Category Archives: Work Camping

Smelly People

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I’ve been around the block. I’ve seen and heard some weird things during my time working on the mountain. There was the Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer who joked about packing out a funeral urn he was dispatched to pick up after it was abandoned on a popular trail of giant sequoias across the street from the parking lot where I collected access fees. I’ve been asked stupid questions,and I once found a dead man in the campground where I ended up living. I didn’t think I could encounter anything weirder than what I’d already experienced, but of course I did.

It was a busy Sunday afternoon at the Mercantile. I was running the cash register, so I just stayed behind the counter between customers. A young man and a young woman—probably in their early 20s came up to the counter. They were only buying a couple of little things, but before the transaction was complete, the young man burst out with You must hate putting up with smelly people all day!

He’d directed his statement mostly to the other clerk who was standing next to me behind the counter.

I think the statement was so weird to me because it came out of nowhere. We hadn’t been discussing odors or stink or smelly people. Nothing at all had been said about smells. No funky people had been lingering in the store as far as I could tell. To the best of my knowledge, no olfactory affronts had taken place. I honestly had no idea about what or whom this young man was talking. Why were smelly people on this man’s mind? Why was he mentioning them to us? Maybe because the store was in a campground and he associated camping with not taking a shower he thought everyone who came into the store was going to smell bad.

My two coworkers and I rushed to assure him that smelly people were not on our list of annoyances. 99 problems, but smelly folks ain’t one, I wish I would have thought to tell him.

When he and the woman left, I couldn’t stop shaking my head. That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard up here, I said to my coworkers, and that was saying a lot.

You Don’t Belong in This Campground

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It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. While the Mercantile had been slow all morning, the parking lot had been hopping since at least 10 o’clock. The Mercantile got busy right at noon, and the shopping barely let up for the next four hours.

At 1:30, I ducked out to eat my lunch, leaving the complete operation of the store in the capable hands of the other clerk. As soon as I stepped off the yurt’s deck, I looked across the small front lot and saw a young woman walking toward Javier the camp host. The young woman was speaking loudly enough for me to clearly hear her say, You don’t even belong in this campground!

I looked around. Surely she was speaking to someone other than Javier. Javier was in full uniform–brown shorts, tan shirt with a collar. If anyone belonged in this campground, it was Javier.

I didn’t hear the first few words Javier said to the woman, but I did hear him tell her, You yelling at me is not going to help me help these people.

As this interaction was happening, I’d been walking toward my van. I took a few steps more so I’d be close if Javier needed some sort of backup or support.

I looked over at the woman who’d told Javier he didn’t belong in the campground. She was young, and appeared to be drunk or under the influence of some drug. Her eyes didn’t seem to be focusing correctly, and her face was contorted, but maybe that was from anger or just the way she looked.

We’re trying to help! she insisted.

A large man was standing off to the side, silent. He was ignoring the woman. Maybe he didn’t didn’t know her. Maybe he wished he didn’t know her.

I looked over at Javier. He was standing in front of a small sports car. I glanced over at the car and realized the driver of the car had somehow driven it up over a very large log set there as a barrier. Now the car’s front passenger tire was on the wrong side of the log. Apparently the driver was having a problem getting the tire back over the log, because Javier was asking the fellow who seemed to belong to the car, Do you think it’s light enough  for a bunch of guys to lift it off the log?

At that point the drunk woman seemed to have backed off, and in any case, Javier seemed to be paying her no attention, so I figured my assistance was not needed. I climbed into my van and had some lunch.

Later I asked Javier how they’d released the car from the log. He said a half dozen guys had pushed the car while it was in neutral. It must have been good teamwork because I don’t think the car sat stranded for very long.

How’d they even managed to driver over the log that way? I asked Javier. Let me just repeat, it was a very big log.

Oh, you know, he shrugged, just being themselves.

I probably shouldn’t talk, as just a couple of days before, I backed into a tree and dented my back door. It still closes, and it still locks. The Man says I’m lucky, but I say if I were lucky, I wouldn’t have backed into a tree.

I probably shouldn’t talk, but damn! Driving a little sports car over a big log barrier in a parking lot has got to be a mark of bad driving.

I took this photo.

Why I’m Not Going Back Up That Mountain

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A hand holds the book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
My book

It was a good run. I worked four seasons on that mountain, a total of 18 months. My first two seasons I was a camp host and a parking lot attendant. (See my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for a collection of humorous essays I wrote about my experiences during that time.) The second two seasons I worked at a campground store.

The short answer to why I’m not going back up the mountain comes down to ice. I got tired of making 25 mile round trips to buy overpriced ice. There were two general stores on the mountain that sold ice. One sold eight pound sacks for $3.69, and the other one sold seven pound sacks for $4. Halfway down the mountain a general store sold 10 pounds sacks of ice for $3. In civilization I could get a seven pound sack for 99 cents.

