Tag Archives: campers

Do You Grow?

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It was in the last days of my second season as a camp host when I went to the group campground to check in the astronomy club staying there for the weekend. When I asked around, I was told the person who’d made the reservation had not yet arrived. A nice guy in my age group offered to sign the permit, so I wrote down his address and other pertinent information.

I meant to give him a fire permit too, so using their camp stoves would be legal, but I realized hours later that I’d forgotten to do so.

The next morning when I went back to the group campground, I had the fire permit ready for the same guy to sign. I’d simply copied the man’s address from the camping permit onto the fire permit. When I found the man and asked him to sign the permit, he jokingly asked if I’d memorized his address.

I explained I’d copied his address from the camping permit. Then he asked if I planned to visit.

I began to wonder if the man was flirting with me. Men never flirt with me, so I’m not sure I could recognize flirting if it actually happened. His being in my age group made flirting more probable, but I decided he was just being friendly.

I told him I couldn’t visit because I didn’t even know where his town was.

It’s in Santa Cruz County, he told me. We have a big organic farm. You could park your van on our farm.

(I don’t know exactly who the other people included in his “we” were.)

I made a bland comment about it must be nice to live on a farm. Then I  said, Do you grow…?

I meant to end the sentence with something clever, but nothing clever came to mind. (That’s what I get for I opening my mouth with no plan on how to end what I’ve already started to say.) Instead of ending the sentence with something at least reasonable, if not clever (beets? pumpkins?) I simply let the sentence hang there unfinished.

Then I realized, Santa Cruz County and Do you grow? when taken together have a definite marijuana connotation. What if he thought I was asking if they grew weed on the organic farm?

I’d never ask a stranger if he grew pot. It seems like a rude question, even in California, seeing how marijuana is federally illegal and all. It’s none of my business if someone is growing weed. It’s safer for everyone to keep marijuana cultivation on a need to know basis, and I don’t need to know!

I’m not sure if the man recognized my awkwardness. He started talking about the zucchini he and whoever else lives on the farm grows. He told me all about the big, big zucchini.

Any flirting that may have been going on was entirely incompetent.

 

Trash Picking

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Trash picking is in my genes, passed down to me by my father.

One of my earliest memories is going behind the local dime store after closing time so my dad could poke around in the unlocked trash room. It thin it was mostly cardboard in there, but sometimes he’d find good things like the metal bank the size of a softball and printed brightly with the countries of the world. He gave the bank to me, and even though the rubber stopper to hold in the money was missing (hence the exile to the trash room), I liked it anyway and kept it for years.

My dad was never too proud or too wealthy to pass up a discarded pile of building materials without investigating it for useful items and hauling home anything he might be able to work into a home improvement project.

My dumpster diving has gone farther than my father’s ever did. I doubt he ever climbed into a supermarket dumpster to pull out enough discarded produce and snack food to supplement the grocery budgets of several households. I doubt he’s eaten discarded pizzas as a diet staple while traveling across the country or pulled fancy food dumped into garbage cans by rich people in tourist districts. I’ve done all those things. We’ve all got to eat, and when I’ve had no money, I did what I had to do to feed myself.

As a camp host, I sometimes find things in trash cans I can’t believe people have left behind.

My first camp host trash score came with items campers left next to the trash can. They’d brought several green propane bottles with labels missing, and they didn’t manage to use all the fuel during their camping trip. I guess they didn’t want to haul the bottles home, so they were left lined up outside the trash can. I took the bottles over to my campsite and used them during the cold days of late mountain spring. Those partially full bottles must have saved me at least six bucks.

Later in the summer, I opened a trash can and found nothing but an empty one gallon glass wine jug. It even had a cap. I pulled it out of the can, washed it, and still use it as a water container.

Young people driving shiny cars throw out the best stuff. After one group left, I opened a garbage can to find several tiny, almost new tubes of toothpaste, a nearly full bottle of propane, a box of individually wrapped herbal tea bags with only a few bags missing, and assorted other things I no longer remember. Another time, I found half a bag of marshmallows, half a Hershey bar, and several unopened packages  of fancy chocolates that had melted, then re-formed while in an ice chest. Let me be the first to say, fancy chocolate is still delicious, even when one has to eat it by biting chunks out of a blob.

Once a group of young professional types cut out the garbage can middle man and offered me approximately seven gallons of bottle water they didn’t want to carry home. Hell yes, I’ll take that, thank you. Even at the cheapest bottle refilling rate in Babylon ( 25 cents a gallon), I saved almost $2 and didn’t have to spend my time filling bottles.

