Tag Archives: Work camping

Dispatch from a Cabin

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The last few weeks have been difficult.

At the end of September, I drove the van down to the mercantile so The Man and I could use the internet on our day off. As we were heading back to the campground, I noticed the oil pressure gauge was wacky, the needle bouncing around and showing the oil pressure was way, way high. The Man said an oil pressure gauge would never read high, that the gauge is there to tell the driver if the oil pressure is too low. We walked back to mercantile, used the internet again, and the man figured out the problem was more than likely the oil sending unit. Our boss was in town, so he picked up the part for us. The next day, The Man put in the new oil sending unit, and the gauge went back to normal. Disaster averted for the cost of a $28 part.

Last Tuesday was to be our final day off before we left the mountain. We decided to leave the campground to escape campers who wanted to chitchat even after politely being told we were on our day off. We parked in the woods for a while, but then The Man decided he needed to go back to the campground for a reason I can no longer remember. I turned the van around and stopped at the main road to look both ways before pulling onto the asphalt. The van died. It happens sometimes, so I wasn’t too worried, but then I couldn’t get the van to start. Then I was worried because my van always starts.

I tried starting it again and again and again. Nothing.

Both The Man and I wondered if something had come lose after the replacement of the oil sending unit, so we removed the doghouse from front part of the van between the two seats, and The Man fiddled with some parts. I tried to start the van again. Nothing.

We figured we’d have to get the van towed. The problem was getting to a telephone. The nearest phone was twelve miles away.

We walked down the road a ways and waited for cars to come by so we could stick out our thumbs. The passing cars were few and far between, and those we did see didn’t stop.

After a couple of hours, we walked back to the van and tried hitchhiking from there. We had no luck for the longest time.

We had just decided to walk the couple miles back to the campground and try to find someone there who would help, when a pickup truck that had just passed us came back in our direction. The driver had turned around to help us! Our faith in humanity was restored.

The elderly couple in the truck drove us to the campground where our boss and his wife stay. The boss was on an errand, but the wife handed us the phone. I called my insurance company and found out my roadside assistance only coveres a tow of 15 miles. That wasn’t going to be much help, since we were sixty miles away for the repair shop The Big Boss Man recommended. The Man called AAA and arranged to have a tow truck meet us the next morning. In the meantime, the wife offered us the use of the campground’s vacant cabin. We jumped at the chance to have a shower and sleep in a queen size bed in a heated building.

We found we got internet in the cabin, so I got on Facebook while The Man looked at minivans for sale in several states. I saw I had Facebook messages from The Man’s sister and cousin, asking him to call home. He immediately knew something was wrong. I borrowed the satellite phone from the wife, and The Man called his sis and found out his mother had passed away. I don’t think he slept at all that night.

We met the tow truck driver on Wednesday morning, and The Man, Jerico the dog, and I piled into the cab of the tow truck. The driver, a nice man young enough to be our son, attached the van, and away we went. The ride into town was blissfully uneventful.

We had the van dropped off at the mechanic recommended by The Big Boss Man. The owner of the shop said he’d take a look at the van and call me in about an hour. Two hours later, as The Man and I watched the batteries in our phones lose power, I called the mechanic shop again. If we were going to have to get a motel room, I wanted to do that early enough in the day to get some enjoyement out of the money spent. The owner said he still hadn’t had a chance to look at the van, but he’d call me in half an hour.

About that time, I got a call from The Big Boss Man. He was in town. If the van wasn’t ready to go, he was willing to drive us back up the mountain and let us spend another night in the vacant cabin. He was bringing his personal truck to the same mechanic in the morning, and we could ride with him. We jumped at the chance. I called the mechanic and told him we’d see him in the morning.

In the morning, the repair shop owner was still not able to tell me what was wrong with the van. I don’t know if it had even been looked at yet, but it had been moved onto the shop’s tiny concrete lot. About two hours later, the owner of the shop called me to say the problem was the distributor modulator. I told him to go ahead and fix the problem. It wasn’t like I had a lot of choice. I needed my van to run.

I wasn’t so lucky with the expense this time. The total with parts and labor came to $226. Groan. It’s always something.

So how did we celebrate the van running again? By taking an epic five hour road trip through the greater Los Angeles traffic zone so The Man could buy a minivan…but that’s a story for a different day.

On the second-to-last day of our work season, The Big Boss Man made us a proposition. We could stay in the cabin and do some work around the campground to make up for the two and a half days we had missed during the week. We’d get a warm place to sleep, electricity, hot water, and fatter pay checks. We agreed, but an hour later, The Man couldn’t take it anymore, and decided he was out of the campground business. He packed his minivan and headed to civilization to line up insurance and jump through the hoops of getting the car registered.

