Sometimes people who want to park in the parking lot also want to have philosophical discussions about whether or not they should have to pay to park on National Forest land.
One Wednesday morning, there were cars already parked in the lot when I arrived. I kept an eye on folks coming off the trail and asked them if they’d put their parking fee in the iron ranger. I asked one guy if he’d paid the fee, and he said he only had a $20 bill. I told him I could make change.
As I was writing the day pass he didn’t need since he was about to leave, he started talking about some lawsuit and court decision related to charging fees to park on public land. From what I understood, someone sued some governmental agency for charging folks a fee to park on public land. A judge decided it’s unlawful to charge people simply to park. In order to charge a day use fee, there has to be something more substantial than a portable toilet and a picnic table available for use; a day use area has to include some sort of improvement if a fee is to be charged.
I tried to justify the improvements this parking lot/day use area offers. Instead of one picnic table, we offer five picnic tables, and we don’t just have a port-a-potty, we have two gen-u-ine pit toilets in a (fancy?) little building. Also, we don’t offer only parking in the dirt; we have asphalt parking too.
Of course, the guy didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. He’d already made up his mind that he didn’t want to pay, and nothing coming out of my mouth short of no charge was going to make him happy. It didn’t even matter to him that the ruling he was talking about obviously didn’t apply to the (much improved) day use area/parking lot he was standing in.
Another time a guy wanted to have a debate while stopped in the parking lot’s entrance lane. I tried to answer his questions, although I honestly don’t know why none of a variety of federal and state passes apply to our parking lot. I don’t know why we don’t give military/disabled/disabled veteran discounts. I don’t know why folks have to pay to park even though it’s federal land which we as taxpayers own.
All I know is that my job is to stand there and collect $5 for each car parked within our gates.
So the guy driving the truck was asking me a bunch of questions I didn’t know the answers to, which was well and good for him, as he was sitting in his vehicle, out of the sun. I was standing in the sun, getting hotter and less patient.
Finally I said, If you’re refusing to pay…planning to follow up with…there’s not really anything I can do about it.
That’s the truth too. I can speak firmly and authoritatively, but I have no way to make people do anything. I don’t write tickets. (Thank goodness!) I don’t carry a gun. (Double thank goodness!) I have no access to a phone, so I can’t call anyone with authority to kick people out. If a visitor refuses to pay to park, I can’t grab him/her by the ankles, flip him/her upside down, and shake the money out of his/her pockets. All I can do if someone refuses to pay is shrug and walk away.
But all I had to say was, If you’re refusing to pay…and the guy changed his tune.
Oh! Oh no! He sounded surprised. I’m not refusing to pay, he said as if he were wondering how I’d possibly ever gotten that idea. He pulled out his money real fast. He wasn’t refusing to pay. Not him. He was paying!
I figure my hourly wage is too low to compel me to get into philosophical discussions with visitors. I’ll have to get paid $15 an hour before I feel obligated to engage in philosophical discussions.