One Sunday morning when I was emptying trash cans, I found beverages of an adult nature. When I tried to pull the bag out of the can, I realized it was too heavy for me to lift. I began pulling beer bottles out of the heavy bag and throwing them into an empty trash bag. When I pulled a bottle out and it seemed unnaturally heavy, I examined it more closely. Yep, there was liquid in there. Yep, the cap was still sealed. Who throws out unopened bottles of fancy beer? Well, underage kids do. Camp hosts don’t card, so I’m not sure how old anyone at the campground was, but the members of one group seemed young enough to be underage. That would explain why they didn’t take the beer home to mom and dad’s house, but I don’t understand why they didn’t drink the beer before they left. Didn’t they know there are sober children in China?

In any case, I ended up with six full bottles of beer, and I’m not talking PBR. This was good stuff, some California microbrew. However, since I’m not much of a drinker, I gave the beer to my coworker, who was quite pleased with my trash score.

On another Sunday afternoon, I found a two-pound plastic container nearly full of plump, ripe strawberries. I scooped them up and took them right back to my campsite. Upon further inspection, I found some of the berries were a big squashed, but I washed them and ate them anyway. They were super ripe and juicy. I ate them with some whipped vanilla yogurt I’d gotten on super sale at the bargain supermarket. The yogurt was quite like whipped cream and went well with the berries.

By far, my best food score came near the end of the fire when a crew of young people from the California Conservation Corps stopped by to see the sequoias. Each of the crew members was carrying a paper sack about 2/3 the size of paper bags groceries are packed in. After a couple of the folks dumped their paper bags in the garbage cans,I wondered what was in them. After the crew left, I started poking around in the trash cans. In addition to at least three meaty sandwiches (which I left behind), almost every bag contained an apple; an orange; a couple of small packages of raw carrots; a foil packet of tuna; a bag of banana chips; a bag of trail mix; a bag of M&M’s; a package of fig cookies; and a bag of either Oreos, Chips Ahoy cookies, Ritz bits crackers with cheese, or Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. There was so much waste of prepackaged food! I have no idea why those people hadn’t saved the snack food for later. It wasn’t going to spoil any time soon.

Their waste was my gain. I filled up two of the paper bags with food, and I lived large for weeks. I saved easily $25 worth of food from going to the dump.

I try to be discreet with my trash picking because the normals sometimes do weird things like call the caps when they feel uncomfortable. However, I never feel ashamed for living off other people’s castoffs. If anyone should feel ashamed, I think it’s the people throwing away all the good stuff.

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Too Big

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This post is dedicated to the camp hosts who left the mountain the day before these events occurred. You are missed.

The other camp hosts were gone, and now I was covering three campgrounds and my shifts at the parking lot. The campgrounds were substantially less busy now that the season was drawing to a close, but I still had eight pit toilets to scrub on Sunday afternoon.

I finished my shift at the parking lot and headed next door to clean restrooms.

As I approached the campground, I saw a big pickup truck towing a long 5th wheel. The truck/trailer combo was stopped and entirely blocking the road’s left lane. A car had passed the truck/trailer combo and was now in the right lane, going the wrong way. The wrong-way car was nose to nose with a car traveling in the proper direction in the right lane. Luckily, I was able to turn into the entrance of the campground without getting involved in the vehicular mess.

The campground next to the trail is laid out on a one-way loop. The host’s campsite is at the immediate front of the campground, but to back into it (and to see who’s in the campground), I drive the whole loop whenever I arrive.

I made the circle and found the campground empty. As I approached the front of the loop, I saw the big pickup truck towing the 5th wheel had entered the campground and was trying to navigate the loop’s first turn.

The campground was really not designed for big RVs. I think it was designed for tent camping, but some of the sites can accommodate small-to-medium motor homes or small camper trailers. But I couldn’t think of a single spot where such a long combo would fit.

I backed into the camp host’s spot. As I did so, I heard the driver of the truck telling the passenger(s), There’s a place! I realized he was pointing to the host’s spot. Ummmm, no.

I got out of my van and strode over to where the truck and the 5th wheel were totally blocking the roadway.

Are  y’all looking for a place to camp? I asked the driver, a white man probably in his 50s. He said he was.

I explained the campground is small, with small sites. I told him I didn’t think any of the sites would work for his big rig.

That one would have worked, he pointed to the host’s site, but he already took it.

I explained I was the camp host and that was the camp host’s site.

No wonder you backed in so damn fast! the man said with disgust.

Yep, that’s my spot, I reaffirmed.

I suppose I could have let them park in the host’s space. In retrospect, I can’t think of a rule against doing so. But the location of the host’s site lets me easily see who’s entering the campground.  Also, the water tank–which I’m supposed to ensure is not tampered with–is on the host’s site. I think I was justified in keeping the spot to myself.