I understand why I had to pay more for ice I bought on top of the mountain. That ice had to be trucked up there. The stores had to pay for the ice, pay to have it transported, and still make a profit. The stores also had to pay for electricity to keep the ice frozen. Believe me, I get it. I think I could have stomached the high prices on ice if I hadn’t had to drive so dang far to get it. Twenty-five miles for a bag of ice is just too far! After I paid for gas and wear and tear on my van and wasted so much of my time (driving 25 mountain miles took about 45 minutes), I shudder to think how much those sacks of ice were really costing me.

You might suggest I do without ice. Sometimes I did, but I love drinking very cold water. If my water’s not cold, I don’t drink enough. Also, ice in a cooler was my only form of refrigeration. When all the ice in the cooler melted, my food (eggs, cheese, produce) was at risk of spoiling; that would have been another waste of money.

A road between trees curves twice.
Driving those mountain miles

Being so far from civilization was a bigger part of the picture of why I’m not going back. I was 60 miles (again, mountain miles) from the nearest Target, Wal-Mart, or supermarket. My third and fourth seasons up there I could access the internet at the store where I worked, so technically I could shop online, but the post office where I picked up my mail was a 25-mile (you guess it, mountain miles) round trip from the campground where I stayed.

Having internet access at the Mercantile did help me stay in touch with friends and family. However, it didn’t help me much when it came to keeping up with my blog. I could only work inside the Mercantile when it was closed. If I wanted to work on my blog on my day off during the eight hours the store was open, I either had to sit on the deck in front of the store in full sun or in my van. Almost every time I tried to work in my van or on the deck, one or more of my coworkers came over to talk to me, usually to complain. What’s a writer to do? The only thing I could think to do was go down to the valley where nobody knew me.

There was a coin laundry on the mountain. It was 25 (mountain) miles away and consisted of one washer and one dryer. I could have gone there to do my laundry. Considering that each week I typically had a load of work clothes and a load of other clothes, it would have taken me a minimum of 1 and 1/2 hours to wash and dry my clothes, plus about 1 and 1/2 hours making the round-trip drive. If I had been doing The Man’s laundry too or if the two of us had been doing our laundry at the same place on the same day, it would have taken five hours, including driving time.

A carved wooden bear holds a welcome sign. It and a wooden chair sit on a wooden deck in front of a yurt.
The front porch of the Mercantile with no shade

Shall I go on? (Feel free to stop reading here if you’ve had enough of my whining.)

My first season working in the Mercantile I decided I liked working there more than I liked working as a camp host and parking lot attendant. The next season I wished I wasn’t working in the store. More of the questions I got in the store seemed substantially dumber than the ones I fielded in the parking lot and campground. People let their children run amuck in the Mercantile and expected me and the other clerks to babysit them. The temperature in the Mercantile rose to over 90 degrees if we weren’t able to use the swamp cooler. Last summer we had a lot of problems with the solar panels and batteries and the generator that powered the store; on many days we had no power to run the swamp cooler. I was overheated a lot last summer and would often stand outside and pour water over my head and neck to try to cool off. If I were working a retail job in civilization, at least I’d be in an air conditioned environment.

The prices of everything in California are freakin’ high. The prices of everything–gas, food, propane, water, (legal) recreational marijuana, auto repairs, tires, other consumer goods, and the taxes on everything–are higher than in Arizona or New Mexico. Yes, minimum wage is high in California, but companies raised their prices to cover the increased expenses when they had to start paying their employees more. (You didn’t think the shareholders were going to take a hit when companies were required to raise wages?)

Looking up the trunk of a giant sequoia to see the top.
A giant sequoia because we could all stand to think about a big tree right now

In the end, I barely broke even while working in California. I managed to save a little money, but not nearly as much as I hoped.

I figure if I’m going to work retail, I can get a job as a cashier in a supermarket or even a Dollar General and at least spend my work shifts in air conditioned comfort. I figure I can go to a tourist town in some state where prices are less than they are in California and not have to spend so much of my wages on survival. I figure I can find a way to live in my van or find a long-term house sitting gig in a town where I can walk or take public transit to the library or a coffee shop when I need to work on my blog.

Four years was a good run, but I think it’s time to try something new.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Woman at the Back Door

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My workday at the Mercantile had been long. I’d already dealt with a lost family who only wanted to visit famous trees and an elderly couple who despite having made a reservation online claimed they had no idea the campground lacked running water. It was now nearly 5:45, and although the Mercantile was scheduled to close at five o’clock, I wasn’t quite finished with my nightly duties.

