Late one afternoon while I was working the entire day alone, an elderly man came into the Mercantile. He was a talker, but I was not keen on listening. One of the things I hated about working retail was being a captive audience. Any yahoo who came into the Mercantile could stand in front of me and talk, and I was compelled to listen. It’s amazing how many shirts needed folding when someone decided to talk my ear off on a topic other than giant sequoias or merchandise available for purchase.

The old man said, Those chips expanded because they’re packed at a lower elevation. He said it as if he were telling me something I couldn’t possibly know.

I smiled sweetly and said brightly, That’s right! There’s no potato chip factory on top of this mountain!

Of course they were packed at a lower elevation! Of course the elevation change is what made the bags expand!

We didn’t speak any further about the potato chips and their expanded bags. Perhaps the fellow realized I didn’t need him to school me.

A Kindness of Brownies

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It was my first weekend back in the parking lot.

Later in the summer, I would work in the Mercantile as a clerk. That was the job I’d been hired for. In the meantime, The Man and I were getting campgrounds ready for the season. Now it was Saturday, and I’d told The Big Boss Man I’d work at the parking lot collecting access fees and answering questions.

The people with the big white dog parked to my left. They got out of their car and headed to the trail. I noticed them because their dog was not only beautiful, but also very vocal.

When they returned to the parking lot, they spread out a blanket next to their car for the dog to lie on. The dog was a rescue, the woman told me. She hadn’t had the dog very long. He was great with people, but too aggressive when he introduced himself to other dogs. I’m working with him, the woman said to me.

While the dog reclined on his blanket, the humans had one of those picnics that consists of standing at the car’s open hatchback and snacking on chips and fruit.

Pile of Baked Chocolate BreadsMaybe I looked hungry, or maybe she just appreciated me listening to her talk about her dog, but the result was the same. Do you want a brownie? she called out to me.

You know I do! I answered excitedly. Brownies just happen to be my favorite food group.

She had a big plastic storage bag half full of homemade brownies. She offered the bag to me, but I said I didn’t want to contaminate the whole bag with my dirty hands. She laughed, handed me a napkin, then pulled out not one, but two brownies for me.

It’s like you know me! I joked.

I gobbled down one of the delicious chocolate squares and wrapped the other in the napkin and tucked it into my backpack’s small front pocket. I would give that one to The Man when I saw him later.

Any day including a gift of brownies is a good day for me. What a yummy way to start my work season!

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-baked-chocolate-breads-887853/.

Doug

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Hi, I’m Doug, he said, extending his hand.

We were at the trail’s parking lot. It was early—still morning—and the lot was mostly empty.

I was confused. Who was this guy introducing himself to me? Why did he want to shake my hand? The Big Boss Man hadn’t warned me of a visit from a company or Forest Service bigwig.

Doug had thick, well-maintained dark hair. His face was shaven, and he looked wholesome in a nondescript way. He wasn’t ugly or exceptionally handsome, but he had good teeth in a big smile. He was dressed in what I think of as “golf course casual”—khakis and a knit shirt with a collar. He was maybe a little older than I am—early 50s, probably.

I reached out my hand to meet his, and we shook. I told him my name.

Are you the docent? I asked. It was the only reason I could image for him to not only introduce himself to me but to also offer his hand.

The what? he asked, startled.

The docent, I repeated, even though I was pretty sure he’d heard me, just had no idea what in the hell I was talking about.

He gave his head a little shake and asked, What’s that?

How to explain “docent,” I wondered.

I thought maybe you’d go out on the trail and answer questions, I said.

This notion made him chuckle. No, he couldn’t answer any questions, he said. He’d just come to see the trees.

You introduced yourself, I tried to explain, but let my sentence trail off. Never before had a visitor walked up with a handshake and an introduction, so he’d really confused me. I didn’t want to offend him though. He’s only done something confusing, not anything weird or creepy.

You were sitting her alone, he shrugged. I thought I should introduce myself.

I was beginning to think Doug was an extrovert. I suspect only an extrovert would walk up to a stranger sitting along and offer a handshake and an introduction. It seemed so natural to him. He didn’t seem to be experiencing any anxiety or inner turmoil. He saw me sitting alone, so he stuck out his hand and told me his name.

