Tag Archives: mercantile

Patience is a Virtue

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I was alone in the mercantile when the couple came in.

While they were obviously older than I was—both the man and the woman had totally white hair—neither of them could be described as elderly or frail. Neither seemed feeble or weak. In fact, they both seemed fit and outdoorsy, just two people in their 60s who’d finished walking the trail and enjoying the trees.

When they came through the door, I gave them one of my standard greetings: How y’all doin’? or How’d y’all like those trees?

The man greeted me in such a normal fashion, I’ve forgotten what he said. Then he walked fully into the store and started looking at the merchandise.

The woman, however, stopped in front of the counter I was standing behind. She looked at me and said, Excuse me.

I waited for a question to follow, but none did. Nothing followed. The woman stood there holding a small cluster of needles from an evergreen tree. She looked at me with a strange little smile on her face, but she said nothing else.

I felt uncomfortable about the entire interaction. Had the woman said, Excuse me because something I’d said had offended her? She didn’t seem upset, and she was smiling. Had she done something to make her feel she should excuse herself? I hadn’t heard her burp or fart, and there’d been nothing for her to bump into. Why was she standing there, looking at me and grinning like the Mona Lisa?

In reality, she only stood and looked at me for a few seconds before she moved to the man’s side, but her scrutiny seemed much longer to me.

After giving the couple a few minutes to browse in peace, I asked them, Where are y’all visiting from?

(Side note: If any of my more grammatically gifted writer friends know a better construction for that question, please enlighten me. It’s been bugging me for years.)

The man named some town I didn’t know. He said his brother-in-law had suggested they visit the national forest  and see the giant sequoias. We agreed the brother-in-law had given them a pretty good tip, and I let them go back to their browsing.

About that time, the woman told the man they really needed to get on the road.

He gently told her they had plenty of time, and he wanted to do some shopping.

I want to go home, she told him.

I need to go home! she said more urgently.

The man told her again, patiently, that they had plenty of time and they would head home after they’d done some shopping. She told him a few more times that she wanted, needed to go home, but he stayed calm and distracted her by asking what souvenirs she thought different people might like.

As they moved from the display of coffee mugs the woman began complaining about the hat she was wearing. It was too heavy for her head, she said. It hurt! She indicated they should leave it behind. I’d noticed the hat when she walked in. It looked expensive and well-made, something a serious hiker or birder might use to shade his/her head. Would she really ditch it in my store?

Honey, the man said sweetly, that’s my hat.

As they moved through the store, I heard the woman repeatedly ask the man if he wanted the evergreen needles she was carrying. Each time he said, No. You can leave them outside, as if he’d never heard the question before. He never sounded irritated.

I started piecing together a story about the man and woman, and although some of my details may be wrong, I think I got the main idea.

The man and the woman were a couple, as in marriage.  Even if they weren’t actually married, that’s the sort of relationship they had. The woman was suffering from dementia or short term memory loss, maybe from a brain injury or a stroke or Alzheimer’s. In any case, the man was caring for her lovingly, patiently, gently.

As the couple placed their souvenirs on the counter for purchase, the woman placed a water bottle we do not sell in front of me.

Do we want to get this too? she asked the man.

Honey, that’s our water bottle, he said calmly.

I’ve thought about those people long after they left the store.

I want to emulate the man’s patience and calmness in the face of his partner’s short term memory loss. I get so irritated when The Man asks me the same question for the third time, even though I want to meet him with love and compassion. I want to follow the stranger’s example and simply answer the question again, not get caught up in the anger of he doesn’t even listen to me! Maybe he does listen, maybe the lady listens too, but their brains can no longer process the information into memory.

Let this be my prayer for patience, compassion, the ability to answer a question calmly and with love the fifth, the tenth, the twenty-fifth, the one hundredth and forty-second time it’s asked.

Dudes

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It was a hot day, and I was alone in the mercantile when the dudes walked in.

There were eight or nine of them, all probably in their mid to late 30s. The oldest guy had a craggy face and was either bald or had very short hair under his ball cap. As soon as he walked in, he said, I heard you give away really cool stickers here.

I wanted to say, We don’t give away anything cool here, but I held my tongue.