My last task of the workday was to zip shut all the windows on the yurt housing the Mercantile. The windows opened and closed from the outside, so I had to leave the yurt to complete this task. The straps that held the rolled window covers up were higher than I am tall, so I had to stand on a small step ladder in order to unlatch the strap and lower the covers.

I’d just finished zipping down the last panel when I heard a car pull into the campground. Something about the way the car slid on the gravel told me the driver was on a mission. I ducked into the yurt and hoped the people in the car would go away so I could get out of there undisturbed. Of course, that was not to be.

Hello! Hello! I heard a feminine voice yelling just outside the yurt. When I turned around, I saw a woman who was probably in her early 60s standing on the small back porch. Her hair was grey, but she seemed athletic and well moisturized. She had unhooked the yellow chain that’s supposed to convey to people not to step onto the porch (but often fails at its job). She was assuring me she was going to replace the chain, but I wished she’d never moved it to begin with.

I didn’t open the door. For security reasons, I don‘t open the door once the Mercantile is closed. For reasons pertaining to my sanity, I don’t open the door once the Mercantile is closed.

Did you just close? the woman asked through the flimsy glass covering the door’s window.

No ma’am, I answered. We closed at five.

This seemed to disappoint her. Perhaps she thought if I’d just closed, I’d be more inclined to let her into the store.

Ok, the woman said, undeterred. I have a few questions.

Here we go, I thought.

I was talking to the camp hosts here yesterday…she started

They’re on their day off, I said, in no mood for exposition. I’d anticipated her question of Where are they now? or maybe When will they get back tonight?

Oh, ok, she said, seemingly giving up on her idea of speaking to the camp hosts that evening.

What kind of food do you sell in the store? she asked, moving onto the next item on her agenda.

I listed some of our snack options. Chip, usually, but we’re out right now. Payday bars. M & Ms.

I don’t eat any of that! she snapped at me as if I should have already known her dietary habits. Do you sell any fresh Assorted Vegetable Lot vegetables?

No, ma’am, I said. No fresh vegetables. There’s a general store 10 miles down the road…

I was just there, she interrupted. They didn’t have any fresh vegetables either.

I wasn’t surprised by the lack of fresh vegetables for sale on the top of the mountain.

The closest place to get vegetables is probably the town at the base of the mountain, I told her. There’s a grocery store down there.

The woman seemed supremely displeased by the lack of fresh vegetables in the area but ready to move on to another topic.

Person Holding Outlined MapMy camp host says you have a map of the trails, she said.

We have one map, I replied. It’s $20. But the store is closed.

By “closed,” I didn’t just mean the doors were locked and the window covers were down.  I meant there was no money in the register. All the money had been counted and was now locked in the safe. I’d gone through the register’s closing procedure, and the drawer was no longer active. Once the drawer was inactive, it wasn’t activated again until the next morning. The entire point of purchase system was closed for the night.

I have an excellent map! the woman said as if I should have known that too. I just want a sheet that shows the trails in the area.

During my time working in the Mercantile, tourists often thought they were going to find stacks of free literature in the store. They thought we were a division of the Forest Service and would have free maps and brochures to hand out. Most people were surprised to find out I didn’t work for the Forest Service but instead for a private company that paid a lot of money to the Forest Service for a permit to do business in the Sequoia National Forest. The Forest Service did not give us any literature to give out. Any handouts we gave to tourists (and there were a couple), were photocopied at the expense of the company for which I worked.

No ma’am, I told the woman on the back porch. I don’t have anything like that.

She explained again what she wanted, in the event I hadn’t understood her the first time, and dropped in another my camp host said for good measure. I didn’t point out that I wasn’t sure her camp host had ever looked around in the Mercantile to see what we actually had there, and when she asked about a map showing trails, he probably referred her to the map we sold for $20. I also didn’t point out that if I had anything vaguely resembling what she was looking for, I would have gladly handed it over just to get rid of  her so I could go back to my camp after an almost nine hour day mostly on my feet. Instead I just repeated. No ma’am. I don’t have anything like that.

Finally she took me at my word and left. I huddled in the store until I heard her car pull away, lest she think of new questions and accost me before I could lock the door and make my way to my van.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-business-closed-logo-1152831/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-vegetable-lot-1300972/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-outlined-map-793088/.

 

 

I Think I Made ‘Em Happy

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The couple walked up to the front door of the Mercantile just as I was about to close it. It was five o’clock–closing time–and I was ready to do my end-of-the-day paperwork and go back to my camp for dinner and relaxation.

Are you the camp host? the woman asked me when we met on either side of the screen door.

Oh no! I said, but the woman launched right into their campground woes anyway.

Gray Dome Tent Surrounded by Tall TreesThey had reserved site #4, but the walk from where they had to park their car to down to the camping area was too long.

