Category Archives: Work Camping

Nice Day

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Toward the end of the camping season, the mercantile was closed for inventory. The manager worked with two ladies from the corporate office to count everything in the store. Apparently four people would have been one too many for the task because when I showed up for work, I was told my services were not needed. The Big Boss Man didn’t want me to lose pay, so he told me I could work in the campground to make up my hours. I walked over to the parking lot where The Man had my van and changed into a cobbled together camp host uniform. Back at the campground, I cleaned restrooms, raked campsites, collected access fees, gave directions, and had a very nice day.

guide, idaho, mapFor a slow parking day, I gave a lot of directions. So many people who pull into the campground or the parking lot are unsure of how to get where they’re going at best, but usually out and out lost.

I talked to a lovely young woman who wondered if she and her guy should take the time to visit the nearby national park. I told her they totally needed to visit. As I told her, while our trees are beautiful, the national park is like a magical fairy land of giant sequoias. That’s what she wanted to see, she said, so she and I discussed the best route to take.

The next people who needed directions were an old couple from West Virginia. They were totally lost. They were supposed to meet the woman’s brothers in a national park, but followed their GPS (which had been programed to our coordinates while they were still in West Virginia) to a campground hours away from where they wanted to be. I told them how to get where they wanted to go,, and they hoped the brothers would still be there.

Another older couple pulled in later in the day. I noticed their big ol’ Chevy conversion van right off. I explained the access fee of $5, and the woman in the passenger seat asked if her Golden Age card would cover it. I said it would not cover parking, but it would get them half off camping. Most people who want to use an access pass to pay for parking don’t want to camp, but this couple decided to do it. I told them what sites were available, and they drove through the campground to pick one.

I talked to them quite a bit that afternoon. The man said they were from Illinois, and when I asked about their Southern accents, he said they were from southern Illinois. I thought he was joking until he told me they do their grocery shopping in Paducah, KY. (I always forget Kentucky borders the Midwest.) They also spend a lot of time near Gulf Shores, AL, which I’m sure also enhances their accents.

I asked the fellow about his van, then told him about mine. He and his wife aren’t full-timers, but they do travel extensively in their van. Las year they’d visited the area (their daughter lives nearby) in a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, but the mountains destroyed its transmission. They already owned the conversion van, so this time they decided to travel in it. The minivan was really too small for two people, they agreed, and they were really enjoying the extra room in the larger van.

The fellow asked me if I watched YouTube videos, and I said not so much. He said he really liked watching van-build videos. He talked more about van builds, and some part of our conversation led me to say, If you go to Quartzsite, AZ in January, you can go to, and we both said, the RTR. He’d heard of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous! He said he’d never been but would love to go. I told him I’d been to three RTRs, and I became something of an instant celebrity. He was quite impressed to learn I’d been where he wanted to go.

When The Man came to the campground to pick me up that afternoon, we went over to the couple’s campsite. I wanted to introduce them to The Man, and I wanted to give them my business card with the name of my book (Confessions of a Work Camper) and my blog address on it. The four of us had a good conversation about minivans and transmissions and traveling. When we left, I said, Maybe I’ll see y’all at the RTR someday. They agreed that maybe I would.

Between meeting the people in the conversion van and going home that afternoon, I met a group of adventure, camping, forestyoung people on a birthday celebration camping trip. I showed them to their campsite and told them how to get to a secluded waterfall. They were mellow stoners—love kids—and I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of the area.

It was fun to be a camp host again, especially on a slow day near the end of the season. I didn’t have to work too hard, and I met nice, interesting people. If every day as a camp host could be that good, I’d never want to do anything else.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-navigation-guide-108942/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-trees-adventure-tent-6714/.

I Don’t Like People

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The black SUV pulled into the campground early one Sunday afternoon late in the season. The Man and I were working as camp hosts there, and I’d stationed myself near the overflow lot to collect access fees while he worked the main parking area.

The fellow driving the black SUV was rocking the wet look; he’d gelled his curly dark hair to within an inch of its life.

I asked the man if he wanted to park so he and his passenger could walk the trail. Curly said yes. I told him about the access fee and pointed to the dirt area where he could park. He gestured in front of himself and asked what was all of that. I told him it was a campground. He asked if there was any parking in the campground. I told him the parking in the campground was for people camping.

My confusion must have shown on my face because the woman in the passenger seat said, He doesn’t like to park by other cars.

Yeah, curly agreed. I don’t like people!

O-kay! I thought, but I found a spot where he could park the SUV away from other vehicles.

As I wrote the parking pass, Curly explained himself. It wasn’t really that he didn’t like other people. I’m a people person, he proclaimed. The problem was door dings. He didn’t like door dings, and people are just not careful with car doors. It was ok if the wind flung a door; he understood the wind sometimes caught doors and crashed them into other cars. However, he didn’t want to park near people who might be careless with their doors.