Instead I said, We’re out of stickers because I thought we were, but then I remembered the generic design we still had. Well, we do have these, I said while walking over to a display in the back of the yurt. The man followed me, but barely looked at the stickers. I don’t think he had any interest in stickers he had to pay for, and I don’t think he really believed there were free stickers for the taking.

The dudes milled around for a few minutes, then filed out of the yurt. One more came in to pay for his access pass. When he left the mercantile, he hollered at the other dudes to pay for parking, so they all filed back in.

One guy put a pint glass on the counter so he could pay for it along with his day pass.

The older guy said, I heard you get a free beer when you buy one of these pint glasses.

The mercantile doesn’t sell beer, but even if it did, I doubt people would get a free one with pint glass purchase. The dude many have thought he was just being funny, but it felt more like he was fucking with the sales clerk to me.

Yeah, I said with an absolutely straight face. Bring it to the bar down the road and let them know you’re there for your free beer.

The man smirked, and one of his dude friends still standing in line said, Really? I think he was about to snatch up a pint glass of his own.

I guess I’d sounded even more serious than I thought I had.

No, I said sadly, not really.

Love that deadpan humor, the dude paying for the pint glass said about me.

Two more dudes paid for access passes, then they all went away.

Dog Water

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One of my coworkers at the mercantile is exceedingly nice. She answers every question in great detail and baby talks to every infant who enters the store. She also really loves dogs.

On one of the first days the mercantile was open, a tourist came in with a little pug dog on a leash. The little dog had just walked the trail with the tourist and was obviously hot and tired. My uber-nice coworker began exclaiming over the cuteness of the little dog and sweet talking to it. She somehow determined the dog was thirsty, which was maybe obvious by the way he was panting and dragging his tired little doggie ass.

I don’t know if the tourist said he didn’t have a bowl and/or water to give the doggie a drink, or if my coworker thought the dog needed water right now, but watering the dog became a situation. The coworker pulled a blue enamel mixing bowl from the camping supplies shelf and filled it with water from the gallon jug we workers had been using to fill our bottles.

The dog lapped up the water greedily, and the tourist seemed appreciative, but as far as I was concerned, the coworker had gone above and beyond her line of duty. It was nice of her to help a person unprepared to provide water for his dog, but I‘m sure it was the thirsty little critter she cared most about.

The coworker paid for the blue enamel mixing bowl, ant it became the official dog water bowl. Every day she comes into the mercantile, the coworker fills the bowl with water she brings from home. She even made a sign that says “Water for your dog.” The sign has a picture of her own dog on it. She sets the sign on a small easel and places it near the bowl.

It was hot one afternoon when a tourist came into the mercantile asking about water. One of us explained we hadn’t yet received the permit to sell food and beverages, so we had no water for purchase.

Where do you get the water for the dog bowl? the tourist demanded.

I fill it from my own personal bottle, the coworker told him while holding up her water jug.

Do you have any that’s cooler? the tourist asked. The water out there is really hot, and my dog’s spoiled. He wants cooler water.

I thought surely the man was joking, but the coworker dutifully trotted outside with her jug so she could put cooler water in the bowl. Presumably there was a pampered poach out there who appreciated her dedication to dogs while lapping up the cooler water.

I was surprised by the man’s nerve (although by now, nothing should surprise me). I believe if someone does a kindness—like putting water out for dogs—people should appreciate what’s offered, not ask for an upgrade. Also, if I had a prissy dog who wouldn’t drink warm water, I’d have enough water in the cooler to take care of all humans in my party and the prissy dog too. Mostly, I’m of the mind that any creature thirsty enough will drink the water provided, even if it’s warm.

Fire on the Mountain (Reprise)

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Our employee appreciation pizza party was supposed to be yesterday. The Man and I scheduled our whole day around it. I sure was excited to stuff myself with delicious pizza.

We were at the public library when I got the call. The Man had gone inside to print insurance documents, and I’d stayed in the van in the blistering heat with the dog. The Man had been having trouble completing his task and had come to ask me for help when my phone rang.

