Tag Archives: the Mercantile

Only Job?

Standard

Sometimes I don’t know what people are thinking when they speak. I suspect some people have no thoughts at all before they open their mouths and let words come out.

One Saturday we were busy at the Mercantile where I worked for two camping seasons. My sweet co-worker and I were standing behind the counter when another group of tourists streamed through the door. One of the new arrivals, a middle age woman with curly hair, looked right at the other clerk and asked, Is this your only job?

My co-worker and I were both like What? and the tourist woman specified, Do you work anywhere else?

I don’t remember what exactly my coworker said. She probably explained working in the store was a fulltime job. I can’t imagine what the tourist lady was thinking. I wonder if she interrogates cashiers at Wal-Mart and Target about their other employment. Maybe she wondered if my coworker had to hold a couple of jobs to make ends meet. Maybe she was just trying to make conversation and was awkward about it.

In honor of my sweet coworker, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, I’ll list the jobs I know she had last summer.

  • Before the store opened, she helped get a 36 site campground ready for campers.
  • She worked 40+ hours each week at the Mercantile.
  • Every night she cooked dinner and served it to her husband.
  • She used one of her days off to clean the firth wherel where she and her husband (and their dog and cat) lived.
  • She also did all the laundry for her and her husband on one of her days off.
  • Whenever the Mercantile needed more merchandise, she pulled back stock from the box truck parked at the campground where she lived, then delivered the merchandise to the store.
  • She kept a list of items that needed to be reordered and communicated that information to the buyer for the company we worked for.
  • When the camp host left the campground where she lived and before a replacement was hired, my coworker checked in campers on busy weekends.
  • On more than one occasion, she hemmed the pants of camp hosts on her day off.
  • Every week she did all the paperwork pertaining to occupancy for the six campgrounds her husband managed.

Isn’t that enough? I would have asked the tourist lady if my coworker had detailed all the work she did in a regular weeks. Isn’t that enough?

You Are Here

Standard

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/.

Don’t Forget the Tent

Standard

Last summer while working at the Mercantile, I heard of not one, but two sets of campers who got all the way up the mountain only to realize they’d forgotten their tent. Groan.

Sandra the camp host told me the first story.

Photo of Blue and Yellow Lighted Dome Tent Surrounded by Plants during Night Time

Two couples showed up at her campground for the night. They arrived around 4 pm. Sandra checked them in and told then the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Around six that evening, one of the couples was on Sandra’s campsite begging her to open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent.

What?

Apparently as they unpacked, they realized their tent hadn’t made it into their car. They didn’t have a tent. They needed a tent. Couldn’t Sandra please open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent?

Sandra explained she could not open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent. Not only did she not work at the Mercantile, meaning she had not been trained on the store’s procedures, but the cash register was closed and there was no money in the drawer. There was nothing she could do to remedy the couple’s lack of tent.

Sandra was perplexed. She’d told them the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Why had the people waited two hours to try to buy a tent? Perhaps they didn’t started unpacking right away, I offered. Maybe the Mercantile was already closed when they realized they had no tent.

Sandra also wondered why the couple needed their own tent. Their friends

Man and Woman Sitting Beside campfire and in front of tent during Night Time

had a huge tent, Sandra said. It was an 8 or 10 person tent with plenty of room for four adults.


Maybe the tentless couple had been planning a romantic evening that didin’t include their friends, I guessed. Sandra just shrugged. I guess she figured people hoping for a romantic interlude would have planned better.

The second story of a tentless camper came from one of the other clerks in the Mercantile. This clerk’s husband was the camp host at the busy campground down he road. One weekday afternoon, a camper approached the camp host and said he’d forgotten to bring his tent. The camp host suggested the camper drive down to the Mercantile and buy a new tent. The camper said he would do just that.

Later that day, the camp host saw the camper again. The camp host asked the camper if he’d gotten a tent. The camper said he hadn’t. He said he’d been to the Mercantile but there were no tents for sale. The camp host said all the tents that had been in stock must have sold out.

