The parking lot was intensely busy, and I was already quite grumpy. I was trying to hold it together and be polite, but it seemed like the best I could do was concentrate on not getting myself fired.
A pickup truck pulled into the the lot; several other vehicles were behind it. The pickup truck was going abnormally slow. Sure, I don’t want people driving like Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the parking lot, but folks need to keep up a brisk pace, or there’s going to be a logjam.
I could see the driver of the pickup ruck was a very old man. I thought maybe he didn’t know where to go (people are often confused by the parking lot’s one-way traffic), so I went from my regular hand motion signally this way and come on down into broad, sweeping arm gestures. The truck continued to put-put-putter in, and I was worried the old man might swerve any minute and start going the wrong way on the loop. I added to my sweeping arm gestures shouts of This way! This way! Neither the driver nor his passengers seemed to notice me until the driver’s side window was next to my head.
After determining the crew in the truck (the old man driver, a younger woman squashed in the middle, and a young man in the passenger seat) was in fact there for the trail, I gave my little speech: The trail begins across the street. You are on a one-way loop. Look for a place to park. Once you’re parked, pay the $5 parking fee on your way to the trail.
The very old man driving finally showed some animation. You’re going to charge me to park, he demanded, when I’m the one who built this road?
That’s one I’d never heard before!
I wonder if he tries that at the supermarket. You’re going to charge me for these groceries when I’m the one who built the road out there?
I wonder if he has a certificate listing all the road he’s built so he can prove himself to skeptics.
I wonder if he’s ever built a road in his life, or if this is just a ploy he uses to get into places for free.
In any case, I was surprised and stammered that my boss told me I had to charge everyone who parks in the parking lot.
Then he just sat there, his truck blocking the traffic flow. I tried to shoo him away, told him to go and park, and then just walked away from the truck to talk to the next driver in line.
I realized later I’d not seen the truck leave the parking lot, nor had I seen the old man or either of his passengers step up to pay me or my co-worker. But the parking lot was really busy, and it was conceivable the truck had left or the male passenger (of whom I hadn’t gotten a good look) had paid my co-worker while I was involved with another visitor.
Much later, I saw a truck approach the lot’s exit. I saw the old man driving that truck was the man who’d claimed to have built the road. He was dangling money out of his window. I guess he’d finally decided to pay his parking fee. I immediately became quite interested in looking in the direction opposite of the old man. He was closer to my co-worker anyway, and I figured it was my co-worker’s turn to deal with him.
My co-worker said the old guy told him, I built this road, and my co-worker thought I know who you are. As the guy paid his parking fee, he demanded to know where the money went. My co-worker said he handed over the money to his supervisor every week. From there, (shrug) he guessed the Forest Service got a cut…
The old guy must have been ready to go because he didn’t linger to share his road-building credentials. He just slowly pulled the pickup out of the lot.