Tag Archives: campers

Full Truck

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I was about to close the Mercantile for the day when two men walked in.

They wanted to buy a map one said, but they balked when I told them the only one available cost $20. They just wanted to find a swimming hole or a creek. Their campground didn’t have water, and they just wanted to wash up. They gestured to their arms, as if they just wanted to splash some water on themselves.

I said they should go to the river, but they said 15 miles was too far away. They wanted me to tell them about a swimming hole or a creek nearby. I’m not much of a fan of putting my body in cold water, so I don’t seek out creeks or swimming holes. I knew about a waterfall about five miles away, but it wasn’t visible from the road, and it wasn’t signed, so I didn’t tell people about it unless they were enthusiastic, insistent seekers. I’d also heard of a swimming hole within a few miles of where we stood, but I hadn’t been there myself and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. The last thing I wanted to do was send these guys on a wild goose chase.

Because there were just the two of them and because they seemed to want to just splash some water on themselves, I told them about the creek on the far side of the campground where the Mercantile was located. The descent to the water was pretty steep and the water wasn’t  very deep, but I figured it would be better than nothing. I told the guys about the creek; they thanked me and walked out the front door.

I walked out the back door to give a heads up to Javier the camp host who was chopping firewood right across the street. I explained to Javier what the guys wanted and told him I’d sent them to the creek on the side of the campground. Javier was usually easy-going and receptive, but he had a whole list of objections to the guys going to the creek. He wouldn’t get in that water, he said, because of E. coli (from cows, I presume). He had people on site #4, he said, and the people who were looking for water shouldn’t be walking through anyone’s campsite. Well, I knew that. I’d told the guys not to walk through anyone’s campsite. Javier said Sandra, his partner in life and camp hosting, would talk to the guys and handle it.

I went back into the Mercantile wondering why Javier was being so weird and saw it was five o’clock. Time to close the doors! I walked out the front door to flip the sign around so it would read “closed” and hang the chain across the entrance to the long ramp leading to the store.

When I got outside, I saw the two men who’d been looking for the creek or swimming hole standing next to an extended cab pickup truck. There were more people in the pickup truck than I would have thought possible were I not seeing it with my own eyes. The two rows of seats inside the truck were full, and there were easily more than a dozen people sitting in the bed and along its sides. No wonder they didn’t want to go 15 miles to the river. Driving one mile with some many people in the back was probably unsafe.

I stretched the chain across the entrance and flipped the sign, then walked into the Mercantile and locked the door behind me. I walked through the store and out the back door to apologize to Javier.

I thought there were only two of them, I told him. I would have never knowingly sent that many people traipsing through his campground to splash in the creek.

Javier just shrugged. He wasn’t upset especially since Sandra had intercepted them and was giving them other ideas of where they could find some water to wash up.

I wonder where they ended up going.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Turf War (Part 2)

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Lighted Bonfire PhotographyBonus blog day! Yesterday’s post ended up being quite long, so I decided to break it into two parts. Today you can read about what happened when three sets of people wanted to use one group campground and I was unsure as to who actually had the reservation.

I walked over to the other group trying to use the campground. A mildly distressed looking woman sat in a camp chair holding an infant.   A couple of little kids were milling about. A man approached me, and I suspected he was the man I’d been warned about. He was in his late 30s and had a big red beard and wore a ball cap.

I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Samson. I explained there was some confusion about who had reserved the campground. I indicated the people who were packing up and said we’d determined they didn’t have a reservation, and they were leaving. I explained another woman said her group had reserved the campground, and I was trying to help determine who was supposed to be there.

Now who are you? Samson asked me. I could tell he was trying very hard to stay polite but was beyond frustrated.

It was a fair question. I’d taken off my uniform and was wearing a tattered tie-dyed t-shirt and a colorful batik skirt. I looked like any other middle age hippie in the woods.

I explained to Samson that I worked for the company that managed the campground, and while I wasn’t the camp host, I lived in the campground and was trying to help figure out who actually had a reservation. Samson relaxed a little when he realized I was trying to help, probably because he was confident in his claim on the campground and assumed I’d be kicking out everyone else and allowing him to stay.

He said his brother made the reservation. I called over the young woman with the long dark hair, but she and Samson didn’t know each other. The young woman said her group’s reservation was under the name Gloria Lang. That was not a name Samson recognized. I went over to see what name was on the reservation card clipped to the pole, but the camp host had forgotten to hang a card. It didn’t look like I’d be able to solve this mystery unless I left the campground. I explained to both parties that I’d drive down to the other campground and speak to the camp hosts. Both Samson and the young woman seemed to appreciate my offer to help.