It was The Big Boss Man calling to tell us the pizza party had been postponed, There was a fire on the mountain. The road to Babylon on that side of the mountain was closed, and three of the campgrounds run by the company I work for had been evacuated and shut down. We’d have to eat pizza another day.

Almost exactly the same thing happened last year. A fire started on the mountain and one of the two roads to Babylon had been closed. I’d gotten the call saying the party had been postpones while I was still in town. As The Lady of the House said, what are the chances a fire would postpone our pizza party two years in a row?

Since we wouldn’t be eating pizza, we bought our groceries as quickly as we could so we could get out of the heat. The drive up was a little tense because we didn’t know what we would find at the top.

As The Big Boss Man had warned me, the main road leading to the entrance to our campground was closed. The exit lane was left open, but the entrance lane was barricaded and had a large “road closed” sign in front. No one was guarding the road, so it was easy enough to swing the van around the barricades.

We went right to the mercantile to call The Big Boss Man for an update, but we found him driving through the campground. He pulled his truck near our van, and we talked for a while.

The fire is big and threatening homes (some seasonal, some year-round) and property, so there are many firefighters trying to control it. Our campground, the trail, and the campground where the mercantile is located are not officially closed, but the the authorities want to discourage extra people from being up here, hence the roadblock. The reservation service has cancelled all reservations for Labor Day weekend at all of the Forest Service campgrounds on the mountain. The company I work for will lose all the revenue, as well as all the revenue the mercantile and parking lot would have brought in.

Where does this leave us?

The Man was supposed to work in the parking lot today, but since no one is likely to cross the barricade to visit the trees, he’s not needed there. The Big Boss Man said he could scrape and paint picnic tables, as he’d been planning to do some point later in the season.

The Mercantile is closed, so I’m not working there today. The Big Boss Man said I could help paint picnic tables, but I’d rather have another day off. However, I can’t afford to not get paid for too many days. I’ll have to find something to do tomorrow or the next day, but I don’t know how The Big Boss Man can possibly keep me, The Man, and three other camp hosts (if and when they come back up) busy if there are no tourists.

I don’t feel as if we are in any danger. Unlike during the fire time last year, we haven’t been warned an evacuation may be coming. Ash is not falling from the sky onto the campground. (Ash is reportedly falling from the  sky in the campground where The Big Boss Man stays, twelve miles up the road.) Last night the light looked normal, but this morning it had the weird yellow cast I learned last year means a fire is nearby.

It’s a waiting game now. Will there be any work for us? Should we stay or should we go? If we go, where? The story will contine to unfold in the next few days. For now, I’m taking the day off, sitting at the mercantile and scheduling blog posts while The Man paints tables.

If you pray or light candles or send good vibes, please put in a word for the firefighters, the people and animals whose homes are in danger, the campers who won’t get to come up here for their Labor Day weekend, and for me and The Man, who need to work and would like to eat free pizza soon.

Humor

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Humor is an interesting phenomenon. What’s amusing to one person might not be funny to someone else. My humor tends to be deadpan, so people often think I’m entirely serious when I’m actually joking. Oh how I love the people—The Lady of the House, Madame C, Nolagirl—who bust out laughing when I’m not even trying to be funny. To be thought hilarious is to be known and understood.

My humor fell short recently.

In the mercantile where I work, we sell a lot of souvenirs. What most everyone wants is a souvenir sporting the name of the trail they just visited. They don’t want something stamped with a vague “California” or “National Forest.” They want their very specific destination emblazoned on hats, shirts, mugs, shot glasses, magnets, and Christmas tree ornaments—especially Christmas tree ornaments.

Several times customers have looked at Christmas tree ornaments and expressed dissatisfaction because the name of the trail is not on the ornament. A couple of times I’ve joked, Just get a Sharpie and add the name on there! People have reacted with more or less (usually less) amusement.

The other day I made the suggestion to a complaining lady looking at an ornament, then added, If I had a black Sharpie in my pocket, I’d do it for you, but I only have an orange one.

Not only did the lady not smile, but The Man started elbowing me in the back. I guess I didn’t sound as funny as I thought I did.

Actually, for a joke,  I don’t think it’s a bad suggestion. Why not just make an ornament (or any souvenir) say what it needs to say in order to jog the memory of a wonderful trip? Having a souvenir labeled in a factory doesn’t make a memory any more valid.

