Tag Archives: store

Meltdown

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While the boys were obsessing over pocket knives, Little Sister was trying to pick out a souvenir of her own.

Pinecone earrings and bracelets sold in the mercantile.

To her credit, Bun Mom walked around the store with the girl and made suggestions. How about this cute pinecone necklace? How about the pinecone earrings or bracelet?

The girl picked up a $35 bobcat hand puppet. How about this? she asked her mother.

Bun Mom reminded Little Sister how they’d already discussed this souvenir shopping trip and how she’d explained each kid could pick out something small. The bobcat puppet, Bun Mom told Little Sister was not in her budget.

How about these dragonfly earrings? Bun Mom asked Little Sister. At $10.95, they were in the budget, and Little Sister could get her birthstone.

The mercantile sells these dragonfly earrings.

Little Sister spent a long time looking at the dragonfly earrings and the other items on the jewelry carousel, but did not reach a decision.

At one point, the girl was picking up and putting down and picking up again bear and bobcat bobble heads. These are only $6! These are only $6! she exclaimed over the $5.95 items.

You could get one of those, her mother told her, but the girl still hadn’t decided.

As the other family completed their transaction, Bun Mom told Little Sister to make her decision because she was about to pay. Little Sister ran around the store growing increasingly distressed.

I rang up Bun Mom’s t-shirt and Brother’s whistle and the Christmas tree ornament Little Sister had helped pick out for the family tree.

Anything else? I asked Bun Mom.

I’m paying, she called out to her daughter. Pick something.

By this point Little Sister was howling and whining and crying and stomping her feet. She didn’t seem to want something her mother said she couldn’t have. Her frustration seemed to be coming from not being able to make a decision.

She ran out onto the porch and her mother said she’d choose something for her.

I’m getting the pinecone bracelet, Bun Mom told her through the thin walls of the yurt.

No!  Little Sister howled. Not that, she wailed. Anything but that!

She came back into the store, and ended up picking out a pinecone necklace. I don’t know why she liked the pinecone on the necklace but hated it on the bracelet.

She continued to cry and ran back out onto the porch.

Bun Mom told me the girl had trouble making decisions and was overwhelmed by all the choices in the store. I would call “overwhelmed” an understatement. I think the girl was having a full blown meltdown.

We closed the store soon after Little Sister and her family and friends left.

The Man went outside to close the yurt’s window. When he came back in, he said, That little girl is still crying. He’d seen her run up to the store, look at the sign saying “Sorry, we’re closed,” and take off running while sobbing. She had probably wanted to exchange her pinecone necklace for something she’d decided was better.

I don’t think she’s enjoying her human experience, The Man said, and I had to agree with him there.

I took the photos in this post.

Knives

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The two women and four kids came in ten minutes before the mercantile closed.

The women looked so young to me, although they were probably in their early 30s and were obviously the mothers of the children.

The first woman who came in had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore those hiking tights so popular with athletic (and not so athletic) women these days. Her scoop-neck t-shirt dipped just enough in the back to show the tattoo of a lotus at the base of her neck. Her son was maybe nine, her daughter around six.

The second woman had loose dark hair and glasses with square black frames. Her shorts were quite short, and she wore white almost-to-her-knee socks with her boots. She had a sarong or a large scarf or an East Indian tapestry draped over her shoulders with a side hanging over each breast. At first I thought she was topless under the sarong/scarf/tapestry, but when she turned, I saw her black bikini top. She had two boys with her, one about five, the other probably ten.

They were on a souvenir buying expedition. The children were turned loose in the store while the women looked at magnets and t-shirts and Christmas tree ornaments.

I have twenty bucks! the littlest boy exclaimed, to which the boy who wasn’t his brother said, Who cares? (It soon became apparent to me that this boy had just about had it with the younger kid.)

The little boy’s mom said, That’s not cool to the older boy, but the grin on her face told me she thought it was all pretty funny.

It turned out that while the little boy was clutching a $20 bill, he had to share it with his brother. Each of the four kids had a $10 souvenir budget.

They circled the store eliminating possibilities. The walking sticks were too expensive. The t-shirts weren’t enticing (and probably too expensive anyway), and none of the kids were interested in stuffed animals.

The mercantile sells these wooden whistles carved to look like forest animals.

The boy who didn’t care about the little kid’s twenty bucks was the first to find his souvenir: a wooden whistle carved to look like a bear. He tried to get the other kids interested in the whistles too, but he was the only taker.

(How do you know it’s a whistle? his little sister asked.

Let her blow it, his mom said.

No! said the boy with concern on his face. She can’t blow it! We haven’t paid for it!)

The older of the brothers tried to convince the little one to pool their money and buy something they could share. He showed the little boy a breakable “I Love California” bank, and the little boy about had a fit. He screamed his negative feeling about the bank until—finally—his mother told him to chill out. I was beginning to think the little boy controlled the whole family.

Then the older of the two brothers saw the pocket knives.

We keep the pocket knives in the glass display case. People can’t touch them unless a worker hands them over.

How much are the pocket knives? the bigger boy asked.

I told him they were $6.95 plus tax.

Can I see one? he asked.