Where are you visiting from? I asked him. It was my standard make-chitchat-with-tourists question.

He’d come from Las Vegas, he said. He’d woken up at 2am, he said, and couldn’t get back to sleep, so he’d decided to go on a road trip.

His mother lived in Yosemite, he went on. He was going to go there soon, he said, to help her get ready. He had to get the boat ready.

Is this even possible? Do old ladies life in Yosemite? Is there a lake in Yosemite were old ladies and other people boat? I didn’t ask any questions. I was beginning to wonder if Doug’s extrovert personality was perhaps enhanced by some chemical. (Caffeine? Cocaine? Methamphetamine? Who knows?) Insomnia; impromptu road trip; babbling about boat, mother, lake, and Yosemite; talking to strangers could be signs of drug use or an exuberant personality—or an exuberant personality on drugs.

He didn’t really seem high—no twitching or jerking or obvious paranoia—and I didn’t really care if he was, but I was ready to get back to my book. (I am not an extrovert.) I steered the conversation to the trees and the trail, and Doug decided he was ready for the walk for which he’d traveled through the dark desert night. He crossed the street, and I never saw him again.

 

 

Sloth?

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The cars in a caravan of about 15 parked in the overflow lot in front of the Mercantile. I don’t know if the people in the cars were a family or friends or what, but the folks from the group who visited the Mercantile ranged in age from babes-in-arms to senior citizens. Of course, the children who came inside ooohhed and ahhhhed over all the things they wanted but their parents weren’t going to buy.

A little boy who was maybe five walked right over to the wagon full of stuffed animals and pulled out a monkey.

Wait? What? A monkey? On a mountain in North America? Why in the world were we trying to sell a stuffed money? Those were the questions I wanted answered.

The plush toy in question is not visible in this photo.

I’d just pulled the monkey out of our plush toy back stock earlier in the day. Why are we selling a monkey? I’d asked the other store clerks. Neither of them had any idea. I tossed the monkey into the big wagon with the stuffed bears and raccoons and other woodland creatures. Maybe we’d sell it eventually.

The boy honed in on the monkey, picked it up, and carried it over to his older sister who seemed to be about nine. Look, a sloth! he said as he handed the plush toy to her.

The sister looked as confused as I felt. A sloth? Really? While selling a stuffed sloth in the middle of a North American forest on top of a mountain made about as much sense as selling a toy monkey in that location, I didn’t think what we had was a sloth. It didn’t look a bit like a sloth to me.

The sister was scrutinizing the tag attached to the toy’s ear, trying to find an indication of its species, I presume. I sidled up to her and said, I think it’s a monkey. She looked startled. Maybe she was surprised to find an adult getting involved.

My brother said it’s a sloth, she told me.

I know, I acknowledged, but I think it’s a monkey. I walked away from the girl then. I didn’t want to creep her out by hanging around.

A few minutes later, a man who turned out to be the dad of the two kids came into the Mercantile. He looked around at the goods for sale and found himself in front of the wagon full of stuffed animals. His daughter must have returned the monkey to the wagon because there it was, looking up at him. I’ll be damned if he didn’t exclaim, Look! A sloth!

The father had an accent that led me to believe English was not his first language. Had he somehow gotten confused in his study of animal names and thought the critters English speakers call “monkeys” are called “sloths”? Had he taught his son the names of animals, thus passing down the monkey/sloth confusion? Had the girl child learned the proper animal names in school, but the boy child hadn’t gotten to that lesson yet? Or could it simply be that what looked like a monkey to me looked like a sloth to others?

A few weeks later, a different little boy solved the mystery.

He was probably seven or eight and made a beeline to the big wagon filled with stuffed animals. A Sasquatch! he exclaimed as he plucked the monkey/sloth from away from its furry companions.

A Sasquatch?  I pondered. This kid might be on to something.

Is this a Sasquatch? the kid asked the adult who seemed to be his father.

I don’t know, the father said. Why don’t you ask? he said, gesturing to the other clerks standing behind the counter.

The boy marched up to the counter with the monkey/sloth/Sasquatch in tow. Is this a Sasquatch? he asked one of the other clerks.

I have no idea, she told him.

I took a good look at the plush toy. Yes. I could see how it was possibly, maybe, perhaps supposed to be a Sasquatch.