We’re both 65, the woman told me, and apparently she believed their age determined that they couldn’t walk very far.

I explained that since I wasn’t the camp host, I couldn’t authorize a change in campsites. I told them the campground’s regular hosts were having a day off, but the relief host would come around some time that evening to fill out their permit.

The woman wanted to know what time the camp host would be there. I told her the host didn’t have a set schedule, but he usually patrolled the campground between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evening. She was anxious to gett their tent up before dark, which is a valid concern. I told her again she’d have to talk to the camp host about changing sites, since there was nothing I could do to help. I even told the couple how to find the campground (only two miles away) where the relief host was stationed and said they could go there and find the host if they wanted to talk to him right away.

I thought I’d handled their concerns to the best of my ability, but then they started asking about the Mercantile. Was it closed? (Yes.) Could they just take a peek inside. (Sure.)

They’d come back to the Mercantile in the morning, they said; I told them it opened at 9am.

I thought they’d be on their way then, either to find the relief camp host or to pitch their tent, but then the fellow asked me if we were having problems with our plumbing.

What? I asked. I was very confused, as the campground had no plumbing.

He’d seen all the gallon jugs on the ground near the 300 gallon water tank on the host site. Javier and Sandra the camp hosts kept gallon jugs of water there for campers to use to put out their campfires.

There’s no running water in this campground, I said cautiously. This lack of water was the kind of thing some campers got very angry about.

No running water? he echoed in surprise.

No, I confirmed. There’s no running water in this campground.

They didn’t know. The reservation website didn’t say. I was pretty sure the reservation website did say. The fellow was holding a handful of printouts from the reservation website, so I asked to see them. After shuffling through them and skimming the information contained therein, I’ll be damned if I could find anything about the campground’s lack of water. It didn’t really matter anyway. Even if I could prove to the couple that they should have brought water, knowing they’d messed up wasn’t going to magically provide the water they needed.

We have water in the store, I said as I ushered them in.

I could tell the fellow was angry, so I suggested he complain to the reservation service for not specifying on their website that the campground was dry. Then I dug out a comment card to go to the president of the company I worked for so the camper could lodge a complaint from that end too. The fellow seemed to calm down once I offered him a clear route of complaint.

The woman, on the other hand, had worked herself into a state of consternation over how many gallons of water Person Holding Green Hosethey should buy.

Should we get one or two? she kept asking her husband. She calculated several times how much water they would need before they’d go somewhere to get wash water out of a hose.

We have to cook dinner tonight. Pasta. And breakfast tomorrow. And we have to wash the dishes, she stated several times. Do we need both of these? she asked her husband more than once, gesturing to the two one-gallon  jugs she’d placed on the counter.

The fellow obviously didn’t care if they bought one gallon of water or two. I just wanted the woman to make a decision so I could collect payment, and they could leave me to close up shop for the day. Finally they decided to take both gallons, and I sent them on their way.

The next day I found out from the relief camp host that the couple had decided to stay on the campsite they’d reserved after all. The camp host had given them a gallon of water from beside the 300 gallon water tank so they could wash their dishes. He was absolutely not supposed to give that water to campers, but I didn’t say anything about it. The deed had been done; I’m sure the water had already been used to wash supper and breakfast dishes. Besides, I wasn’t the boss. It wasn’t my job to tell someone the rules about water from the tank.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-trees-adventure-tent-6714/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-hand-garden-growth-2259/.

Famous Trees

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I think they were Russian.

The mother of the family walked in first. Her makeup was tasteful and subdued, as was her hair, which was done, but not overdone. She wore a tight t-shirt with a shiny graphic on the front.

Good morning. How are you today? I asked when she came through the door.

Not good, she said. We are lost.  Her accent was thick.

She was followed in by two teenage girls. Neither of them wore makeup, and their clothes were more suited to a day in the woods than to a day at the mall.

Behind the girls came the husband/father. He was portly and had a headful of dark hair. He wore a casual shirt, but casual as in “casino,” not casual as in “forest.” He looked ten or fifteen years older than his wife, but perhaps it only seemed that way because she was better moisturized.

Where are you trying to go? I asked the woman kindly. I was actively working on being kinder and more compassionate instead of the raging meanie I’d been for weeks.

We are trying to see this tree…the General Sherman, the woman told me.

Oh yeah. They were lost.

This tree is famous. It is a very famous tree.

The General Sherman is in the Sequoia National Park, I began the speech I give when I’m asked about the location of the General Sherman. I spoke slowly and clearly, if a bit robotically. You are about 100 miles and 2½ to 3 hours from the Southern entrance to Sequoia National Park.

Then I said more casually, You have to leave this mountain, go back to civilization, then go up their mountain.