Javier and Sandra, the camp hosts, were surprised to see me when I arrived at their campground. I explained what was going on, and Sandra pulled out an arrival report and determined the reservation had been made by Gloria Lang. Mystery solved!

We decided we should tell Samson where he needed to go to meet his brother, so Javier made a list of all the folks scheduled to arrive in his campground that day. Then he called The Big Boss Man and let him know the situation and also got a list of reservations for all the other group sites on our side of the mountain.

Javier hopped into my van, and I drove us down to the group campground. When we arrived, I saw the big group who wanted to camp for free had left. More people in the Lang party had arrived, and Samson’s family was holding steady on the end of the campground they’d staked out. Javier hopped out of my van to talk to Samson, and I walked over to talk to the Lang party. I told those folks the reservation was indeed in their friend’s name and that Javier was explaining things to the other group.

I thought it would take about two minutes for Javier to explain what was going on and for Samson and his family to start packing up, but two minutes stretched into five and then ten. Finally Javier walked over to me and said Samson didn’t want to move and was insisting that he and Javier go to the Mercantile and call The Big Boss Man together.

Good luck! I told Javier, and I drove my van over to my camp. The Lang party turned on their electronic dance Tents Surrounded by Treesmusic and began unpacking.

The next morning I asked Javier what had happened when he left with Samson, and I got the full scoop.

It turned out that it wasn’t Samson’s brother who’d make the reservation but Samson’s brother’s girlfriend. Samson didn’t know his brother’s girlfriend’s last name, so even if there had been a reservation card clipped to the pole he wouldn’t have necessarily known he was in the wrong place. Samson also repeatedly played the we have a six-month-old baby card as a reason they shouldn’t have to move.

Samson talked to The Big Boss Man, but they couldn’t figure out if his brother was waiting for him in a pay campground or in some boondocking area. Samson continued to insist that he wanted to stay right where he was. The Big Boss Man told him the same thing Javier had been saying: since Gloria Lang was paying $136 a night for the campground, it was up to her who stayed there. Neither Javier nor our boss could force the Lang party to let Samson and his family stay. Also, there was no way for The Big Boss Man to help Samson find his brother if Samson didn’t know what name the reservation was under.

When the conversation with The Big Boss man was over, Javier suggested Samson talk to the Lang party and ask to stay in the campground with them for one night. He suggested Samson mention that it was getting dark and mention the baby in hopes that the Lang party would have pity and let the family stay. Then in the morning he could search for his brother. Samson insisted Javier go back to the group campground with him and use his position as camp host to influence the Lang party.

They got to the campground and the situation was explained to Samson’s wife. When she found out Gloria Lang had the legitimate reservation, she said no way were they staying where they weren’t wanted. It probably didn’t help that while Samson was away the mosquitoes had come out and were eating her and the kids alive.

Samson asked Javier where they should go. Javier told him about three boondocking areas he knew of.

Samson wanted to know what they would do if there were already people on a boondocking spot when they arrived. Javier told him that’s why he’d told Samson about three different places.

Samson asked Javier to ride with them and help them find a boondocking spot. Javier said no.

Then Samson asked Javier to help him take down the tent and pack their gear.

Look man, Javier told me he said, I’ve been working all day. I just want to go home and eat dinner. No, I’m not helping you take down your tent and pack your gear.

I believe it was then that Samson refused to give Javier a ride back to his campground as he’d previously promised to do. Javier didn’t want to bother me (although I would have happily given him a ride), so he hoofed it home.

I didn’t know any of these details when near dark I saw Samson’s jeep pulling his cargo trailer head up the road and out of the campground. All I knew was that the interlopers were gone, and the Lang party and I had the campground to ourselves.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/lighted-bonfire-photography-1434598/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/tents-surrounded-by-trees-1309584/.

Turf War (Part 1)

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Independence Day had been on Wednesday and was pretty low-key. I’d gone into work for a couple of hours at midday to help out, even though it was officially my day off. The Mercantile had been pretty much dead while I was there, but over the course of the day managed to do respectable sales.

I had the whole day off on the 5th of July, then was back to work on Friday the 6th. It was a hot day with only a little breeze, and problems with the Mercantile’s power supply kept the swamp cooler off. My thick shirt and the apron on top did nothing to help the situation, and a couple of times during the day I stood next to my van and poured water over my head and neck in hopes of cooling myself off.

Ushering out the last customers and locking the Mercantile’s door at five o’clock was a joy. I couldn’t wait to change my clothes and have some quiet time.

