Tag Archives: customers

Space Aliens

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These space aliens have probably never in their whole lives been to a gas station before today.

I swear some of the people who come to the fuel center where I work must be space aliens. I constantly want to ask people if they’ve never in their whole lives been to a gas station before today. I’m not talking about 15 year old kids, either. I’m talking about grown-ass adults of middle age or older.

Many confused space aliens, (aka my customers) have no idea what pump they’ve parked at when they come to the kiosk to pay. It seems to me it’s basic gas station procedure to be able to tell the cashier what pump to authorize. I know some percentage of my customers are illiterate or don’t speak English as their first language, which accounts for some of the confusion. However, these situations don’t account for all the people who come up to my window (or make it part of the way there) then have to turn around and look for the number of their pump so they can tell it to me. Space aliens, I tell you!

How much money do you folks want to spend on gas? No idea? I figured as much.

Another thing people who seem to have never been to a gas station do is come up to my window with no idea how much money they plan to spend. Folks constantly come up, open their wallets, and start counting their money. Once they determine the amount of their funds, then they decide how much gas to buy. Don’t they realize they’re going to have to give me money in order to make their purchase? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to count the money and decide how much to spend before approaching the kiosk? Apparently space aliens don’t think that way.

Space aliens often don’t understand how our loyalty rewards work either. Folks are often mad at me when I check their reward balance and tell them they’re not getting any discount today. I shop here all the time! one man/extraterrestrial said in anger before he stomped away. I tried to explain he had to earn 100 points (which typically means spending $100, although there are ways—bringing reusable shopping bags to pack groceries in, completing surveys, buying girt cards—to bump up one’s points) to receive a reward of 10 cents off the regular price per gallon of fuel. He was gone before I could help him reach an understanding. 

Let’s go to a gas station and study human behavior.

Often customers don’t know they have to lift the pump’s nozzle before they can select the fuel grade. This is somewhat understandable because at the other gas station chain in town, prepay customers tell the cashier what grade of gasoline they want. However, even there, if one is paying at the pump, one lifts the nozzle, then hits the button for the fuel grade desired. If the procedure isn’t obvious (and believe me, it must not be) the screen on the pump gives step-by-step instructions for pumping fuel. Perhaps space aliens should up their game on reading comprehension of American English before they try to pump gas in the USA.

The strangest that-person-must-be-an-alien encounter I had at the fuel center involved an (apparent) elderly man who didn’t understand beef jerky.

There’s a big merchandiser in the middle of the fuel center. It looks like a cooler; maybe once it was a cooler, but now it holds nonperishable items. One side is all snacks: chips, nuts, cookies, crackers, popcorn, energy bars, and cereal in single serving cups. The other side holds automotive supplies (fuel injector cleaner, motor oil, windshield washer fluid, etc.); a few big bags of chips; and an array of beef jerky.

I’d been outside when the man/alien pulled in. I’d told him good morning, and he attempted to chit chat with me. (He was probably trying to study human behavior). It was early in the morning—I’d opened the fuel center at 5:45—so I wasn’t very talkative.  Sure, I was polite, but I kept the interaction to a minimum. I was tired and wanted to expend as little energy as possible.

I didn’t get away with my silence for long.

Your cooler’s not working, I heard the man/alien say. He was standing by the merchandiser that looks like a cooler but isn’t a cooler. He must have opened the door and not felt the gust of chilled air he expected.

It’s not a cooler, sir, I told him.

But there’s meat in there! he said frantically.

It’s jerky, sir, I told him.

How did he look in there and see meat but not realize it was jerky? The meat in the cooler/not a cooler was in bags hanging from hooks not in trays lying flat like in a grocery store meat department. Also, if he had really looked at the meat, he would have seen it was brown and dry, not red and moist like raw meat. If those clues didn’t lead him to understand this meat was not perishable, perhaps the word “jerky” on the packaging would have offered him the information he needed. Besides, what gas station sells raw meat as snack food?

 It’s meat! he insisted. He wasn’t wrong, but he was confused.

Jerky doesn’t have to be refrigerated, sir, I explained.

How does he not know that? I wondered. How could anyone over the age of 25 not know that jerky doesn’t need to be refrigerated?

The only answer I could come up with? Space alien!

I took all the photos in this post at the Alien Fresh Jerky store in Baker, CA.

Baguettes

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Six Baked BreadsThe couple was very young, maybe in their early 20s, but probably closer to 18.

The woman had dirty blond hair, the sides pulled away from her face. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, or if she was, it was so artfully done I couldn’t tell it was there. She looked like a cute, natural young woman out for a day in the forest.

The guy had blond hair too, but his was the result of an unfortunate dying incident. It was that unnatural orange color caused by trying to bleach dark hair too fast. But what do I know? Maybe he loved his hair color. Maybe he enjoyed the rebellion of an obviously unnatural hair color. Maybe his hair color was the envy of all his friends. In the grand scheme of things, his hair color meant very little to me.

The couple walked into the Mercantile, and I said hello. The young man returned my greeting, and I identified him by his accent immediately. With that one word, I knew his first language was French, although I couldn’t tell you if he had grown up in France or Belgium or Quebec.