I didn’t really want to hand one over to the kid and have to take responsibility for whatever might happen, so I said, We’ll have to see if it’s ok with your grown up. The boy rolled his eyes behind his Buddy Holly glasses.

Bikini Mom was across the store. Grown up? I called to her. Oh, grownup?

She looked at me, blinking, as if I were an intruder in her secret dream world.

Can he look at a pocket knife? I asked her.

She said he could. She didn’t even walk over to supervise.

The mercantile sells these “razor sharp” pocket knives. We keep them in the display case until someone asks about them.

I pulled out the cardboard knife display and set it on the counter. The boy grabbed a knife and examined it.  His little brother watched with great interest.

I’ll get this, the big boy declared.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered.

You have to get your parent’s permission, I told them. No way would I have given that angry little brother a knife. I’m not sure the big boy was really ready for one either.

The older boy rolled his eyes at me again. Can I get a pocket knife? he called out to his mother.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered some more.

Bikini Mom said sure, they could get knives. She hadn’t even come over to take a look.

I turned to her and said, You know the box says they’re razor sharp, right? Of course, she didn’t know anything about the knives because she hadn’t come close enough to gather any information. However at the words “razor sharp,” she did walk over.

The little brother was still hollering, I want one too! I want one too!

The boy from the other family was very interested in the knives. He also wanted one. Bun Mom told him he was NOT getting a knife. He said he’d had a knife before…And it broke! his mother said, and you’re not getting one! Her tone of voice left no room for argument, and the kid dropped the subject.

Meanwhile, Bikini Mom and her oldest boy examined the knife. They couldn’t figure out how to close it. I showed them. Both moms started talking about safety and being very careful and this is not a toy. The little bother kept hollering about how he wanted one too, and I thought the big boy might roll his eyes right out of his head.

Bun Mom told her friend this knife thing might not be a good idea. Maybe she should consult with the boys’ father, Bun Mom said.

Emboldened by her friend’s caution, Bikini Mom told her boys they could not have knives. I was relieved and put the knives back in the display case.

The older boy followed his mother around the store, hassling her.

She must have said she didn’t want the little boy to have a knife, because I heard the big boy say, Then just tell him no! I could tell he was completely exasperated. I suspect the little boy was hardly ever told no.

The big boy finally wore his mother down, and she told him to go ask his father. Presumably, the father was on a campsite nearby because the boy wasn’t gone three minutes.

He said yes, the boy told his mom.

Even for your little brother? Bikini Mom asked.

Yep, the boy said. I wondered if he’d used the words “razor sharp” when he described the knives to his father.

The boys used their $20 to each get a knife, plus a box of candy and a pack of cheap plastic finger lights. The big boy immediately opened his knife.

How do you close this again? Bikini Mom asked.

I told her The Man would show her, and he did, but neither the mother nor son could do it.

If he can’t even close the knife, he shouldn’t have it, The Man whispered to me.

Can I carve with this? the older boy asked.

Absolutely NOT!  The Man told him. He told the boy the knife wasn’t made for carving. It would be dangerous to carve with that knife, he said. The Man tried to scare some sense into the moms by telling them about times he’s sliced into his own hand while carving and how now he wears a special protective glove.

You can only use this when you’re with your father, Bikini Mom told her boys.

Someone’s going to bleed tonight, I whispered to The Man.

He just shook his head and told me quietly that no one under 13 should have a knife.

I took the photos in this post.

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.

10 Ways Working in the Mercantile is Easier Than Being a Camp Host

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During the camping seasons (May through October) of 2015 and 2016, I worked as a camp host in a very small (nine rentable sites) campground in a remote area of a National Forest. In addition to my camp host duties, I worked in the day use area of a very popular trailhead. (To read about those adventures, get my collection of

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
personal essays Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, available from Amazon as a paperback or an eBook.)

This camping season, I was hired to work in the new “mercantile” (the word the Forest Service prefers over “store”) at the campground just down the road from the day use area. The store’s been open just over a month, and I’ve identified several reasons I think working in the store is easier than being a camp host.

#1 No pit toilets to clean.

#2 No raking sites or cleaning fire rings either.

#3 Less outdoor work and physical labor means I don’t get as dirty.

#4 I work out of the sun. Being indoors most of the day means I don’t have to wear a hat or sunscreen or long sleeves to protect my skin.

This photo I took shows the mercantile where The Man and I work. The mercantile is housed in a yurt.

#5 I don’t have to explain to people why the pass they paid a lot of money for does not get them a reduced rate on their campsite.

#6 I don’t have to keep large piles of the company’s money in my van.

#7 I work clearly defined shifts. As a camp host, I had to handle problems whenever they arose. As a clerk in the store, when my shift is over, I’m off duty.

#8 When my shift is over, I take off my uniform and nonemployees think I’m just another visitor. No one thinks to ask me questions when I’m on my campsite in “civilian” clothes.

#9 When new stock comes in, my co-workers and I have the fun of deciding where and how to display everything.

#10 So far, really obnoxious people have stayed out of the store.

Stay tuned tomorrow for ten ways being a camp host and day use attendant was easier than working in the mercantile.

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.