When his wife came home, the camp host mentioned the camper who’d gone to the Mercantile to buy a tent only to find there were none left. His wife assured him there were at least a couple of tents available at the Mercantile. She also told him that no one had asked her anything about tents that day. She thought the camper had gone into the Mercantile and looked around but didn’t see the tents. Not seeing any tents (and perhaps not wanting to admit to another person that he’d gone on a camping trip without one), he simply left without asking for assistance.

I wonder if the camper even made it to the store where I worked. There was a general store very close to the campground where he was staying. I wonder if he thought that was the store the camp host suggested. The general store was going through a transition of ownership and had very limited stock. I would have been surprised to know that store had any tents for sale.

Person in Blue Denim Jeans Standing Outside the Rain

Of course, people forget things. When I was in my mid-30s I went on a fishing trip without shoes.I was barefoot when I got in the car. I thought I’d put my shoes in the trunk. Apparently not. When we arrived at the lake, I found I was without footwear. Luckily my friend had a spare pair of sneakers in the car. I wore them even though they were several sizes too big.

However, a tent seems like an integral component of a camping trip, especially if the camper is not driving a motor home or a camper van and isn’t towing a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. It seems as if one is going on a camping trip and is planning to sleep in a tent, the tent would be the most important item to pack.

On this day, the cultural beginning of summer, I offer you a bit of advice. If you’re going camping this summer or any time, be sure to pack the tent. Check to make sure you have it before you leave home. Ask yourself, Do I have the tent? Go ahead and double check, triple check, and check one more time. If you find the tent is not in your vehicle with the rest of your camping gear, you’ll be glad you looked for it yet again.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-blue-and-yellow-lighted-dome-tent-surrounded-by-plants-during-night-time-712067/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-and-woman-sitting-beside-bonfire-during-nigh-time-776117/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/feet-rain-wet-puddle-105776/.

Unprepared in a Giant Motorhome

Standard

The giant motor home pulled into the campground on a day I was working alone at the Mercantile. The camp hosts were on their day off, so if anyone was going to keep the driver of the RV from getting stuck in the campground, it was going to be me.

The motor home was the size of the ones I’d seen in RV lots with price tags of a quarter million dollars. I don’t know if it had marble countertops and a full size bathtub like some I’ve seen, but there was no denying it was big.

The campground, on the other hand was small. It only had 14 sites. The road through the campground was only one lane wide and looped through an inner and outer circle of campsites. I wasn’t sure a motor home that size was going to make it around the turns necessary to drive through the campground. I certainly didn’t want that behemoth getting stuck back there.

I went out on the Mercantile’s porch. The motor home was stopped and the driver was no longer behind the steering wheel. A woman in a romper was talking to the driver of a small car stopped behind the motorhome. Did the woman in the romper belong to the motor home?

Excuse me? I called out. Is this yours? I asked, gesturing to the massive RV. It was. The woman in the romper came over to talk to me.

She was probably in her 30s with long, messy hair. She was friendly and hyper. She’d hoped to camp in the campground where we stood but didn’t have a reservation. I told her the campground was very small, and I was afraid her motorhome wasn’t going to fit anywhere in it. There was one site that might have accommodated her rig, but getting to it and in and out of it would have definitely been problematic.

She wanted to walk the trail and buy a map. She wanted to know where she could park while she did those things. I directed her to the second overflow lot, little more than a long, narrow dirt driveway where we sent rigs too big to park in either of the two regular lots.

The woman got the giant motor home out of the campground, but she and her tween daughter were in the Mercantile a short time later. She’d parked in the second overflow lot, she told me. She repeated that she’d hoped to camp in this campground and I said again that I thought the campground was too small to accommodate her rig.

It’s really intended for tent camping, I told her, then suggested she try the larger campground 15 miles down the road or the privately owned RV park in the little community 25 miles away. Maybe one of those places would have a site large enough for her motor home.

