Independence Day had been on Wednesday and was pretty low-key. I’d gone into work for a couple of hours at midday to help out, even though it was officially my day off. The Mercantile had been pretty much dead while I was there, but over the course of the day managed to do respectable sales.
I had the whole day off on the 5th of July, then was back to work on Friday the 6th. It was a hot day with only a little breeze, and problems with the Mercantile’s power supply kept the swamp cooler off. My thick shirt and the apron on top did nothing to help the situation, and a couple of times during the day I stood next to my van and poured water over my head and neck in hopes of cooling myself off.
Ushering out the last customers and locking the Mercantile’s door at five o’clock was a joy. I couldn’t wait to change my clothes and have some quiet time.
I was staying at the group campground now, and there had been no campers for a week. I’d only seen birds out there—an enormous robin, a pair of quail, two talkative brown birds I couldn’t identify, a brilliant red-throated humming bird that hovered next to the van’s side mirror before flitting away—and I’d been enjoying the solitude. The camp host who lived half a mile down the road but cared for the group campground reminded me that my home turf was reserved for the weekend; the campers would arrive sometime on Friday and depart by Sunday afternoon.
If anyone bothers you, Sandra the camp host told me, tell them I’ll be around tomorrow to check them in.
The group campground was full of activity when I arrived. At least five vehicles and a cargo trailer were parked at the far end, and probably a dozen people were bustling around, unpacking cars and setting up tents.
I parked my van at my camp and decided I would read for a while before I cooked dinner. I changed out of my uniform and into cooler clothes, then sat outside in the shade with my back to the camper commotion.
I hadn’t even read a page when a pickup truck stopped on the road next to my campsite. The driver was a young woman with long dark hair and glasses. Excuse me, she said.
Here we go, I thought.
It boiled down to this: The young woman was the first of her group to arrive. Her group had reserved the campground. The reservation was in her brother’s girlfriend’s name, but she didn’t know any of the people who were already in the campground setting up.
Oh, that *was* a problem.
I explained to the young woman that I wasn’t the camp host but did work for the company that managed the campground. I offered to talk to the other campers and try to sort out who they were and where they belonged. She seemed grateful for my offer, and we walked over to where people where setting up camp.
The oldest person in the group was the closest as I approached. He was probably in his late 50s and had completely grey hair cut short. He was thickly built and wore long shorts and a tank top.
Excuse me, I said to this man who appeared to be the patriarch. Do you have a reservation?
No, he didn’t have a reservation. This was a free area, open to everyone, he told me with complete conviction. He didn’t have a reservation, and he didn’t need one is basically what he said. I don’t know where this man had come from, but he seemed very East Coast to me. He was quite sure of himself, but he was oh so wrong.
It was one of my finest moments. I very calmly and patiently explained to him that we were in a group campground that cost $136 per night to rent and had been reserved by another group.
The fellow dropped his bravado. I think he knew he had no claim to the campground, or maybe it was the mention of the $136 per night fee that did him in.
He did try to tell me that a camp host had told them they could camp in the group campground for free. I think we both knew that was a lie we could generously call a misunderstanding. I knew no camp host would tell people they could stay in a fee area for free.
Are y’all looking for free camping? I asked the man with the grey hair.
We want any camping, a younger guy who’d been listening to our conversation piped in.
I gave them a general idea of where they could find primitive camping (there will be no restroom and no picnic tables, I explained to them, and you’ll need a fire permit to have a campfire), and I could tell the men had accepted the fact that they’d have to leave.
Watch out for that guy over there, the many with grey hair warned me. One of our kids ran through his camp and he yelled at her, he said.
Wait. What? I asked. Those people over there aren’t a part of your group?
Nope. Those people weren’t part of the grey-haired man’s group. That’s when I realized not two but three groups were trying to lay claim to the group campground. What a headache!
As I walked away from the man with grey hair, I heard him and the younger guy telling the rest of their party that they had to pack everything and move. I also heard someone say, He told us to go three mile, but we only went half a mile. I didn’t realize what that meant until later when Javier the camp host down the road told me he’d told the grey-haired man to go three miles and turn down the road on the left to find free camping. Obviously the group had only gone half a mile down the road, turned left into the clearly marked group campground, and convinced themselves they could camp there for free.
This story turned out to be a long one, so I decided to make a two-parter. Don’t worry, I’ll only make you wait until tomorrow to find out what happened when three sets of people all wanted to stay in one group campground.