I want the Sasquatch, the boy told his father,

You only get one thing, the father told his son. He mentioned a half dozen other things the boy might want from the Mercantile, but the boy stood strong. He wanted the Sasquatch.

Just before the other clerk rang up the purchase, I ran over behind the counter. Let me see that! I demanded, grabbing the plush toy and finding the tag attached to its ear. Yep, there on the tag with the barcode and item number, in tiny letters it said, “Bigfoot.” Mystery solved. Why hadn’t I just looked there in the first place?

I took a photo of the stuffed animal in question and planned to share it here, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. It probably actidentally ended up in the wrong folder and I’d never renamed it, so itsname is just a bunch of random numbers. Sigh. Blogger fail.

I took the photo in this post.

Wad of Cash

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It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-June and the Mercantile was busy. A group of tween Girl Scouts and their families were scooping up souvenirs throughout the store. I was working the floor, helping people find sizes and doing my best to watch out for shoplifting.

I asked two young adult women standing by the shelf of t-shirts for kids if they needed any help. One of the woman asked if I had anything in XXXL. I told her I had one design in that size and led her over to where those shirts were stacked on a shelf. I reached to the bottom of a pile and pulled out the XXXL shirt.

The woman had a handful of stuff, mostly brochures for tourist attractions from what I could tell. She set all the stuff she’d been holding on the shelf between two stacks of t-shirts so she could take the shirt I was holding. She held the shirt at arm’s length and cast a critical eye upon it. I think this will fit my husband, she said. I’ll take it.

Rolled 20 U.s Dollar BillShe draped the shirt over her arm, grabbed her stack of stuff from the shelf and turned away from me. I glanced at the shelf, and lying where her tourist attraction brochures had been was a wad of cash. It must have been on the bottom of her stack and was smaller than everything else, so when she picked up her stack, the money was left behind.

Sometimes we have time to deliberate over our moral dilemmas and sometimes we make our moral decisions in an instant.

I reached out and grabbed the wad of cash. It would have only taken me an instant to slip it into one of the pockets of my apron. When the woman realized it was gone, she probably wouldn’t remember setting it on the shelf. If she did remember where she’d last had it, well, there were a lot of people in the store and any of them could have picked up a wad of cash found sitting on a shelf.

Instead of putting the money in my pocket, I called out, Ma’am? Ma’am? Man Holds 10 U.s Dollar Banknote

The woman turned around, and I held up the wad of cash. You forgot this, I said to her.

She looked sheepish and said, I won’t be able to buy anything without that.

I reached out and returned her money.

It was the right thing to do.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/rolled-20-u-s-dollar-bill-164527/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-holds-10-u-s-dollar-banknote-928201/.

Saving Lives

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One Saturday afternoon, I saved three lives. Well, ok, I don’t know I saved those lives. Maybe the people would have been fine without me, but they also could have died had I not been there.

It was the last Saturday I would work the parking lot before the start of the 2018 camping season. The box truck with new merchandise for the mercantile would arrive later that afternoon, and my coworkers and I would spend the next few days setting up the store for the opening later in the week. I’d be working retail, but that Saturday I was selling access passes and answering questions about the trail.

The first people I saved were a lady and her toddler. Judging by her accent, the woman was German, but I can’t be sure of her nationality. She arrived in a vehicle with a license plate that read “consul,” following a car with a license plate sporting the same label. The first car was driven by a woman who was alone in the vehicle. A man was driving the second car. The woman in the first car asked where they could have a picnic, then paid the access fee for both vehicles before they disappeared into the parking lot.

The next time I saw the group, it had expanded to include—in addition to the two drivers and one passenger I’d seen in the front seats of the cars—four little kids who all seemed to be under seven years old and who all belonged to the couple from the second vehicle.

The woman who’d been the passenger in the second car looked to be in her early 50s. She and the middle-age man who’d been driving the second car seemed to be the caregivers of the four little kids, but whether they were the biological parents, grandparents, foster parents or adoptive parents, I could not tell.

When I first saw the woman, she was carrying the littlest kid—a toddler new to walking—and strolling through the parking lot.