I told the man he was welcome to drive around the loop and decide if any of the sites worked for him

What if I walk around? he asked.

I told him that would be fine, but you are blocking my roadway.

I think the man was (justifiably) afraid he was going to get his big rig stuck in the little campground.

About that time, the passenger appeared. She was a small Latina woman with a pronounced accent, about the same age as the man.

They were trying to get to the National Park, she said. I told her they still a had a long way to go.

She wanted to know where they could camp.

They could camp here, I told her, if their rig fit on any of the sites, which I didn’t think it would. I also told her about the free camping area up the road, which I though might work for them since it’s basically dispersed camping with no real sites. I also mentioned a fee campground past the free campground. I said several times that I didn’t know if either campground could accommodate them or how it would be to pull that rig on the winding mountain roads.

How would they get to the National Park? the woman wanted to know.

I started giving her directions, and she said, Wait! Wait! Let me get the maps!

She ran to the truck and came back with two dreadful maps. General maps of California seldom show the small roads people must use to get around in the area where I work. One map was barely adequate, and I pointed out the tiny lines representing the roads they needed to follow.

I give the couple props for actually having maps and a general idea of how to use them. However, I don’t understand people who tow such big rigs on unfamiliar mountain roads with no plans for where to park for the night and only a vague idea of how to get where the want to go.

Once I’d give them ideas of where to camp and directions to where they wanted to go, the man asked if they could park and walk the trail. The overflow lot was mostly empty, so I said yes, but told him he’d have to back the trailer in between a sign and a log. He said I could help him back up so he wouldn’t hit the sign. Ummmm, no.

I said, She (indicating the Latino woman traveling with him) can help you back up.

He muttered something about her being too nervous, but after I collected the $5 parking fee, I busied myself with preparations for scrubbing pit toilets. I did not want the responsibility of telling the man how he should back up his shiny, new, unscratched, undented, mulit-thousand-dollar-probably-owed-to-the-bank recreational vehicle. Besides, he and his passenger lady needed to learn to work as a team.

I cleaned the back toilets first. When I returned to the front of the campground, the truck and 5th wheel were parked in the overflow area and the couple was gone, off to the trail, I suppose.

I scrubbed the front toilets, then positioned folding road work barricades in front of both doors, in hopes of keeping visitors out. I didn’t want anyone slipping on the wet floors, and I didn’t want anyone tracking dirt onto my clean floors.

I finished up my chores and climbed into the van to drive to my campground where I still had four pit toilets to scrub. As I approached the campground gate, I saw the couple of the 5th wheel approaching the obviously closed restrooms.

The man gestured to the barricade in front of the men’s restroom with a look on his face that clearly said, WTF?

I’m sorry, I called from my small side window, those restrooms are closed! The restrooms in the parking lot next door are open.

Or go use the one in your big shiny 5th wheel, I muttered under my breath.

Happy Campers

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My shift at the parking lot was almost over when the small and shiny Jeep SUV pulled in. I approached the vehicle and found white folks inside. There were only two of them, an older couple, both speaking with accents my lazy ear could only identify as “European.” They were asking about campgrounds, so I sent them next door to ask about availability there. They soon returned to the parking lot, asking if I were the camp host next door. I told them I wasn’t, explained I was the host at the campground two miles down the road. They said it looked as if all the sites next door were reserved but said they hadn’t seen the camp hosts to speak to them. I thought they wanted to camp next door so they could walk to the trail from their campsite, so I sent them back to talk to the camp hosts. I also told them to come to my campground if things didn’t work out for them next door. Every site in my campground was open.

I packed my chair, water bottle, and backpack, then walked down to the restrooms to restock toilet paper. It didn’t take me long, and I was soon on my way back to my campground.

When I pulled in, I saw the same small Jeep SUV already parked on site #6. After getting the van backed into my spot, I walked over to site #6 where the woman exclaimed, Now this is a campground!

The other campground was just too busy, she said. Too many people. She wasn’t happy with the yurts, either. Talking about them made her shudder, although she called them by some cute name I wish I could remember.

When I checked them in, I found out they were from Austria. They had so recently arrived in the U.S., they were still suffering from jet lag.

They asked me if the my campground was likely to stay quiet all night. They said they’d had experienced campgrounds where people were partying and loud. I told them I couldn’t guarantee people wouldn’t show up and be loud, but I said they could let me know if anyone bothered them, and I would put a stop to the disturbance.