Black Bird on Brown GrassI was staying at the group campground now, and there had been no campers for a week. I’d only seen birds out there—an enormous robin, a pair of quail, two talkative brown birds I couldn’t identify, a brilliant red-throated humming bird that hovered next to the van’s side mirror before flitting away—and I’d been enjoying the solitude. The camp host who lived half a mile down the road but cared for the group campground reminded me that my home turf was reserved for the weekend; the campers would arrive sometime on Friday and depart by Sunday afternoon.

If anyone bothers you, Sandra the camp host told me, tell them I’ll be around tomorrow to check them in.

The group campground was full of activity when I arrived. At least five vehicles and a cargo trailer were parked at the far end, and probably a dozen people were bustling around, unpacking cars and setting up tents.

I parked my van at my camp and decided I would read for a while before I cooked dinner. I changed out of my uniform and into cooler clothes, then sat outside in the shade with my back to the camper commotion.

I hadn’t even read a page when a pickup truck stopped on the road next to my campsite. The driver was a young woman with long dark hair and glasses. Excuse me, she said.

Here we go, I thought.

It boiled down to this: The young woman was the first of her group to arrive. Her group had reserved the campground. The reservation was in her brother’s girlfriend’s name, but she didn’t know any of the people who were already in the campground setting up.

Oh, that *was* a problem.

I explained to the young woman that I wasn’t the camp host but did work for the company that managed the campground. I offered to talk to the other campers and try to sort out who they were and where they belonged. She seemed grateful for my offer, and we walked over to where people where setting up camp.

The oldest person in the group was the closest as I approached. He was probably in his late 50s and had completely grey hair cut short. He was thickly built and wore long shorts and a tank top.

Excuse me, I said to this man who appeared to be the patriarch. Do you have a reservation?

No, he didn’t have a reservation. This was a free area, open to everyone, he told me with complete conviction. He Six Camping Tents in Forestdidn’t have a reservation, and he didn’t need one is basically what he said. I don’t know where this man had come from, but he seemed very East Coast to me. He was quite sure of himself, but he was oh so wrong.

It was one of my finest moments. I very calmly and patiently explained to him that we were in a group campground that cost $136 per night to rent and had been reserved by another group.

The fellow dropped his bravado. I think he knew he had no claim to the campground, or maybe it was the mention of the $136 per night fee that did him in.

He did try to tell me that a camp host had told them they could camp in the group campground for free. I think we both knew that was a lie we could generously call a misunderstanding. I knew no camp host would tell people they could stay in a fee area for free.

Are y’all looking for free camping? I asked the man with the grey hair.

We want any camping, a younger guy who’d been listening to our conversation piped in.

I gave them a general idea of where they could find primitive camping (there will be no restroom and no picnic tables, I explained to them, and you’ll need a fire permit to have a campfire), and I could tell the men had accepted the fact that they’d have to leave.

Watch out for that guy over there, the many with grey hair warned me. One of our kids ran through his camp and he yelled at her, he said.

Wait. What? I asked. Those people over there aren’t a part of your group?

Nope. Those people weren’t part of the grey-haired man’s group. That’s when I realized not two but three groups were trying to lay claim to the group campground. What a headache!

As I walked away from the man with grey hair, I heard him and the younger guy telling the rest of their party that they had to pack everything and move. I also heard someone say, He told us to go three mile, but we only went half a mile. I didn’t realize what that meant until later when Javier the camp host down the road told me he’d told the grey-haired man to go three miles and turn down the road on the left to find free camping. Obviously the group had only gone half a mile down the road, turned left into the clearly marked group campground, and convinced themselves they could camp there for free.

This story turned out to be a long one, so I decided to make a two-parter. Don’t worry, I’ll only make you wait until tomorrow to find out what happened when three sets of people all wanted to stay in one group campground.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-bird-on-brown-grass-1309237/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.

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/.

Nearest Bar

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It was around eight o’clock on a Saturday morning. I was performing some camp host duties to help out. The folks on site #1 hadn’t gotten checked in the night before, so I was walking over to have them sign their permit.

A slow-moving car approached me from behind. The only other people on the far side of the campground were the young folks who had sites #6 and #7. One of the young women in the group had come over while I was cooking breakfast to ask me now far the campground was from a body of water. Not much later I heard a car leave site #6. I thought they’d taken off for a day on the river, but now I heard a car behind me that could only belong to part of that group. I figured some of the young folks had gotten a late start and were just leaving now.

When the car pulled up next to me, it stopped.

Excuse me, a feminine voice said, and I turned to look.

