Last season, my co-worker and I handed out a trail guide to the driver of every car that parked in the parking lot. These were nice trail guides: trifold, printed on both sides in color on heavy, glossy paper. We had trail guides early this season too, until right after Memorial Day.
The company I work for doesn’t provide the trail guides; they’re provided by an association promoting giant sequoias. The association recently did some work on the trial, and my boss told me the plan is to mount informational plaques on wood in front of the featured trees. He doesn’t know if this plan will do away with the trail guides or when the informational plaques will appear. In the meantime, as I told my boss, visitors are sad every day when I tell them I have no trail guide to give them.
My co-worker and I were discussing the possible demise of the paper trail guide. I noted they must cost a pretty penny, so doing away with them would save someone money. Also, I speculated 95% of them (a number I pulled right out of my ass) end up in the landfill, so doing away with them would be an environmentally sound step.
However, my co-worker countered, people like getting the trail guide. Being handed the trail guide makes them feel as if they’re getting something for the $5 they pay to park. I couldn’t argue with him there because I knew he was right.
My co-worker left for the day, and I was in the parking lot alone.
A car pulled in, and I approached the driver’s side. Through the window, I saw a driver who looked like a retired junior high school teacher–very uptight. When I told her about the $5 parking fee, she wanted to use her Golden Age pass. I explained we accept no passes and offer no discounts in the parking lot. She was surly, so I explained further that the private company I work for has a concession with the Forest Service and is allowed to charge the $5 fee to maintain the restrooms and the parking lot.
She snapped, The Forest Service maintains all the restrooms!
(I love setting people straight when they speak with authority but obviously don’t know what they’re talking about.)
I stayed very calm and said in a friendly voice, No ma’am. The Forest Service does not maintain these restrooms. The private company I work for maintains the restrooms and buys the toilet paper.
She had no retort on the topic of restrooms, so she asked about the campground next door. I gave her the information, even told her she could use her Golden Age pass there to get 50% off the camping fee. She said she was going to look at the campground.
I said something like Ok, Great! but in the privacy of my brain, I was thinking, Good riddance.
It wasn’t good riddance for long; she was back in the parking lot a few minutes later. I guess she hadn’t like what she saw in the campground.
I took the woman’s $5 and handed her a day pass.
Don’t I get a trail guide? she demanded.
We’ve been out of trail guides for about six weeks, I told her calmly. I don’t have any to give.
Can’t you make photocopies? she demanded.
This question made me chuckle aloud. I don’t even have electricity at the campground where I’m the camp host. I don’t have any way to make photocopies, I told her.
She was quite exasperated now. Surely the company you work for has an office, she said. They could make photocopies there.
The company I work for doesn’t provide the trail guides, I told her. They’re provided by an association…
I realized the conversation was unworkable. She would have a counterargument or another question in response to anything I said. I decided to try a new tactic.
Would you like a comment card? I offered.
My new tactic for complainers I can’t seem to placate is to offer a comment card. If the complainer accepts the card, the heat’s off me. Not only does the card distract them, but they quit complaining to me because their complaint is now moving on to a higher power. If the complainer does not accept a comment card, we both knows/he is not adequately invested in the complaint. The complainer usually quits talking at that point, and I certainly quit listening.
Oh yes, the uptight woman said. She certainly did want a comment card. If I’m paying $5, I want a trail guide, she told me.
Just like my co-worker had said.
I got the comment card for her. She didn’t hand it back to me, so she must have mailed it in to the president of the company for which I work. She wasn’t the type to decide it was no big deal after all.