Later that same day, The Big Boss Man was hanging out with us in the store, and he mentioned people not always understanding his sense of humor. I said, Me too! In fact today, and I told him the story of the lady and the ornament. The Big Boss Man cracked a smile and chuckled, I swear he did!

When I got to the part about The Man elbowing me, I said, I told him I was joking!

The Man interjected, It wasn’t funny! No one was laughing!

I thought it was hilarious,  I maintained.

I guess I was the only one.

I Just Got Here

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The day had been frustrating. The cash register computer wasn’t working, and we’d had to write information about each item purchased on a paper receipt and do all the math with a calculator. It was hot, and I was tired and looking forward to shutting and locking the doors to the mercantile very soon. That’s when the old lady walked in.

She had totally white hair, but it wasn’t styled in some old lady way. It fell straight to several inches above her shoulders, and she had wispy bangs.

She wasn’t dressed in old lady fashion either. She wore sporty-casual clothes in solid colors. She looked as if she had come to hike or camp, definitely to enjoy the outdoors.

Her face was tan and wrinkled, and I noticed during our interaction that her head trembled frequently. I wondered if Parkinson’s disease, which made my grandmother’s head shake late her life, caused this woman’s tremors too.

The old woman didn’t say greet us. She didn’t waste time with any niceties. She simply launched in, demanding in her pronounced German accent, Vere is de campground?

You’re in the campground, I told her. This is the campground.

Vere are the sites? she demanded further.

The mercantile is at the front of the campground, the sites laid out on either side of a loop with a paved road in the middle. If a person didn’t know she was in a campground, I could see how she could be confused. I thought I was being nice when I explained the layout of the campground to the woman.

I assumed (and assuming makes an ass of u and me, my dad would say) she had a reservation, so I asked her, What site are you on?

I thought she’d give me a site number, and I could send her on her way. Instead, she snapped at me with venom and disdain I felt in my heart, How should I know?!! I just got here!

Oh. Ok. I understood. She was interested in maybe camping in this campground, but she certainly didn’t have a reservation.

Then she fluttered some sheets of paper at me and demanded I show her where we were on the map. I looked at the pages and saw they represented the nearby national park and some northernmost portion of the national forest. I had to inform the woman we weren’t on either page of her map.

I grabbed one of the mercantile’s maps showing our area of the national forest. I opened it, spread it before us on the counter, and pointed to our location. The map was for sale, but I never suggested she buy it.

I don’t need this map! she sneered, although I don’t know how she was going to find her way around since her map didn’t reflect where she actually was.

Next, she wanted to know the fee to stay on one of the campground’s sites. I told her since the camp hosts had the day off and I wasn’t 100% sure of the campground’s fees, she’d have to check the information board near the restrooms. However, I said I thought a tent site cost $24 or $25 a night. I thought she might fall out when she heard the price.

She wanted to know where she could camp for free.

At this point, I was pretty tired of her interrogation tactics, so I shrugged and said, It’s the national forest. You can pull off the road and camp almost anywhere.

She had other questions and complaints. Why weren’t the trails here marked like they were everywhere else? (I hadn’t even formulated an answer before she’d moved on.) Did her card get her a discount? I asked if her card was a senior pass and she said yes, but I don’t know what she actually had. She didn’t show it to me. If it’s a senior pass, you get half off camping fees, I told her.

I pulled out the campground’s daily arrival report and determined which sites were not reserved. You can check out sites 1, 4, 7, and 14, I told her. If you want to stay on any of those sites, get a self-pay envelope from the information board, put your payment in it, and drop it in the iron ranger.

Finally, she left the store.

I turned to The Man who’d silently watched my interaction with the woman.

Is she alone? he whispered. I guess he was worried she was lurking outside the yurt we work in. She’s really old, he continued. What’s she doing out here? Did she come out here to die?

I shrugged again. I didn’t know the answers to his questions, and I didn’t much care. I’d done my best to be nice to someone who hadn’t been one bit nice to me. It wasn’t my job to determine if she was fit to spend time in the woods.