The woman had a list in her hand and started asking me about places she wanted to visit. Neither of the places she mentioned were anywhere near us. She seemed really confused. She said when she’d found information about the campground online, the website suggested these other places as also fun to visit, so she’d assumed they were nearby. The problem, I explained to her, was that the National Forest is really big and just because two attractions are both in the National Forest doesn’t mean they’re necessarily close. The woman seemed disappointed but undaunted.

She then asked about water, as in swimming, as in where could she and her kid go to get in the water. I told her about the river, then asked if she’d be going in the car. Oh no, she said. Her friend had driven the car I’d seen her next to, but her friend was leaving. She’d be driving the motor home wherever she went. I told her I wasn’t sure where she’d be able to park it. I wasn’t really familiar with the area around the river, so I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to find a space for something so big.

I didn’t know where to recommend she go to have fun or see things. All of the places I normally recommended were at the end of winding, rutted dirt roads. No way was I going to suggest she take that massive RV off the paved road. I didn’t want to be responsible for her getting stuck in a place where roadside assistance would never go.

She said she still wanted a map, so I pulled one out, opened it, and showed here where we were. I scanned the map’s barcode and told her the total with tax, which was $21 and change. She pulled out a $100 bill. It had been a slow morning, and I didn’t know if I had enough money in the drawer to give her correct change.

Do you have anything smaller? I asked her.

She rummaged through her wallet, and I saw she had several $100 bills. The lady must have been walking around with at least $1,000 in her purse. She determined she didn’t have any smaller bills.

I went to the bank and cleared out my savings, she said apologetically, implying the bank had loaded her down with big bills.

Let me look in the drawer again, I offered, and when I did, I found there were four twenties instead of the three I thought I had. I told her I could break her hundred after all, and she seemed relieved. I think she knew she needed that map.

She ended up buying a necklace for her daughter, so I got one of my twenties back. They left after the necklace purchase, but I continued to think about the woman. She was obviously spending a lot of money to show her kid a good time on this road trip, but her half-ass research and big-ass motor home were leaving her in one lurch after another. She didn’t find out until she arrived that the campground she wanted to stay in couldn’t accommodate her giant RV. The places she wanted to visit were more than a hundred miles away (I learned later from Google Maps), and she couldn’t get to the places nearby because the roads weren’t big enough for the rig she was driving. She’d have been better off throwing a tent and a camp stove into the trunk of a car or spending her money on a Jucy van or an Escape Campervan.

 

Full Truck

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder where they ended up going.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Hatchets

Standard

The Mercantile where I worked for two seasons sold hatchets. The Mercantile was located in a campground in the middle of a national forest, so the buyer for the store probably thought people would buy the hatchets to use in chopping firewood. We sold a few, not many. Most campers bought firewood from the camp host; this wood was already cut and split to fit in a

Photo of a Pile of Firewood

fire ring. The campers who collected wood for their campfires tended to be prepared with hatchets they’d brought from home.

Usually hatchets sat in a wooden crate in the camping section of the Mercantile and received no attention. However, on one Saturday the hatchets were noticed by boys too young to have them.

The first two boys came in during the morning. They were not accompanied by an adult, which always made me groan. The boys couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, and I wondered if their parents let then go by themselves into Wal-Mart or the mall. I’m not sure why some parents thought because our store was in a campground, it was ok to let their kids wander in alone.

I didn’t bother the boys, but I kept an eye on them. They were horsing around a the back of the store, but not being destructive or too loud. I had no qualms about sending unruly children on their way, but I didn’t feel I had the right to kick out people who weren’t misbehaving.

Then one of the boys found the hatchets.

Ooohhh! Look at this! the one called to his friend. The second boy was over in a flash.

Most of the hatchets had a plastic protector over the blade, but some of the

Black Axe on Wood

protectors had been lost in the shuffle of being unpacked and repacked and unpacked again over the course of the two seasons the Mercantile had been open. I wasn’t sure how sharp the edges of the blades actually were, but I didn’t want to find out by way of some kid’s bloody finger.

You can’t buy one of those without an adult present, I called out to the boys.