The woman looked glassy-eyed with shock. That was a fairly normal reaction when people found out how far they were from their intended destination. The first stage of wanting to see the General Sherman but discovering the distance still left to cover is shock.

The woman spoke to the husband/father in a language I could not identify. I’ll say it was Russian, but that’s really only a guess.

I told the woman how to get to the Park. I told her which way to turn to get on the appropriate highway and where to go from there to get to the highway that would take them to the Park. The woman dutifully translated to the husband/father. Now both of the adults looked at me with glassy eyes.

I sighed and pulled out the tourist information booklet we kept behind the counter for the map which showed our location and the roads to take to the National Park. I pointed out their route on the map.

The husband/father jabbed his chubby index finger at several different points on the map and spoke in an animated way at the woman. I couldn’t understand his words, but I think he’d moved on the anger state of realizing he was nowhere near the General Sherman. I noticed he kept jabbing his finger in a location quite south of where we were, but I had no idea what that was about.

At one point the husband/father went outside (probably to take some deep breaths and try to avoid a vacation induced heart attack), but the woman remained standing at my counter.

When I make reservation at hotel, it said it was only 40 minutes from National Park, she told me.

With a little more questioning, I realized she’d made reservations online at a hotel more than an hour south of where we were standing. The hotel’s website, she said, claimed it was only 40 minutes from the National Park. I knew if that claim had indeed been made, the hotel’s website was telling a big lie, but I kept my mouth shut on that point. At least now I understood why the husband/father was jabbing his stubby finger so far south.

The husband/father came back into the store. There was more finger jabbing at the map, more animated (on his part) and subdued (on her part) discussion in the language I didn’t understand. Then the woman looked up at me and asked, Are there any famous trees here?

Oh! That was rich! Famous trees!

I explained there was a trail featuring many giant sequoias across the street. They could pay $5 to park, then walk out on the trail and see lots of giant sequoias.

She asked again about famous trees. That’s when I wanted to crash my head repeatedly on the counter in front of me. Seeing giant sequoias wasn’t enough for these people; they only cared about seeing trees that were famous.

I dug around under the counter and came up with a flyer about the most famous tree in our area. This tree wasn’t the biggest or the tallest, but it was close. It had some credentials. The flyer had directions on it. I told the woman I couldn’t give her the flyer because it was my last one, but she could take a photo of it. She dutifully took a photo, but asked me if I could give her the address of the tree so she could put it into their car’s navigation system.

Ma’am, I said, totally defeated, trees don’t really have addresses.

There was more jabbing at the map by the husband/father, more finger tracing of the route, more animated discussion I couldn’t understand. When the fellow went out onto the porch again, I was finally able to make the woman understand she was in the National Forest and the General Sherman was in the National Park.

This tree is not famous.

Oh, she said slowly, there is difference between National Forest and National Park.

I think it was dawning on her that the website for the hotel where she’d made reservations had said it was 4o minutes from the National Forest, not 40 minutes from the National Park. I wondered when (or if) she was going to confess her mistake to her husband.

I reminded her again that her family could see giant sequoias right across the street, and she said they needed to think about it. The whole family, including the silent teenagers, went out onto the porch. I think they’d reached the grief stage of being so far away from the General Sherman.

When the adults came back into the store, they had perhaps reached the acceptance stage of being a long way from the world’s largest tree. They were far from the General Sherman, and they’d either have to embark on a three hour journey to see it, or they would go south to their reserved hotel room with their collective tail between their collective legs.

I think they’d decided to press on toward General Sherman because they tried to buy the map out of the tourist booklet. Of course I told them no. How would I help the next lost family (and I knew there would be others) if this family took away my only map?

 

 

 

Inappropriate Store Clerk Behavior

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At the start of my fourth season working on the mountain, I worked at the Mercantile with two other women. The other clerks were both in their early 60s. One of the women was very sweet and kind hearted. Seldom did a cross word come out of her mouth, and she got melty over the cuteness of dogs and little kids. The second store clerk—let’s call her Butch—was most kindly described as abrupt.

Butch burped loudly and didn’t excuse herself. She raised her voice at children, and her tone when she invited customers to ask questions betrayed her true feeling. Butch was bossy, although all three of us clerks had equal lack of authority in the eyes of the company we worked for. One day when there were no customers in the store, Butch used an obvious racial slur in casual conversation with me, The Big Boss Man, and Sandra the camp host. I was stunned into silence.

Butch was kind to me in her own way, which complicates how I felt about her. She offered to loan money to me and The Man when we experienced some payroll problems. She offered to pick up supplies for us on the weeks she and her husband went to town and The Man and I stayed on the mountain. She bought two copied of my book before she and her husband quit their jobs on the mountain shortly after the Fourth of July. She showed her desire for friendship with me in the manner of an eight year old boy: rambunctious teasing, invading my personal space, tugging on my clothes. I tried not to stand in her general vicinity so she didn’t have the opportunity to get too close to me.