Wheelchairs and Work Camping

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A reader recently asked me for my thoughts on work camping by someone who uses a wheelchair. I wanted to give as complete and thorough answer as possible, so I decided to make my reply a blog post, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible.

First of all, I’m not really qualified to write about the topic. While I do have experience as a work camper, I don’t use a wheelchair or crutches or a cane or leg braces or any equipment to enhance my mobility. As of right now, I don’t have any mobility issues. (I know this could change in a heartbeat.) I’ll do my best to answer this question based on my experience as a work camper, but if anyone reading this post knows of an article about work camping while using a wheelchair or (better yet) has personal experience work camping while using a wheelchair, please leave a comment with more information.

Folks should keep in mind that there are a wide variety of work camper jobs available.

Amazon hires work campers during the winter holiday season to pull, pack, and ship items. I’ve not worked for Amazon, but I know people who have. Many of the jobs available require pulling items from shelves and moving those items across large distances in a warehouse from where they are stored to where they are packed from shipping.

Work campers are hired for the beet harvest season in Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas. Again, I’ve not worked for a company harvesting beets, so I’m not sure how a person with mobility issues would fair in such a work environment. My understanding is that there are different positions available for members of the harvesting team, so someone using a wheelchair might be able to find a specific job compatible with his/her abilities.

My work camper experience has included two seasons as a camp host/parking lot attendant and my current position as a clerk in a campground store/visitor center.

As a camp host, my duties included cleaning pit toilets, picking up trash, raking campsites, collecting money from campers, and completing paperwork associated with renting campsites. I can’t really say what a specific individual using a wheelchair could or couldn’t do. Different people have different abilities, and may be able to do some or all of those tasks, depending on their individual situations and whether or not necessary accommodations could be provided. The campground where I worked had no pavement, so a wheelchair able to easily roll on dirt would be necessary in such an environment.

If a person who uses a wheelchair feels s/he is unable to perform all duties required of a camp host, one way to handle the situation might be to work as a team. The area where I work has three campgrounds where there are two hosts, each working 30-40 hours a week. In many situations, these camp host teams are husband/wife duos, but such teams could be made up of two friends or a parent and adult child. In most situations, the camp host team would be allowed to divide up the workload however they want, according to their abilities and preferences.

Some work camper jobs involve working in an office, either as part of being a camp host or as a job in and of itself. I don’t have personal experiences with office job work camping, but people in a couple of Facebook groups I’m in have done it. Working in an office may be ideal for someone with mobility issues.

I currently work as a sales clerk in what is essentially a gift shop. Except for breaks, there are at least two workers in the store at all times. I believe everything I do (folding t-shirts, restocking shelves, talking to visitors, opening the register at the beginning of a shift and closing it at the end, ringing up sales, taking payment, and making change) could be done by a person who uses a wheelchair. My co-worker doesn’t like opening and closing the register, so while I’m doing those procedures, he puts out or brings in the furniture that sits on the deck during business hours, carries the snack food in from or out to the storage trailer, and opens all of the windows. We are allowed to decide how we will divide the labor.

The bottom line is, every work camping job is different, just as every work camper is different and has different strengths and abilities. I encourage every potential work camper—with or without mobility issues—to investigate thoroughly any job of interest.  Be prepared to ask a lot of questions. What are the duties of the person who will do the job? What physical abilities are required of the person who will do the job? Does the job require lifting a certain number of pounds? Is a camp host expected to get on his/her hands and knees to clean pit toilets? What tools must be used to complete a job? Is the camp host expected to empty garbage can? Can a camp host team divide the labor however the team members wish? Is the campground paved? Is the camp host site wheelchair accessible? Do your best to make sure a work situation is a good fit for individual strengths and limitations before accepting a job.

I don’t know much about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but it may offer protections as to what questions a potential employer can ask and what accommodations an employer must offer to workers with disabilities. If I had a disability and wanted to pursue a work camper positon, I would familiarize myself with the ADA and the protections it offers before I began applying for jobs.

As I said before, I would appreciate if readers with personal experience or links to information on the web would post in the comments section. Otherwise, keep in mind that every work camping job is different and every person using a wheelchair is different, so do your homework and ask a lot of questions about specifics before accepting a position.