This wasn’t exactly a lie. Perhaps no county, state, or federal law required the boys to have an adult present in order to buy a hatchet, but I certainly wasn’t going to let a little kid buy one without a responsible adult there to approve the purchase. Also, kids that young seldom had twenty bucks in their pockets, so I counted on the mention of buying to remind them that they couldn’t afford the tool.

The boys seemed to have forgotten I was there and looked surprised and a bit embarrassed when I spoke. Once they realized I wasn’t going to let them play with a hatchet before they bought it, and I wasn’t going to let them buy one without an adult to ok the purchase, they left the store. I was relieved no one had been hurt and I no longer had to babysit.

The boy who came in later and expressed interest in the hatchets was older–probably closer to 11–but still too young (in my opinion) to have unsupervised access to a tool with the potential to do so much damage.

This older kid was a charmer in a real Eddie Haskell sort of way. He was very polite and smiled with all his teeth at me, but he seemed totally insincere. I suspect he would have kissed my hand and told me I was beautiful if he thought it would have gotten him what he wanted.

He asked me if we sold knives. I directed him to the knives in the glass display case. He was hoping for something bigger, maybe something that had the name of the place where we were printed or engraved on it. I assured him we had only the small, plain ones.

He walked around the store looking at the merchandise, all the while smiling and chatting me up. Then he saw the hatchets. He picked one up and admired it, so I told him what I’d told the younger boys: You can’t buy one of those without an adult present.

He sighed and returned the hatchet to the wooden crate with the others. He walked over near where I stood and said with a dreamy look in his eyes, I just love knives!

He said it the way another kid might say, I just love puppies or I just love baseball or I just love ice cream. I was totally creeped out by the kid.

You have to have an adult present to buy a knife too, I told him while making my too bad face. Realizing I wasn’t going to let him play with or buy a hatchet or knife without adult supervision, the kid walked out of the Mercantile. I was glad I didn’t have to be alone with him anymore.

After that, no one noticed the hatchets again for weeks. I always wondered what was going on when a previously unpopular item suddenly got a lot of attention. Had the stars aligned in just the right way to promote hatchet interest? Were those kids on a field trip with a Junior Hatchet Lovers of America group?

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-a-pile-of-firewood-1405720/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-axe-blur-chop-213942/.



The Moment You Realize You Picked the Wrong Sugar Daddy

Standard

The guy must have been at least 60. His beard, neatly trimmed close to his face, was completely white. He wore a ball cap and t-shirt and shorts.

The woman was younger, no older than 35, slender and going for a neo-hippie look. She wore a golden tunic with long sleeves over tight pants. The tunic was form fitting, made from fabric that seemed a little thicker than the warmth of the day warranted. Her dark hair was straight and hung below her shoulders. She had no bangs, but she did have a beaded headband tied around her forehead. I suspect quite a bit of thought had gone into her outfit, which seemed a little too pulled together for an afternoon in the woods. (The beaded headband really made it seem like she was trying too hard.)

The guy walked in first and asked if he could park in the lot outside the Mercantile.

5 Us Dollar BanknoteSure, I told him. There’s a $5 access fee. You can take care of that right here, I said as I reached under the counter for a day pass.

Since when do you charge for parking? the old man asked. I could tell he was not down with paying to park.

I’ve been here four seasons, I answered, and there’s been a parking fee as long as I’ve been here. If there’s no attendant on duty, it’s on the honor system. You put your payment in a self-pay envelope and drop it in the iron ranger.

Usually when I say honor system to old guys who’ve visited the trail before and not paid for parking, they shut up because they know they’ve behaved dishonorably and don‘t want to admit their moral failing. Not this guy. He just kept fussing about having to pay the whole time he did so.

The young woman came in during the access fee transaction. From the way they spoke to each other, I could tell they knew each other, but I couldn’t determine their relationship. The age difference suggested father and daughter, but that’s not the vibe I was getting from them.

The young woman began exclaiming over how expensive everything was. Maybe, like me, she is accustomed to shopping in thrift stores. We sold t-shirts as low as $18.95 and ball caps for as low as $16.95, not excessive prices for souvenirs on top of a mountain in California as far as I could tell.