Butch had suffered major health problems in recent years. I suspect facing death had given her a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Perhaps she felt life is too short to apologize for belching like a ruffian or to stifle a racial slur. However, I suspect her bossiness and negative teasing have existed through most of her life.

I first witnessed her exhibiting inappropriate-toward-a-customer behavior on the third day we worked together. The day was cold and foggy. The temperature inside the yurt housing the Mercantile only got up to 42 degrees. Many people had come up the mountain unprepared for the weather. We were doing bang-up sales in long sleeve tees and sweatshirts.

We would have sold more if we’d had sweatshirts intended for men. We had one unisex sweatshirt in Carolina blue (which is sort of a powder blue, if you don’t follow college sports) and a grey one that ran small and was cut for slender curves. We’d seen a couple guys try on the grey sweatshirts that morning, and the larger sizes looked ok on very thin men.

Late in the afternoon during a lull in the customer action, a tall, muscular young man came into the store asking about nearby trails he and his friends could hike.  I told him there were no real hiking trails in our immediate vicinity and tried to sell him on a map of the area that showed all the trails and Forest Service roads. The map was a no-go, but the handsome young man politely thanked me for my help.

The young man’s friends had followed him in and were browsing in the store. One picked out a small souvenir, and the other one found the grey sweatshirts. He was very thin, and when he pulled on one of the grey sweatshirts in extra-large, it looked fine on him. It was by no means baggy, but he didn’t look as if he had been squeezed into a sausage casing either. The young man paid for the items, and all three men exited the Mercantile.

The tall young man who’d asked me about hiking trails returned a few moments later. He liked the sweatshirt his friend had bought, and since he was cold he was thinking about buying one too.

I could understand why he was cold. In addition to his shoes and ankle socks, he only wore a pair of tight shorts and a snug t-shirt—no hat, no jacket, no knee socks. I bet he was fully experiencing the chill of the day.

He said his friend had gotten an extra-large sweatshirt. Of course, his friend was six inches shorter, 75 pounds lighter, and lacking developed muscles. No way was the guy standing in front of me going to be able to squeeze into an XL.

I went over to the rack of sweatshirts and found a double extra-large. I handed it to the handsome young man, and he surveyed it skeptically.

You can try it on, I told the young man helpfully, even though I doubted the sweatshirt would fit him comfortably. Maybe he was cold enough to buy a sweatshirt that didn’t fit very well.

He asked if we had a dressing room. I said we didn’t. That’s when Butch piped in.

You can try it on right there, she said in what she probably thought passed for a sultry voice. I’ll watch.

The young man had the sweatshirt half over his head by the time she finished speaking.

Butch! I exclaimed. Don’t talk to the customers like that!

She just smirked.

I had turned away from the young man to chastise Butch. When I turned back to him, he’d pulled the shirt over his torso and by the look on his face, I could tell Butch had embarrassed him. The shirt was really too small for him, although I didn’t say so. He did look like a sausage, albeit a very fit sausage.

The young man decided he didn’t like the way the sweatshirt fit. The over $30 price didn’t help either. As I ran around the store finding less expensive long sleeve t-shirts designed with broad shoulders in mind, he tried to get out of the grey sweatshirt. He had to lean forward and pull it over his head. Of course, his t-shirt rode up and exposed his abs. I looked away to give him the illusion of privacy, but true to her word, Butch stood there and gawked at his every move.

When the young man finally got himself out of the sweatshirt, he couldn’t get out of the Mercantile fast enough. As I showed him other long sleeve options I’d found, he just repeated I’ll pass and I think I’ll pass. The young man was obviously mortified.

I don’t know what Butch was thinking. Maybe she thought it couldn’t be sexual harassment since she was a woman and he was a man. Maybe she thought life is too short to not let attractive young people know she’s looking at them. Maybe she wasn’t thinking at all. Maybe she simply opened her mouth and let some words pop out.

If a man had said such a thing to a woman, it would have been creepy and inappropriate. I think Butch saying such a thing to the young man was also creepy and inappropriate. The reversal of genders didn’t make it ok.

 

Impatient and Rude

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The family at the register was taking a long time.  It was a weekend morning at the Mercantile.Things were getting busy, and it was taking forever to get these folks on their way.

The other clerk was ringing up the items they’d selected while I bagged everything. A brown plush bear that was really a backpack went into the shopping bag, then the mom decided she wanted to buy another one. She left the counter to pick up the plush black bear backpack.

Do you have this in brown? she wanted to know.

No ma’am, I told her. Everything we have is out.