Two young women were in the car. Both were looking at me expectantly.

Do you know where’s the nearest bar? the driver asked me

I was stunned. I involuntarily glanced at my watch. It was well before 8:30. I try not to judge, but I’m pretty sure anyone inquiring about the location of a bar before noon while on a camping trip has a problem.

The nearest bar? I echoed slowly.

It turned out these gals did have a problem.

Their friends had left with all the food. These young women thought the friends had gone to a bar to watch a soccer game, since that’s what the friends had done the day before. I suppose these young women wanted to track down the friends and get ingredients for breakfast.

I told them about the small community 15 miles away. There’s a restaurant, bar, and general store there, I said, but added it wasn’t much of a soccer kind of place. It’s under new ownership, I remembered aloud. Maybe they’ll have the soccer game on.

I told them about the larger (although by no means large) town 35 miles away. There’s a brewery there, I told them. Maybe the soccer game will be on there. It was only later that I wondered if the brewery would open at eight on a Saturday morning so customers could watch soccer on television. I suspect a brewery doesn’t serve breakfast and would normally open around 11am for lunch.

Where should we go? the driver asked me.

I didn’t know how to help. I certainly didn’t know where their friends had gone. I ended up suggesting they go to the closer place first. At least they could get breakfast there, The Big Boss Man said later when I related to story to him.

I assume the friends found each other. I was at work at the Mercantile all day, then headed down the mountain to get gasoline and propane and a giant ice cream cone. It was dark when I got back to the campground. People were in the tent on site #7, and they didn’t run over to tell me their friends were missing, so I figured everything must have worked out ok.

(The people in the tent didn’t realize their voices carried in the forest. We’re drunk and you’re high! I heard a feminine voice exclaim clearly. Soon another feminine voice was relating the story of the time she got roofied.  Oh Lord! I thought. They’re going to be up all night, but thankfully they piped down shortly after 10pm.)

There are lessons to be learned from this tale.

#1 Don’t pack all the food in one vehicle.

#2 If all the food is in one vehicle, don’t drive that vehicle out of the campground while your friends are sleeping.

#3 Communicate with friends before bedtime about who’s leaving the next morning, where they’re going, when they’re leaving, and what time they’ll be back.

#4 For goodness sake, don’t schedule a camping trip for the weekend of the most important soccer tournament of the year.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sport-game-football-the-ball-52504/.

I Just Wanted to Connect

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My least favorite part of being a camp host was the lack of privacy. Unless I was in my van with the curtains closed, I felt as if I were on display in a department store window. The worst times were when I was on my day off and in the campground. Even if I wasn’t wearing my uniform, even if I had up a sign that read “Camp Host Off Duty,” people in the campground sniffed me out.

One day off, I got back from exploring early in the afternoon. I pulled into my site and sat in the van fiddling with my phone. A woman marched up to my open door and demanded to know if I was the camp host. My answer that I was the camp host on my day off seemed not to deter her in the least; she let go with a whole list of questions.

The campground where I was the host is in a remote location, so I understand that when visitors see somebody–anybody–it’s in their best interest to start asking all their questions. If the woman hadn’t asked me, she might not have had a chance to ask anyone. I honestly didn’t mind answering her questions, even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it. However, when she launched into a tirade about the poor condition of the road into the campground, I was done. I was not interested in discussing the condition of the road. I was not interested in hearing her complain about something I had no control over. I was simply not interested. As politely as possible, I conveyed my lack of interest, and the woman finally went away.

Another day I didn’t leave the campground on my day off. I was wearing my bright pink housedress and doing housekeeping on my campsite. Some campers had come in the day before, but becasue I’d been off that day too, I hadn’t spoken to them. I looked up from whatever I was doing and saw the woman camper walking purposely over to my site.

She asked if I was the camp host, and I said yes, I was the camp host on my day off. She didn’t even have any questions for me, but she didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t getting paid to talk to her. I just wanted to connect, she said. Apparently it didn’t occur to her that maybe I didn’t want to connect, that maybe on my day off I was enjoying my solitude.

When she said she wanted to connect, she actually meant she wanted to talk about herself. She started in on a monologue about being a textile artist and the book she had written. She didn’t seem very interested in who I might be when I was not busy hosting a campground. I tried to be stay polite, but I was relieved when she finally wandered away.

Am I a bad person because I don’t want to connect with every person I meet? Sometimes I just want to be alone.

I took this post’s photo.

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. Houses in Farm Against Cloudy Sky

(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.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/houses-in-farm-against-cloudy-sky-248880/.

 

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.