I always wondered about people who complained about prices right in front of me. What did they hope to accomplish? Did they hope I’d haggle with them, offer them a better price? I always wanted to tell them I didn’t set the price, I couldn’t change the price, and I didn’t want to hear their bellyaching about the price. Instead, I just kept my mouth shut and felt uncomfortable.

The couple (not a couple?) left, but the young woman soon returned. She said she needed water and walked over to the beverage cooler where she studied the price list.

$2.50 for a bottle of water? she exclaimed.

That’s right, I said mildly.

I believe $2.50 for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water was wildly overpriced. I think it’s wrong to overcharge people so steeply for a basic human necessity, especially since packs of 24 bottles of that size could be purchased most anywhere in the valley for under $5. It seemed wrong to me to charge $2.50 for something that cost $.20 (or less!), even considering it was hauled up the mountain and keept cool. Charging $1.50 or $1.75 would be pricey, but understandable, but $2.50 just seemed greedy, especially for water. Sure, jack up the price for Gatorade or iced tea or potato chips—things people don’t need—but don’t screw people on the water. However, no one I worked for asked my opinion on the price of water, and when I offered it anyway, I was largely ignored.

Of course, this young woman with her neo-hippie headband had no way of knowing who set the prices or how I felt about them. I suppose I could have explained myself, but really, I just wanted her to buy her water (or not) and be on her way.

About that time, the old man walked back into the Mercantile. You getting some water? he asked the young Clear Disposable Bottle on Black Surfacewoman.

It’s $2.50! the woman exclaimed. I just really can’t afford that right now, she told him melodramatically.

She must have told him at least three more times, I just really can’t afford that right now before the old man reluctantly asked, Do you want me to get water for you?

I don’t know if she could tell, but I sure knew he didn’t want to spend $2.50 on a bottle of water for her.

The gallons are $3.95, I said helpfully. Personally, I’d rather spend $3.95 for 128 ounces of water instead of $2.50 for 16.9 ounces of water.

The old man bought the gallon.

I never did figure out the relationship between the old man and the young woman, but if she was hoping he’d be her sugar daddy, well, I felt sorry for her. I’ve never had a sugar daddy, but I know a good one should be generous with money, not complaining about having to pay $5 to park and being slow to take the hint about buying water.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/abraham-lincoln-american-dollar-banknote-cash-259258/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/clear-disposable-bottle-on-black-surface-1000084/.

Smelly People

Standard

I’ve been around the block. I’ve seen and heard some weird things during my time working on the mountain. There was the Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer who joked about packing out a funeral urn he was dispatched to pick up after it was abandoned on a popular trail of giant sequoias across the street from the parking lot where I collected access fees. I’ve been asked stupid questions,and I once found a dead man in the campground where I ended up living. I didn’t think I could encounter anything weirder than what I’d already experienced, but of course I did.

It was a busy Sunday afternoon at the Mercantile. I was running the cash register, so I just stayed behind the counter between customers. A young man and a young woman—probably in their early 20s came up to the counter. They were only buying a couple of little things, but before the transaction was complete, the young man burst out with You must hate putting up with smelly people all day!

He’d directed his statement mostly to the other clerk who was standing next to me behind the counter.

I think the statement was so weird to me because it came out of nowhere. We hadn’t been discussing odors or stink or smelly people. Nothing at all had been said about smells. No funky people had been lingering in the store as far as I could tell. To the best of my knowledge, no olfactory affronts had taken place. I honestly had no idea about what or whom this young man was talking. Why were smelly people on this man’s mind? Why was he mentioning them to us? Maybe because the store was in a campground and he associated camping with not taking a shower he thought everyone who came into the store was going to smell bad.

My two coworkers and I rushed to assure him that smelly people were not on our list of annoyances. 99 problems, but smelly folks ain’t one, I wish I would have thought to tell him.

When he and the woman left, I couldn’t stop shaking my head. That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard up here, I said to my coworkers, and that was saying a lot.