Me? I decided I wanted a few days in the cabin. I finished my paperwork this morning and I’ll pack up all the items in the cabin’s kitchen this evening. Tomorrow I’ll paint picnic tables, maybe do some raking and fire ring cleaning on Wednesday and Thursday. In the meantime, I’ll schedule blog posts and enjoy the electricity and hot water.

 

Mamma’s Got Her Hands Full

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It was Saturday afternoon, and in about an hour, The Man and I would close the mercantile for the day.

Members of an extended family came in together. Three or four young kids were running around, and two women of the age to be their mothers were looking at magnets.  An older woman—probably the grandma—was looking at other items for sale. The men of the family were in and out of the yurt—off to the restroom, taking turns supervising the dog on the porch, offering the ladies souvenir suggestions.

The two smallest kids seemed to be the offspring of one of the women looking at magnets. The girl was maybe three, with long, dark hair that fell past her shoulders. The boy was five or six, wearing one of those floppy cloth hats popular with people going fishing.

The woman and her son had some sort of disagreement in front of the shelves of snacks. The disagreement seemed to be about the theater style boxes of candy. The woman dragged the boy over in front of the register while lecturing him on sharing and who knows what else. Anger was all over the boy’s face, and I could tell he was trying not to cry. The woman was not whispering, and everyone in the store witnessed the lecture. The main body of the lecture was in English, then the woman asked loudly, Capiche? When the boy didn’t respond, the woman demanded, Entiendes? (Do you understand?) The boy gave an indication that he did, indeed, understand. It was maybe the only parental lecture I’ve ever witnessed spanning three languages.

I’m all for parents disciplining kids, setting limits and sticking to them. I see too many kids who seem to be running their families, and I was glad to see this lady taking a stand. However, her little speech seemed all too public. It sure made me uncomfortable, and I could see how the kid might feel humiliated. I would have taken my (theoretical) kid outside or to a quiet area of the store and spoken in a low voice, but I don’t know how this family’s day had gone. Maybe the mom was at the end of her rope.

The conflict was over Whoppers, the delightful malted milk balls I myself do love so much. The boy wanted a box of his own. The mom wanted him to share with his sister.

Once the woman released the boy’s arm and returned to perusing magnets, he and his sister converged on the candy boxes. They each took a box of Whoppers from the shelf and placed them on the counter near the cash register among the bottles of water another family member planned to buy.

When the mother had chosen her magnet, she brought it up to the counter and placed it next to a box of Whoppers. I’ll take the magnet, she said to me, and one of these, indicating the Whoppers. The children began squalling about wanting a box of his/her own. The woman held her ground. They could share, she told her children, or they’d have no candy.

The woman said she didn’t need a bag, so once I rang up the box of Whoppers, I handed it directly to her. The still whining children followed the box with their eyes, and the boy tried to intercept the box as it passed into the woman’s hands.

This is my candy, the woman told him. He wasn’t getting any until he was willing to share.

The woman paid with a credit card. When it came time for her to sign the store copy of the credit card ticket, she only had a free hand to hold the pen.

Let me help you with that, I said as I pinned down the ticket so it wouldn’t slide around the counter while she signed. You have your hands full.

She looked me right in the eye and said seriously, I sure do!

As they walked toward the door, the children agreed to share, and their mom told them how she would divvy up the candy so they’d each have their own portion.

I also have a story where it’s the child who has his hands full.

 

Another Day in the Life of a Camp Host

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My friend the camp host told me this story right after it happened to him on a Thursday morning. I didn’t witness it with my own eyes, but I’ve always known the guy to be honest.

The regular hosts of the campground were on their day off, so my friend was patrolling. He was responsible for cleaning the restrooms, preparing for the arrival of campers with reservations, checking in new campers, and collecting money from folks who didn’t have reservations so hadn’t prepaid. His arrival report told him someone would be checking into yurt #3 that afternoon, so he went over to unlock its door.

He opened the door after unlocking it and was hit by a terrible smell. Upon investigation, he found a pile of dog poop (his words) under the bed.

The previous campers had checked out sometime prior to 2pm on Sunday, meaning the feces had sat under that bed for four nights. The camp hosts must not have gone into the yurt to sweep the floor or otherwise check for cleanliness. The way my friend described the smell, there was no way anyone could have walked into that yurt without realizing something was very, very wrong.

What kind of person lets a dog defecate under the bed of a rented yurt? Yes, maybe the dog had an accident. I’ve been responsible for dogs who’ve had accidents on the floors of rented lodging. But what kind of person doesn’t clean up after their dog that’s had an accident. From what my friend said, there’s no way the dog’s person could have failed to notice what the dog had done.

It takes all kinds, The Man said, but I think leaving dog feces under a bed for someone else to clean up is unacceptable behavior.

Being the trooper he is, my friend the camp host removed the feces from under the bed and disposed of it properly. I think he even swept the floor before propping the door open to air out the yurt. It was just another day in the life of a camp host.

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.