It’s going on three years, and not one door ding, he said proudly.

The woman in the passenger seat just grinned. She had heard this all before.

I don’t really understand the preoccupation with keeping vehicles “nice.” I live a rugged life and my material possessions—including my van—show wear and tear from the way I live. But to each his/her/their own. If Curly wants to spend his time and energy worrying about door dings, that’s his business.

Before paying me for his pass, Curly jumped out of the SUV and ran around to the other side to open his companion’s door. After the exchange of payment and pass, I watched Curly and the lady walk away, one of his hands in hers, the other carrying a picnic basket. I was glad I could help him have a nature experience free from the worry of coming back to a dinged door.

 

Lock the Door

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It was the end of the season, and The Man and I were the last camp hosts standing. While we started out working at the mercantile, by the beginning of October, the two of us were covering the parking lot and the three campgrounds on our side of the mountain.

It was Saturday, and The Man was working on a special sign assignment twelve miles down the road, so I was back in the saddle at the busy parking lot.

I took this photo of a giant sequoia in Deer Creek Grove, the southernmost grove of giant sequoias.

Before I was fully out of the campground, I was waylaid in the driveway by some people from Florida  who wanted to know if it was really worth stopping to see giant sequoias.

Um, yes, I said as politely as possible while selling them a day pass. I guarantee they’d never seen anything like a giant sequoia in Florida.

When I got to the parking lot, I started right in on the restrooms, as I always do.

I knocked on the door on the left. No response. I opened the door, pulled over one of the big metal trashcans to hold it open, and assessed the toilet paper situation. So far so good.

As I moved to the restroom on the right, I noticed a kid milling around. He was about eight and appeared to be alone, but I didn’t think much of it. I was on a restroom-cleaning mission.

I took this photo of the restrooms in the parking lot.

I knocked on the door on the right. No response. I opened the door and when I looked inside, I saw a person. I assume the person was male even though the person’s back was to me. I assume the person was male beause the person was in the distinctive taking a piss stance male people get into when they pee.

I was surprised and a little embarrassed, although I’d done nothing wrong. I knocked and no one responded. I opened an unlocked door. Why hadn’t the occupant locked the door? Why hadn’t the kid standing outside warned me about the guy in the restroom? The kid must have known the guy was in there.

I turned away and let go of the door immediatley, letting it slam shut. I didn’t hear the pisser apologize or say anything at all.

My parting words?

Lock the door!

Accent

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It was late in the afternoon when the family came into the mercantile.

Mom was maybe out of her 20s. She wore her dark hair straightened and had on obvious makeup. She looked more like she was on a date at the mall than out having a nature experience.

Dad had the look of a jock whose mid-30s metabolism was slowing down. He wasn’t fat, but his middle was getting soft. He talked loud and fast and seemed accustomed to being the center of his family’s world.

The oldest kid, a son about seven or eight years old, had dark hair like his mother. He spent his entire time in the store trying to convince his parents to buy him a walking stick.

The second child was an adorable little girl, a toddler who was probably not yet three. Her hair was long and straight and blond like her father’s. She had plump, rosy cheeks and was obviously the apple of her father’s eye.

While the woman had a lot of questions about the nearby national park (How far away was it? How did they get there? How late was it open? How much did it cost to get in?), she and the man let the kids roam freely through the store. The little girl was drawn to the breakable bear figurines. Her parents never once discouraged her while she moved them around on the shelves where they were displayed. They allowed her to pick them up one after another and bring them up to the cash register. She could hardly reach to set them on the counter in front of me, but no one in her family tried to help her or take them out of her hands. For one glorious moment, I actually thought the dad was going to buy every bear the child set before me, but I quickly realized he was only letting her play with the merchandise.

All the while the mom was talking—to me, to her son, to her man, to the girl child. Something about her accent was familiar, but I wasn’t sure my guess was correct…

Where are y’all from? I asked.

Texas! the dad boomed. Near Houston.

I supposed it was a Texas accent I recognized. However, the more the woman talked, the more I was convinced it wasn’t Texas I was hearing.

She was standing near the counter when I looked at her and asked, Did you grow up in Texas?

No, she said. I grew up in Louisiana.

I knew it!

You’re Cajun! I exclaimed.

The woman seemed surprised, but confirmed her Cajunness.

Me too! I said. I told her my last name and the town where I grew up.

Cajuns: From Acadia to Louisiana
She told me her last name and the town where she grew up. Although I didn’t recognize her family name as one of the pillars of Cajun culture, I remember a book I once read that said there’s three ways to become Cajun: birth, marriage, or through the back door. Maybe she’d had a non-Cajun male ancestor who’d married a Cajun gal and assimilated. No matter what this customer’s family name was or how many years she’d lived in Texas, her accent gave her away to anyone in the know.