Woman at the Back Door

Standard

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/.

 

 

I Think I Made ‘Em Happy

Standard

The couple walked up to the front door of the Mercantile just as I was about to close it. It was five o’clock–closing time–and I was ready to do my end-of-the-day paperwork and go back to my camp for dinner and relaxation.

Are you the camp host? the woman asked me when we met on either side of the screen door.

Oh no! I said, but the woman launched right into their campground woes anyway.

Gray Dome Tent Surrounded by Tall TreesThey had reserved site #4, but the walk from where they had to park their car to down to the camping area was too long.

We’re both 65, the woman told me, and apparently she believed their age determined that they couldn’t walk very far.

I explained that since I wasn’t the camp host, I couldn’t authorize a change in campsites. I told them the campground’s regular hosts were having a day off, but the relief host would come around some time that evening to fill out their permit.

The woman wanted to know what time the camp host would be there. I told her the host didn’t have a set schedule, but he usually patrolled the campground between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evening. She was anxious to gett their tent up before dark, which is a valid concern. I told her again she’d have to talk to the camp host about changing sites, since there was nothing I could do to help. I even told the couple how to find the campground (only two miles away) where the relief host was stationed and said they could go there and find the host if they wanted to talk to him right away.

I thought I’d handled their concerns to the best of my ability, but then they started asking about the Mercantile. Was it closed? (Yes.) Could they just take a peek inside. (Sure.)

They’d come back to the Mercantile in the morning, they said; I told them it opened at 9am.

I thought they’d be on their way then, either to find the relief camp host or to pitch their tent, but then the fellow asked me if we were having problems with our plumbing.

What? I asked. I was very confused, as the campground had no plumbing.

He’d seen all the gallon jugs on the ground near the 300 gallon water tank on the host site. Javier and Sandra the camp hosts kept gallon jugs of water there for campers to use to put out their campfires.

There’s no running water in this campground, I said cautiously. This lack of water was the kind of thing some campers got very angry about.

No running water? he echoed in surprise.

No, I confirmed. There’s no running water in this campground.

They didn’t know. The reservation website didn’t say. I was pretty sure the reservation website did say. The fellow was holding a handful of printouts from the reservation website, so I asked to see them. After shuffling through them and skimming the information contained therein, I’ll be damned if I could find anything about the campground’s lack of water. It didn’t really matter anyway. Even if I could prove to the couple that they should have brought water, knowing they’d messed up wasn’t going to magically provide the water they needed.

We have water in the store, I said as I ushered them in.

I could tell the fellow was angry, so I suggested he complain to the reservation service for not specifying on their website that the campground was dry. Then I dug out a comment card to go to the president of the company I worked for so the camper could lodge a complaint from that end too. The fellow seemed to calm down once I offered him a clear route of complaint.

The woman, on the other hand, had worked herself into a state of consternation over how many gallons of water Person Holding Green Hosethey should buy.

Should we get one or two? she kept asking her husband. She calculated several times how much water they would need before they’d go somewhere to get wash water out of a hose.

We have to cook dinner tonight. Pasta. And breakfast tomorrow. And we have to wash the dishes, she stated several times. Do we need both of these? she asked her husband more than once, gesturing to the two one-gallon  jugs she’d placed on the counter.

The fellow obviously didn’t care if they bought one gallon of water or two. I just wanted the woman to make a decision so I could collect payment, and they could leave me to close up shop for the day. Finally they decided to take both gallons, and I sent them on their way.

The next day I found out from the relief camp host that the couple had decided to stay on the campsite they’d reserved after all. The camp host had given them a gallon of water from beside the 300 gallon water tank so they could wash their dishes. He was absolutely not supposed to give that water to campers, but I didn’t say anything about it. The deed had been done; I’m sure the water had already been used to wash supper and breakfast dishes. Besides, I wasn’t the boss. It wasn’t my job to tell someone the rules about water from the tank.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-trees-adventure-tent-6714/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-hand-garden-growth-2259/.