If I had any doubt about his Frenchness, it was dispelled by his next words.

Ah, we were looking for some baguettes

I almost burst out laughing. The French guy wanted baguettes? Are you fucking with me, kid?

It was the second time that season that a French man had come into the Mercantile and behaved so Picture of Eiffel Towerstereotypically French that I wondered if someone was pulling a prank on me. The first guy has such a stereotypical French accent and such stereotypical French mannerisms that I honestly wondered if he was just pretending to be French. He seemed too over the top to be real. It was only when his parents joined him in the store and I saw they were French but not comically so that I decided the young guy was French…in fact, he was very, very French.

And now this young French man was asking for baguettes. Is there a more French thing a person could ask for?

Baguettes? No, I answered sadly, still trying not to laugh. We don’t have any baguettes. What I didn’t say is, We’re on top of a mountain, and there are no bakeries for 40 miles in any direction.

Is there any other store nearby? The young French man asked. He clearly was not easily discouraged.

I pointed right and said, There’s a general store ten miles that way, then I pointed left and said, and there’s a general store ten miles that way, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have baguettes either.

Ok, the young French man said. We look around for something else.

Apparently nothing in our selection of chips, candy, and granola bars could substitute for a baguette because the young people bought nothing. They walked quickly around the yurt, then left to continue their quest for the bread of their people.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/baguette-bakery-blur-bread-461060/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/picture-of-eiffel-tower-338515/.

You Are Here

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We sold maps at the Mercantile where I worked, but most people wanted to look at them without actually purchasing them. One of the maps we sold was produced by the Forest Service and between Memorial Day weekend when the Mercantile opened and the middle of July, the price went up from $12.99 to $20. The other map we sold was better, easier to read, and only cost $12.95. When we ran out of those and the store’s buyer couldn’t contact the publishing company, The Big Boss man ordered some form Amazon, and the price jumped to $20. Just like the law of supply and demand I’d learned about in my high school free enterprise class predicted, we were suddenly selling significantly fewer maps.

One Friday morning, a large extended family came into the Mercantile. A boy of about 14 asked to see a map. The other clerk pulled one out of the display case where we’d started keeping them to prevent theft (our computerized inventory said we had two more maps than were actually in the store, so we knew some had been stolen) and manhandling by people who had no intention of buying. The boy said he was looking for waterfalls, but I don’t know if he was able to locate any on the map.

Model Figure Standing on MapDoes this map say “You are here”? he asked and he unfolded it.

Well, no, I said. If it did, the words would have to keep moving around as you moved through the forest.

The kid looked at me blankly.

I tried again. Only a stationary map will say “You are here,” I told him, but he continued to look at me blankly. I wondered if he knew what “stationary” meant.

Only a map that doesn’t move can say “You are here,” I said, and not a glimmer of understanding flickered across the kid’s face.

I gave up. I was too busy trying to watch out for shoplifters  and helping people find sizes to explain that a paper map moving through time and space with a person has no way to update “You are here” to reflect where a person is at any given moment. With paper maps, explorers must figure out “You are here” on their own.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cartography-close-up-concept-408503/.

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/.

 

 

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/.

Whistleblowers

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The most annoying items sold at the Mercantile were whistles.

The first season the store was open, we sold a plastic device consisting of a whistle, compass, thermometer, and fold-out magnifying glass. The whole deal was on a clip so it could be snapped onto a backpack or zipper pull. We displayed these items in a small basket on a low shelf. Sometimes little kids picked one up and blew into the whistle. Usually when this happened, the kids’ parents didn’t want to buy the whistle, and who could blame them? If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want it further annoying me by tweeting on a whistle for hours a day. If one of the other store clerks or I could intercept the blown whistle before it was tossed back into the basket, we’d squirt it with some Windex, wipe it with a paper towel, and call it clean enough to sell.

Late in the first season, the Mercantile received whistles carved to look like bears, owl, eagles, hummingbirds, and blue jays. Made in China, hung on long cords to be worn around the neck, and brightly painted, kids loved these. The problem was, if a kid blew a whistle and the parents wouldn’t buy it, it was difficult to clean. Can mouth germs on wood be killed without damaging the wood? We tried to solve the whistle problem in the Mercantile’s second season by hanging them out of the reach of little kids.

We thought we’d solved the problem. Turns out medium-size kids, big kids, and even adults like to blow whistles they have no intention of buying.

Personally, I would never go into a store and blow on a whistle because yuck! How many people before me had the same idea and already put their mouths on the whistle? Germy!

If the other clerks or I saw someone messing with the whistles, we told them if they blew a whistle, they would have to purchase it. Sometimes we even used cute little slogans we made up like You blow it, you buy it or You try it, you buy it. Some people got very defensive and told us they had no intention of blowing the whistle. You’d be surprised how many people do blow them, we told the defensive customers.

I was surprised by how many parents didn’t think it was gross to put back a whistle their kid had put in its mouth. One dad picked out whistles for his kids who were both under seven years old. He handed the whistles to the kids and let them blow on them for several minutes. Then the kids saw the other whistles and decided they’d rather have bears than eagles.