White Dodge Ram 1500 Pickup TruckA man in a giant pickup truck had just pulled through the parking lot and was preparing to park in one of the spaces on the asphalt in the front. I could tell by the way he pulled in front of the space that he was going to back into it. The woman holding the toddler must have thought he was going to drive the truck forward and out of the lot because she stepped behind the truck like it wasn’t even there.

I don’t know if the guy driving the giant truck saw the woman with the toddler behind him. I knew he was about to back up, and I knew the woman was directly in his path. If she was in a blind spot and the guy started moving his truck in reverse, there was going to be a catastrophe.

Ma’am! I shouted in her direction. Watch out! That truck is backing up!

Oh? She said, completely oblivious. It’s backing up?

She stepped out of the truck’s path and the disaster was averted.

Later that afternoon, a fellow arrived in the parking lot with two little kids under the age of five. He parked the sports car he was driving in the dirt of the first curve through the lot. I didn’t realize the car wasn’t completely off the road until it was too late; if I had noticed sooner how he had parked, I would have had him move the car completely off of the asphalt.

I saw the fellow and the kids as they walked toward the trail. The boy child was small enough to sit in one of those Man Walking on Top of Mountain Under Blue Skykid-carrying packs the guy had on his back. The girl child with them wasn’t much bigger than the boy, but since the guy had no more room on his back, she had to walk.

The little family wasn’t gone long. I noticed them again when they came back. I watched them idly as the fellow opened the back passenger door (which faced away from the road) and loaded the boy into the car. There must have been a car seat involved, because the adult had his head and upper body in the car for quite some time. While he was distracted by his efforts in the car, the little girl walked around to the driver’s side of the car and disappeared from my view. Her caretaker didn’t seem to notice that she was no longer by his side.

About that time, a new arrival pulled into the parking lot. The Man was working with me that day, and he approached the car that had just come in. I looked back to the fellow with the two tiny kids. He still had his head in the back seat, and the little girl was still standing on the asphalt on the driver’s side of the car. I imagined the newly-arrived car taking the curve a little too fast or the little girl stepping out into its path…I shuddered inwardly.

The Man had taken the driver’s money and handed her a day pass. The car was about to roll.

At the last moment, I stepped up to the car and said, Ma’am?

The driver looked at me attentively.

Please go around this curve slowly and carefully. There’s a very small person on the side of that car (I pointed to the car in question) who’s not being supervised very well. I wanted to let you know she’s there.

The driver, a middle-age mom type, thanked me for telling her about the kid standing next to the car. She maneuvered the car slowing and carefully around the curve. As the car went by, it seemed to remind the caregiver to pay attention to the little girl, or maybe he’d just finished strapping in the boy child. In any case, he walked to the other side of the car, took the girl by the hand, brought her to the passenger side, and put her in the car too. Another disaster was averted.

I’m often surprised by how little attention some parents pay their kids in the parking lot. They don’t see the dangerous situations I witness every day I work in the lot—people driving too fast, people driving the wrong way on the one-way loop, people who are oblivious and/or distracted—or they would hold their children close. Of all the danger I’ve seen, this day stood out as the worst. I was glad I was there to make the parking lot a little safer.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/4k-wallpaper-4×4-auto-automobile-1149058/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-walking-on-top-of-mountain-under-blue-sky-1157386/.

There Should Be a Sign

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The campground wasn’t open yet, but people kept coming in. Some were the usual lookie-loos who just wanted to see what was at the end of the dirt road, but some folks were looking for a place to camp. The Big Boss Man told The Man that as camp host, he could choose to let people camp for free, or he could explain the campground was closed and send them on their way. The Man has a kind heart, so he let most of the would-be campers stay even though he was trying to get the campground ready for the opening of the season.

This photo shows the big tree that fell and crushed one half of the gate at the front of the campground. Notice the arm of the gate on the ground.

It was easier to keep folks out of other campgrounds that were closed because other campgrounds had big metal gates at their entrances that could be chained shut. The campground where The Man was the host only had a gate. Sometime before I’d ever been to the area, a huge tree fell and crushed half the gate. One arm of the gate would still swing shut, but the other arm was on the ground.

The Man swung the one arm of the gate shut one day, and that cut down on lookie-loos a bit, but folks continued to come in looking for a place to camp. It was easy enough to squeeze in between the closed half of the gate and the crushed metal and fallen tree on the edge of the driveway. Some people would even get out of their vehicles, open the closed portion of the gate, get back into their vehicles and drive into the campground. People who swung the gate open generally didn’t bother to swing the gate closed.

