Tag Archives: map

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/.

 

 

Famous Trees

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I think they were Russian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah. They were lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh! That was rich! Famous trees!

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

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

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

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

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

This tree is not famous.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

If I Knew the Way…

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If I knew the way/ I would take you home

–from “Ripple” by Robert Hunter

I’ve been working in the parking lot since Memorial Day Weekend, and again and again tourists have asked me How do I get to…?

Usually they want to go to Babylon, or MegaBabylon, but sometimes it’s Northern Babylon and yesterday it was Babylon Springs. Sometimes a tourist just throws a number at me: How do I get to the 342? (or whatever).

When my co-worker is around, I let him field those questions. He’s lived in the area for years; he knows how to get places. But after he leaves for the day, the tourists are left with me and sketchy knowledge of geography.

The other day, a tourist (I think he was European) driving a big, rented RV asked me how to get to MegaBabylon. I said I was sorry, but I didn’t know. I told him I was new to the area, and didn’t know how to get from where we were to where he wanted to be. He looked at me as if looking at me long enough would cause the answer to pop into my brain. I suggested he look at his map. He told me he didn’t have a map.

Come on! Who comes from Europe (or Maine or Alabama or wherever) and rents an RV, but fails to pick up a map? Who takes a trip to the mountains without first getting directions home from Google  Maps or Yahoo Maps or MapQuest or one of the other internet sources of maps and driving directions? Obviously many tourists do.

People probably think they can get directions on the go, like they do in the city. Probably many of them don’t realize how far into the wilderness they are going, don’t realize they’ll be lacking constant internet and cell phone services. And since GPS devices are often wrong, even in the city, they can’t really count on those things either.

(Side note: The parking area is a one-way loop. Drivers pull in and are determined to go the wrong way because their GPS is telling them to go left, even though real live human people are gesturing–and sometimes shouting–that the car needs to stay to the right.)

Since I’ve been working at the parking lot, I’ve heard my co-worker give directions to Babylon and MegaBabylon enough that now I can more or less do it too. I also found a map in a free info guide for tourists which shows the area we are in and how to get out. I’m learning, but the company I work for gave me zero training in helping people get where they’re going. I wasn’t provided with a map to use to help people either. (My co-worker has a good map of the area. He got it from the Forest Service and paid $10 for it. No way am I forking out $10 for a map.)

The company seems to think my job entails nothing more than collecting $5 from each car that parks and then handing that money over to my supervisor.

The tourists, however, want more than that from me. They want me to get them home.