It was almost the end of my shift when the car pulled in. A Latino man was driving. A man of undetermined heritage wearing a big straw hat was in the passenger’s seat.
When I asked, Are y’all here for the trail? the man wearing the big hat said, I’m from [nearby town].
I’m not sure if he thought he’d get special treatment because he was a local, but I immediately replied, There’s a $5 parking fee.
As he began fumbling for his money, he told me his friend (the driver) was visiting from Mexico City, and he (the passenger) wanted to show him (the driver) the big trees.
There was something a little odd going on with the passenger, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. He was oversharing a bit (I didn’t really care where he lived or why he’d decided to visit the trail on that particular day), and while he was moving a little slowly, he also seemed somewhat frantic.
The driver never said a word, barely looked at me.
I collected the $5, handed over the day pass, and sent them on their way. I sat in my chair and continued working on the letter I was writing. I almost forgot I’d ever seen the guy wearing the big straw hat.
I became aware of someone standing in front of me, silently watching me. I looked up. There was the guy wearing the big straw hat.
He told me he was sad about all the dead trees.
I told him the drought had killed them.
He told me the trees at his place were dying too, trees he’d planted with his own two hands.
(I really don’t think I get paid near enough to be a grief counselor helping people work through their sadness at the death of trees, but I was trying to be polite.)
Then he asked why so many trees had been cut down in the parking lot.
I explained those trees had been dead or dying and had been deemed hazardous.
He pointed to a nearby tree that had been felled. He said the tree looked healthy to him. He wanted to know why a tree that seemed healthy to him had been cut.
I’m not tree expert. (That’s probably why I wasn’t hired to determine what trees in the parking lot needed to be taken down before they fell on a car or a person.) I don’t know specifically why the tree the man wearing the big straw hat thought was healthy had been cut down. I don’t even know why the man wearing the big straw hat thought the tree in question had been healthy. Presumably, the man in front of me wasn’t a tree expert either, since he hadn’t presented his credentials, verbally or otherwise. I can only guess that even if the tree on the ground looked fine, some sickness had been detected, and it was in danger of falling.
I’m fairly distrustful of the government, but I hardly think there’s a conspiracy in my parking lot to cut down healthy trees. What would be the point?
You’d have to talk to someone from the Forest Service about that, I told him in reply to his question about why the particular tree of interest had been felled.
The man wearing the big straw hat became more animated.
I work for the LA Times! he exclaimed.
(Oh yeah? In what capacity? I should have asked. But really, I didn’t want to engage him. I really just wanted to get back to writing my letter.)
He insinuated he could get to the bottom of this.
He said, I’m a writer. I have big hands! He held up his hands for me to see. They didn’t look particularly big to me. And what if they were? What’s hand size got to do with being a writer? Nothing, as far as I can tell.
And you know what else? he asked.
(If this man says something about the size of his dick, I’m going to lose my shit, I thought. That’s how weird he was getting–weird enough that I thought he might start talking about his penis.)
I love this place! He was really excited now. You let anyone around here doing anything wrong know that I will find out! he told me. Because I am a writer! And I love this place!
Ok, I said, and pointed out to him his friend from Mexico City leaving him behind, rapidly crossing the street and heading for the trail.
You better catch up, I told the man in the big straw hat.
He just stood there and looked at me, clearly wanting to rant some more.
I looked down at the letter in my lap, trying to signal the end of our interaction.
Finally (finally!) he walked away, but as he crossed the street, he continued to shout about being a writer and loving this place and having big hands.
Thankfully, my shift ended and I was gone before he returned to the parking lot.