To his credit, the man of the family returned to their shelves all the bears his daughter had set on the checkout counter. Of course, he plunked them down any old way, and I had to arrange them artfully after the family left.

When they were gone, The Man asked me how in the world I’d known the woman was Cajun. I shrugged and told him it was all in her accent.

Bold and Germ-Free

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There were several customers in the mercantile. I stood next to the cash register, angled so I could see the people near the back door. The manager of the mercantile stood behind the back counter, facing the front of the store.

I noticed an older woman standing almost directly across from me, looking into the glass display case. She was definitely older than I am, in her 50s for sure, maybe in her 60s. She caught my attention by rubbing her hands together over and over, as if she were rubbing in lotion or carefully spreading hand sanitizer over her skin. I figured she had her own lotion or sanitizer or that maybe this hand rubbing was a nervous tick. It was a little strange, and our pump bottles of Purell were between her and the manager, but I tried to keep my thoughts about the woman positive. After all, I hadn’t seen her do anything wrong. I’d only witnessed her rubbing her hands together.

PURELL Naturals Advanced Hand Sanitizer - Hand Sanitizer Gel with Essential Oils, 12 fl oz Pump Bottle (Pack of 2) - 9629-06-EC
When the store cleared out, the manager took a step toward the Purell display and reached down. The hand that came back up was holding a pump bottle with the pump in a fully upright position. Someone had twisted the top so sanitizer could be pumped out of the bottle.

The manager said she smelled the sanitizer when the woman helped herself to a squirt. I hadn’t smelled anything, but said I’d seen the woman rubbing her hands.

Is it possible the woman had brought her own sanitizer into the mercantile and a squirt of her own sanitizer is what the manager smelled and I saw her rubbing on her skin? Sure, that’s possible, but the time frame is mighty suspicious.

Is it possible someone else turned the spout so sanitizer could be pumped out and the woman only helped herself to a product that was already open? Yes, that scenario is also a possibility, but using something open but not marked “tester” is still wrong. Nothing about the setup of the hand sanitizer made it seem free and available for public consumption. The woman had to know the Purell was for sale and she was using it without paying.

The manager hid all but three bottles of sanitizer. The three on display were placed close to the register, on top of the glass display case where we were able to keep an eye on them.

Before this event, I’d never imagined sanitizer theft could be an issue.

Do You Know the Way to San José?

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The tourist asked the manager of the mercantile how to get to San Jose. The manager explained the directions to him in great detail—twice. The tourist and the young woman accompanying him seemed satisfied after the second time. They walked out of the store but were back in a few minutes. He requested the manager tell them again how to get to San Jose. They wanted to write down the directions.

Maybe there was a language barrier. The man spoke with a pronounced Spanish accent, so maybe he was unsure of what the manager told him. I grabbed a map so we could show as well as tell.

Take a left out of the parking lot, I said. Go to the stop sign, I told him, and make a right.

His fingers skimmed across the screen of his phone. Apparently he was taking notes.

At the second stop sign, make another right, I said.

Will there be a sign there?  he asked me.

Yes, I said, a stop sign. Make another right.

So there will be only the stop sign I see? he asked me.

Yes, I told him, fighting the urge to beat my head on the counter. At the first stop sign you see, make a right. At the second stop sign you see, make another right. When you get to the town with the stoplight, your GPS should work.

It looks like I can keep going straight, he said, pointing at the map.

I’m not sure, I told him. I don’t know how to get to San Jose, I said. When you get to the town with the stoplight, your GPS should work, I repeated. Or you can buy this map, I continued, tapping on the map spread out in front of us.

What highway is this? he asked, pointing to a roadway shown on the map.

If he had looked closely, he could have found the number for himself, but I did it for him. I looked at the map closely, found the highway number, and read it to him. He continued to study his possible routes.

I think we can go straight right here, he said again, pointing, and I agreed, Yep, that’s what it looks like.

They didn’t want to buy the map, but they did thank us for our help.

When they left, the manager and I shook our heads at each other.

I don’t know how to get to San Jose,  I told her. He wanted me to tell him exactly how to get there, but I don’t know!

Well, I do know, and I did tell him, but he wouldn’t listen to what I had to say, she complained.

I’ve noticed people—particularly city people—expect to find an interstate or a direct route to an interstate up on the mountain. I hate to be the one who has to break it to them, but it’s just not happening. It takes two curvy mountain roads to get to a state highway to get to another state highway to get to an interstate to get to San Jose. I could see how all that could discourage even Dionne Warwick.

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.