We had exactly two plush bear backpack available for purchase, one brown and one black. The brown one was already in a shopping bag, waiting to go home with this woman. If she wanted another plush bear backpack from our store, it would have to be the black one. She decided to take it too.

The other clerk couldn’t get the black bear’s tag to work with the register. When she scanned the barcode, the message “item not on file” appeared on the computer screen. When she punched in the item number from the tag, the computer told us it did not exist. Finally, she pulled the brown bear backpack out of the shopping bag and scanned its tag again. Of course, what she’d done was going to mess up the store’s inventory, but I guess she figured it was better to sell the backpack today and worry about the inventory later.

When the other clerk was finished with the brown bear, I put it back in the shopping bag, but when I began to tuck the black bear into the bag, the customer asked for a second shopping bag. It’s a gift, she explained. I reached for a second shopping bag and placed the black bear in it.

Then there was a problem with the dad’s debit card. The other clerk ran it a couple of times, but each time the message on the screen was “NSF” (Non-Sufficient Funds). While the customer fished another credit card from his wallet, I asked if maybe his bank had put a hold on his card because he was using it outside his usual shopping area. He decided that was probably the case.

At some point during the transaction, I realized the next person in line was growing increasingly agitated. He was a tall guy, in good physical shape, with short hair. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he was a cop or in the military. He had an uptight, regimented look about him. He was alone—no buddies, no lady friend, no kids. I could tell from his body language that he was tired of standing in line, tired of this family in front of him showing down his very busy day. I’m not sure how I knew he was unhappy. Maybe the stiffness of his shoulders or the pinched expression on his face gave him away. In any case, I was not excited to have to deal with him next.

Sure enough, when the slow family stepped away from the counter and he stepped up for his turn, the guy with short hair barked Parking! That was it. He had not a single kind or pleasant word for us.

I wanted to bark out Asshole! but I didn’t. I knew calling him out wasn’t going to help and would, in fact, certainly make matters worse. Instead I tried the kill ‘em with kindness method, which at least got me a thank you muttered through clenched teeth as he took his credit card and day pass and left. He got through the entire transaction speaking only three words.

I was livid when he left. I shouldn’t have let him get to me, but I did. The other clerk and I had done nothing to deserve such rudeness. It wasn’t our fault the woman ahead of him decided she needed something else after she was already at the counter. It wasn’t our fault the price tag was out of date, and the item was no longer in the system. It wasn’t our fault the fellow’s debit card didn’t work. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man hadn’t brought cash to pay the parking lot attendant and needed to come into the Mercantile to pay for parking with a card. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man had come to see the trees during busy hours on the weekend. It wasn’t our fault the store had only one register, and we could only take payment from one customer at a time.

For the rest of the day, I’d intermittently snap Parking! at my coworker when no customers were around. I probably shouldn’t have made fun of someone who was obviously so unhappy, but maybe he’d be happier if he worked on being less impatient and rude.

WiFi

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Person Holding Wi-fi Stencil PaperThree East Indian men came into the Mercantile on a Sunday morning. The first one asked me if we had any food, and I directed him to our shelves of snacks.

The two other men came in shortly after. The short young guy with puffy hair asked for food too, or at least I though he did. When I directed him to the snacks, he got exasperated and said, No. Like a banana. Apparently, he had asked for fruit.

I spared him my boisterous rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and simply told him we had no fruit. He bought a Payday bar and a granola bar, and then the men were on their way.

The other clerk had gone to lunch when the short fruitophile guy came back into the store. Excuse me, he said politely. Do you know the password to the WiFi?

Yes, I said, which I thought was the truth, but I’m not allowed to give it out, which was certainly the truth.

The young man looked very sad. Is there anyone here who can give it to me?

I shook my head and said no. All employees were under strict orders not to share the WiFi password with anyone not employed by the company that runs the store and the campground.

I don’t have signal, the young man said, looking sadder by the second.

No one has signal up here, I told him.

Knowing he was not alone in his lack of signal did not seem to comfort him. He stood there and looked at me with his big, dark eyes.

Do you have an emergency? I asked. If someone had been bleeding or his car had been on fire, I would have handed him the store phone.

No, he said, and I appreciated his honesty. I get super annoyed when folks try to convince me that their lack of planning is an emergency.

I haven’t talked to my family in like five days, he continued,

(That’s why I come up here! a camping friend of mine exclaimed when I told her this story.)

Once you get down to Tiny Babylon, you’ll have service again, I tried to comfort him.

My friend has the car, he said. Maybe he could only go where his friend drove, but I’m not sure how the ownership of the care affected his cell phone service.