Can we switch these? the dad asked me.

I had to tell him no. Your kids already had their mouths on them, I explained while he looked perplexed. He just didn’t see the problem with selling something that had been in the mouth of his child to someone else. I’m not even a germophobe, but yuck!

Adults blew the whistles too, then didn’t want to buy them. At best, they just blew air through the whistle, then assured me they didn’t put their mouth on it when I called them on their action.

Hello, I wanted to say. You just blew your germs into that whistle!

They must be like my five year-old childhood neighbor who got downright pissed at the suggestion she had germs. I do NOT have germs! she howled before running home to her mother. I wasn’t taunting her, just telling her the facts.

Some adults full-on wrapped their lips around the whistles and blew. The other clerk had it out with a grown man one morning while working alone. He blew a whistle and she told him he had to buy it since she couldn’t sell it to anyone else. The guy moaned and groaned and complained about how he didn’t understand why he had to buy it. My coworker stood her ground despite her pounding heart. Even the guy’s friend told him he needed to buy the whistle. Finally the guy did pay for it, but left none too happy.

One Saturday afternoon in early August of my second season in the Mercantile, I almost lost my mind over whistles.

It started when three little boys came into the store unsupervised. The oldest was maybe ten, the middle kid eight or nine, and the littlest boy probably six. I was working the register, so I said to the other clerk, Unsupervised children.

I know, she said, but she didn’t walk over to keep an eye on them.

I saw the boys were near the whistles, but I was busy with a customer, so I didn’t say anything to the boys. Then I heard it: the unmistakable tweet! of a whistle being blown.

You’re going to have to buy that whistle now that you’ve blown it, I called out, and everyone in the store went silent.

When I looked over, the big boy and the little boy had stepped away, leaving the middle boy standing alone holding an eagle whistle. He’d gone pale beneath his freckles.

I can’t sell it now that you’ve had your mouth on it, I told the boy sternly.

Can’t you wash it? the big boy pleaded.

No, I said. It’s wood.

At that point the big and little boy left their friend behind and walked out the Mercantile’s door.

I don’t have any money, the whistleblower said, then I’m really sorry.

I figured getting his parents would be fruitless. Anyone who’d send three little boys into a store alone probably wasn’t going to pony up for a whistle the kid had blown. Besides, the kid’s apology had softened my heart. I think the kid really was sorry, at least that he’d been caught, at least that he was in trouble.

I held out my hand for the whistle, which the boy handed over. I accept your apology, I said, but next time you go into a store, you better think about where you put your mouth.

I thought surely I was done with the whistle drama for the day, but there was a little bit more right before I closed the store. The other clerk had gone home, so I had to deal with the drama alone.

The family came in about 15 minutes before closing time. Judging from the way the women were dress, I was confident they were Muslim. In addition to a mom and dad who were probably in their early 30s, a girl who was maybe nine, and a boy who was probably 12, the man pushed an old woman in a wheelchair.

The family stopped by the wooden whistles, and I thought I heard a tweet. I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t say anything. The family made their way slowly through the entire store before the man came up to the counter to make the purchase. He had a whistle in his small pile, so if someone in the party had blown it, at least he was buying it.

I thought the family would leave once the purchase was made, but no. All but the young boy went back to the whistle display. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking to each other, so I figured they’d decided the family needed more whistles.

The younger woman took two whistles from their hooks, put her mouth on the business end of one, and blew. Tweet! She handed the whistle to her young daughter who followed her mother’s example. Tweet! The girl handed the whistle back to her mother who blew into the second whistle. Tweet! She handed the whistle to the girl who also blew it. Tweet!

The family was delighted by the mother/daughter whistle duo. I could see the delight on their faces. Mom was delighted. Daughter was delighted. Dad was delighted. Grandma sitting in her wheelchair was delighted. (The young boy was nowhere near the whistle fest, so I didn’t see his face, but maybe I would have seen embarrassment there instead of delight.)

I would have been delighted too, if they had brought the two whistles (each priced at $8.95) to the register for purchase. Instead any potential for delight I felt turned to chagrin when I saw Mom hand the whistles to Dad and Dad reach to rehang them on their hooks.

I’m sorry, I called out. I can’t sell those after you’ve had them in your mouths. I held out my hand so Dad could give them to me.

Every member of the family (except the boy, who I still couldn’t see) looked confused. Why can’t she sell the whistles now? their faces seemed to ask.

I just hoped they wouldn’t think I was being weird because they were Muslim. Of course, I would have reacted the same way if they were white or Latinx, African American or Asian, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist. The problem was not where they were from or the religion they practiced. The problem was that they were human, and humans got germs!

The next day, the other clerk and I decided the only solution was to put the whistles in the glass display gas with the knives, the hand sanitizer, and the Claritin. If even adults can’t resist blowing into a whistle they haven’t yet purchased, our only choice was to keep the enticing toys under lock and key.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/whistle-attention-warning-referee-2475470/.

 

 

Do You Know the Way to San José?

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be a sign there?  he asked me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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