This photo taken in 2015 shows the Forest Service sign on the standing gate. “Road Closed to Motorized Vehicles,” it says. In 2018, the sign was no longer on the gate.

Two seasons before, when I had been the camp host at the campground in question, there was a Forest Service sign on the standing arm of the gate, visible when the gate swung shut. The signs said the road was closed to motorized vehicles but non-motorized travel was welcome. However, when I checked for the sign after The Man swung the arm shut, I realized it was gone. I think someone must have stolen it during the winter. Perhaps a sign would have kept people from driving down the road when half a closed gate didn’t deter them, but I doubt it.

The Man did let some people who bypassed the partially closed gate camp. After talking for a while, he invited a nice couple to stay the night. I think the woman was pregnant, he confided in me. We agreed a pregnant person should have access to at least a pit toilet.

That couple left the gate open, we discovered later, and a single European man drove into the campground that afternoon. I let him stay, The Man told me after going over to talk to the guy. He didn’t speak a word of English. I suppose it was easier to let him stay than it would have been to try to pantomime campground closed and explain to him where to find dispersed camping.

The next morning when I returned from my night babysitting the yurts, I saw the European man making his exit. He’d driven his car to the edge of the dirt road and found half of the gated closed. Instead of driving out on the side of the road with no gate, he had opened the closed arm. When I approached, he was still outside his car. He knew I’d caught him immediately after the act of opening the closed gate, and he looked hella guilty. Instead of getting in his car and driving away, he did some nervous pacing in circles, as if he was unsure of what to do.

The road into the campground is only wide enough for one car, so I waited patiently on the main road for the European man to pull out before I pulled in. He finally got into his little white sports car and drove away. After I entered the campground, I got out of my van and closed the gate behind me.

About a week and a half before the campground officially opened, The Man discovered someone had stolen the heavy steel fire ring from site #1. He decided he didn’t want anyone coming into the campground while we were down in the valley, so he came up with a plan as we were leaving. Once I pulled the van past the gate, he got out and not only swung closed the half of the gate still standing, he dragged the downed arm across the rest of the entrance. The blocked road should let people know the campground was closed, we agreed.

We spent one night in town, returning late the next afternoon. The blocked driveway was a slight pain in the neck when I left in the evenings to spend the night with the yurts, but it was worth it to have a day off in peace in the still-closed campground.

After our two days off, it was back to work for us. The Big Boss Man asked The Man to get the group campground ready for campers, so that’s what he spent most of the day doing. I sat in the van and reconciled the money I’d collected from the iron ranger over the last several days.

We got back to our campground early in the afternoon. When we pulled up to the gate, we saw the large piece of metal The Man had used to block the entrance was pulled to the side. Someone had moved his barrier!

As I drove down the narrow dirt road, a white pickup truck came flying from the depths of the campground like a bat-out-of-hell. I pulled off the road as far as I could so the truck could (hopefully) get past my van, but then the truck pulled off the road too. So I pulled back onto the road, then drove up next to the white pickup truck.

The driver rolled down his window. He was a young guy, probably no more than 30. The woman in the passenger seat was young too and wore a ball cap with a ponytail passed through the opening in the back. She kept her face turned toward the window facing the meadow, acting as if she were very interested in examining its every detail. Never once did she look in my direction.

The campground’s closed, I told the driver. It won’t be open until Memorial Day Weekend.

Are you the host? he asked me.

He is, I said, gesturing to The Man sitting next to me.

We saw your camp, the driver said.

The campground’s closed, I repeated.

There should be a sign! the young man said, probably to distract me from the fact that he’d not just crossed a barrier so he could enter a closed campground, but had in fact moved the barrier in question.

There used to be a sign, I explained, but now it’s gone. I think it was stolen. That’s why we had the gate closed.

The woman in the passenger seat continued to study what must have been the most interesting meadow in the world.

After wishing the people in the truck a good day, I drove the van deeper into the campground. The driver of the trucked pulled it out onto the highway.

A sign, huh? A 150 pound piece of metal didn’t discourage him from entering the campground, but he wanted me to believe a sign would have done the trick?

I took the photos in this post.