There’s a facial expression I found myself making when I had nothing more to say to someone in the Mercantile. I pressed my lips together and turned down the corners of my mouth. This expression was accompanied by a little noise which sounded something like Hmm. This is how I conveyed that I could do nothing to help and the conversation was over. This reaction was the last thing the young man got from me. He looked at me sadly for several long seconds, then he turned around and walked out the door.

I found out later the same man had asked the other clerk for the password as she was coming back from lunch and had asked Javier the camp host for it too. Of course, they told him no, but I was a little miffed he’d asked after I told him no one would be able to give it to him.

Javier pointed out to me that although he’d put the password in his phone and he was now allowed to access the internet, he couldn’t access the password anymore. He wasn’t able to share the password with anyone even if he wanted to because he couldn’t find it on his phone.

I poked around on my phone and discovered I was in the same situation. The password was in my phone, doing its job to allow me to access the store’s WiFi, but I sure as hell couldn’t figure out how to see the password. (I had the password in a note on my old phone, but the battery on that one died so completely, I couldn’t get to any screen even when it was plugged in. I hadn’t thought to copy the password before my phone was totally gone.)

I was pleased when I realized I could truthfully tell people who wanted the password that I didn’t know it. I didn’t have to tell people I wasn’t allowed to give it out; all I had to do was admit my ignorance.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cliff-fingers-grass-386135/.

Attempted Bribery and a Lie

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Person Holding Wifi Logo CardShe tried to bribe me; I told the lie.

It was Friday morning at the Mercantile, and members of a large family from Indiana and Illinois staying in the campground were shopping. The parents of one family were probably in their early 30s, and they had four kids—three boys and a girl. The oldest kid was probably 10, the youngest 5. The kids ran around touching things and playing with puppets while receiving practically no supervision from either parent.

The mom of the family noticed the WiFi networks on her phone, or maybe she had noticed it before she stepped foot in the Mercantile. Do you have internet here? she asked. Since she must have known there were networks available, what she really wanted was the password so she could utilize one.

I shook my head and made a sad face. No, I said, then realized her phone was telling her otherwise, so I added, not for public use.

At least once a day, someone asked about accessing the store’s WiFi. If I didn’t think they’d seen the networks on their phone, I just said no. If the visitor already had a phone out, I’d say the internet wasn’t available for public use, and maybe I’d add it was only to run the cash register, which was a fib in and of itself. All of the company employees in the area had the password to one of the networks and connected to it to so we could access the internet. Still, I used the only for the cash register fib when I saw that a visitor was not going to simply give up on the idea of using the internet while near the Mercantile. Most people were obviously disappointed but didn’t push the issue.

I tried to help people by finding out why they wanted to use the WiFi. Most people told me with panic that their GPS wasn’t working. They didn’t seem to feel any better when I told them that no one’s GPS was working on the top of the mountain, but I could usually give them directions to where they wanted to go. For the people who wanted to post pictures or check their social media, there was nothing I could do to help.

It seemed like the mom on this Friday morning was going to let the topic of WiFi drop, but then she brought it up again as her family piled their souvenirs on the counter on front of me for purchase.

Couldn’t she use the internet for a few minutes? she asked. Couldn’t we just give her the password? I’ll pay you, she offered.

I knew what was going to happen if we gave her the password. She would go back to her extended family camping on three sites and brag that she had access to the WiFi. Maybe her family would beg, or maybe she’d hand out the password with no coaxing, but I was confident she’d share it and all the adults in her group and the older kids too would be on our porch, logged in to the WiFi.

She offered to pay me, but I just said no. That’s when I told the big lie.

I could tell she wouldn’t give up if I simply said no again or told her it was against store policy to share the password. I knew she’d promise not the give the password to anyone else or even tell anyone she had it, but I was confident she wouldn’t be able to keep such a score a secret. I knew I had to tell her something that would make an impression on her. That’s when I told her the big lie.

I’ll pay you, she said, and I said, No. If I give you the password, I’ll get fired. You don’t have enough money. I shared this information flatly, matter-of-factly, no smile on my face, not like I was joking.

I knew I probably wouldn’t get fired if I gave her the password, even if The Big Boss Man somehow found out about it, but I knew if The Big Boss Man found out I’d done such a thing, he would not be happy with me. At the least, I’d get a stern lecture. At worst, if I gave the password to this woman and she shared it, her extended family could use up our monthly allotment of internet access or crash our system from overuse. Why would I want to bring any negative consequences on myself for what I’m sure would only be an offering of a .few bucks?

I don’t like lying and I try not to do it, but in this case, as I suspected it would, my lie shut the lady down. She quit asking for the password. Perhaps she didn’t want my job loss on her conscience. Perhaps she realized I wasn’t going to give her the password no matter what she offered or how much she begged.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-clear-sky-close-up-fingers-423367/.