Only one other vehicle pulled into the campground that evening. A young couple and a wolfy dog were in the white SUV. They were looking for a camping spot, they said, but is there anywhere that doesn’t cost $21? the young woman asked me after I’d run through the campground info. I told them about the nearest free campground and dispersed camping. They said they’d go check out the free campground and maybe come back, but they never did.

The campground was empty all night, save for me and the Austrians. I got into my van around 7pm and didn’t hear a noise outside until morning.

The next morning, the Austrian man approached the restrooms moments after I’d finished cleaning the first one.

How was your night? I asked. Did you enjoy the quiet?

The man stretched out his arms and declared, This is better than a five-star hotel!

He asked if he could use one of the restrooms. I pointed to the one I’d just finished, and said, That one’s clean.

He gestured to the one I hadn’t started on yet and said, That one’s spotless too.

A little before 9:30, as I’d suggested to them in order to beat the crowd at the trail, the Austrian couple left the campground. When I arrived at the parking lot at 10am, I saw their rental car parked near the front. It was after one o’clock when the couple emerged from the trail. They told me they’d enjoyed seeing the trees and thanked me for my advice to arrive early. They said they’d decided to stay another night at my campground.

When I got back to the campground, I found the Austrian couple eating a late lunch. I collected that night’s camping fee from them and got the man’s signature on the camping permit. When I returned to my van, I saw the free travel booklets my boss had dumped on me that day. The booklets contain information about the National Forest and a couple of National Parks. I knew the Austrians were headed to a National Park, so I thought the booklet might be useful to them.

I brought one over, saying I’m sorry to bother you again, then explaining I thought the information in the booklet might help them. They were quite grateful and the woman said, You are the best camp host we have ever had!

It’s nice to be appreciated, but it’s even nicer to know I’ve made my campers happy.

Kids Are People Too

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Do you remember the 80s TV show Kids Are People Too?

Mostly I remember the name. Other details of the program are fuzzy to me, but this is what I recalled before doing a Google search:

This is Bob McAllister, the goofy blond guy with the bad haircut I remember from the TV show Kids Are People Too. Image from  http://eddystar.proboards.com/thread/720/wonderama-1955-1977

The show played on Saturdays after the cartoons. It was not animated. There were one or more adult hosts, one of which was goofy blond guy with a bad haircut. (I may be confusing the hosts of this program with the hosts of That’s Incredible!) The show consisted of segments featuring the achievements of children.

After a Google search, this is what I learned from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_Are_People_Too:

Kids Are People Too is an American television series that ran on Sunday mornings from 1978 to 1982 on ABC. The series was a variety/news magazine show oriented towards kids with the intention of recognizing them as people…[1]  The series included celebrity interviews, cartoons, music, and other information that appealed to kids…[2]

Every week it would have a celebrity guest who the host would interview, occasionally a psychologist would speak about the challenges of growing up, and there would be comedy or musical routines.

The series attracted guests such as Bill Cosby, Debbie Harry, Billy Dee Williams, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith and Brooke Shields.

I think about this show (or at least its title) often in my role as a camp host.

When filling out the camping permit, there’s a box where I write in the number of people staying on the site. Each site is only meant to hold six people, but I can allow seven or eight people on a site if necessary.

When folks have made reservations, my daily arrival sheet tells me how many people to expect in the party, but that number is often inaccurate. Plans change, as do the number of people who make it to the campground.

And of course, when a group without a reservation arrives, I have no idea how many people are in it. (I’m not psychic!)

Every time I fill out a camping permit, I ask, How many people on the site?

I’m surprised when the person with whom I’m speaking says, X adults and X children.

Sometimes I bust right out with kids are people too! but I usually sigh and just think it to myself.

I know what’s going on. I know people without reservations are hoping their children will qualify for some type of discount. Unfortunately for these hopeful types, no. The camping fee is $21, whether there’s one person or six (or eight) on the site. The camping fee is $21, whether there’s one child on site or seven. (Marauding bands of unsupervised children have thus far stayed out of my campground.)

I also know there’s something bigger going on than just the desire to save money. If it were only about discounts, the people with reservations (prepaid and long past any discount window) would never differentiate between adults and children.

What’s going on is our society’s view of children as other. Adults are people and children are something else, not quite people.

I call bullshit.

I don’t have kids, and I’m not someone who would say I love kids any more than I would say I love old people. Some kids I like; some kids are asshats. Some old people I like, and some old people are asshats. I could say the same of teenagers, young adults, and the middle aged. I like people individually, not as a group, so I’m not defending children because I just love kids. I’m defending kids because they deserve to be defended.

Kids are people too. They’re not in some other category.

If you don’t quiet understand what I mean, think about how weird it would sound if I said, How many people on the site? and the answer was Two adults and two senior citizens. (In my campground, senior citizens with the proper card do get a discount, so it’s actually worthwhile for a group to declare its elderly.)

If the question asked is How many adults and how many children? by all means give two numbers. But if the question is How many people? the answer requires only one number since kids are people too.

 

How to Use a Pit Toilet

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This photo shows a pit toilet. Today I am going to tell you how to use one.

I shouldn’t have to explain to grown people how to use a pit toilet, but so many folks seem baffled when confronted with a toilet that doesn’t flush. Really, people, the process is the same, whether the toilet flushes or not. In the name of public service, today I will lay down instructions for pit toilet use.

#1 Knock before you enter. When did knocking on a closed door fall out of favor? People seem to either reach out and try to open a closed door or simply stand in front of a closed door waiting for someone to exit. (Sometimes no one is behind the door.) Has peeking under a stall to check for occupancy taken the place of knocking? Since pit toilets are totally enclosed, peeking won’t work. If you want to know if someone’s in there, you’re going to have to knock.

#2 Lock the door behind you. If you don’t, one of those people who opens doors without knocking is probably going to walk in on you.

#3 If you fail to lock the door behind you and someone opens the door while you’re taking care of business, try not to fly off the toilet in mid urine stream. Shrieking is permissible, but remember, it’s your own dang fault. You should have locked the door.

#4 Sit on the toilet. That’s right, sit. Sit all the way down,with both cheeks on the seat. It’s no dirtier than a city toilet. If you need to protect yourself from germs, bring disinfectant in with you and spray down the seat before you sit.

#5 If you must make a seat cover from toilet paper before you sit, deposit said seat cover into the toilet before you leave. You may not want your butt to touch the surface of the toilet seat, but the person who uses the toilet after you does not want to touch toilet paper your butt’s been on.

#6 By sitting (not perching, not hovering), your excretory openings should be pointing down, so your waste materials will fall (thanks, gravity!) and not end up splashed all over the inside walls (known as risers in the pit toilet business) of the toilet. The person who cleans the toilet will be grateful for your help in keeping the risers as clean as possible.

#7 Men, don’t spray urine everywhere. I don’t understand why men get urine on the floor and on the outside front of toilets. (I know this is not only a problem when pit toilets are involved.) My best advice to men: Pay attention to your aim.

#8 Toilet paper goes into the toilet, not on the floor.

#9 Trash (feminine hygiene leftovers, beer cans, whatever) goes in a trash can. Do not leave trash on the floor. Do not throw trash into the toilet.

#10 If you get some bodily discharge (blood, urine, feces, mucus, whatever) on the toilet or the floor, WIPE IT UP completely. No one else wants to touch it.

#11 Close the toilet’s lid after you stand up. Closing the lid keeps the stink in and bugs out. If you can’t bear to touch the lid with your hand, use your foot. Whatever way you’ve got to do it, CLOSE THE LID before you leave.

#12 If you are in a place with a pit toilet, there may not be running water. If hand washing is important to you (and it should be!) carry hand sanitizer or a jug of water and soap so you can scrub up after your visit to the pit toilet.

There are many situations in life when do unto others… applies. Pit toilet use is definitely one of those situations. Do your best to leave the restroom in a condition that wouldn’t make you gag if you walked in.

How Do They Work?

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It was dusk when the car pulled into the campground. It stopped near the information board, and I walked over to find out if the folks inside were looking for a camping spot. Three young women got out of the car. They seemed to be in their mid 20s.

I asked if they were looking for a campsite. They said they were.

I told them the price to camp ($20) and gave them the rundown on the campground’s lack of amenities: no water, no electricity, no hooks-ups of any kind. (I find it better to tell people right up front what we don’t offer so there’s no disappointment after the fee has been paid.)

After I said, No water, one of the women asked if the campground had restrooms. I told her there were pit toilets.

She asked, How do they work?

I was flabbergasted. I guess she’d never before encountered pit toilets, but don’t the phrases no water and pit toilet paint a pretty clear picture? Apparently not.

I hemmed and hawed and sputtered, unsure of how to answer in a polite and nongross manner. The question caught me completely by surprise. I realize now I should have said, There’s a hole with a plastic toilet over it. Waste material goes into the hole. When the hole gets full, the waste products are pumped out.

This is a pit toilet. It works thanks to gravity.

This is a pit toilet. It works thanks to gravity.

The next day when I saw my co-worker, I told him the story of the young woman who wanted to know how the pit toilet worked.  He provided me with a succinct, elegant answer: Gravity.