Category Archives: Work Camping

Stupid

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I’m so proud of myself. For once, I kept my big mouth shut.

It was the end of the camping season, and I was spending my Sunday afternoon collecting access fees in the campground’s overflow parking lot.

A Jeep pulled into the campground’s driveway. It was followed by one of those minivan/station wagon hybrid vehicles.

I approached the woman driving the Jeep. Yes, they wanted to walk the trail she said in response to my first question. I told her there was a $5 access fee, and she pulled out a twenty.

I want to pay for the kids behind me, she told me.

While I was making change, I noticed the vehicle behind her backing out.

Are you with them? I asked the woman in the Jeep. They’re backing out.

She said she was with them, so I started gesturing at the second vehicle so the driver would not back out.

That’s my daughter in the car, the woman in the Jeep told me. Her boyfriend is driving. He’s kind of stupid.

I didn’t know how best to respond to that allegation, so I simply said, I’m sorry.

I am too! the woman laughed

I looked back at the second vehicle and saw the stupid boyfriend had stopped backing up and was pulling forward again.

Maybe she’ll get over it, I suggested optimistically to the woman in the Jeep.

I hope so, she said.

It was only later I realized I’d done a good job and not said anything regrettable. I thought about all the scandalous words that could have popped out of my mouth had I been less vigilant.

Maybe he has other talents. (said in a wink wink, nudge nudge double entendre voice)

Maybe he’s good in bed.

Maybe he’s got a big cock.

Maybe she wants to be sure she’s the smartest person in the relationship.

Maybe he lets her spend his money.

I’m so proud of myself. I didn’t let my big mouth embarrass me for once.

 

Restroom Monitor

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It was Labor Day weekend and the mercantile was packed.

I’d tried to go to lunch twice before I succeeded. Both times I went outside, got to my van, and watched a crowd of people head to the store. I could have left the manager to deal with the customers alone, but I try to be a team player. Both times I turned around and went back into the store to help.

Right before I finally left for lunch at 1:15, one of the camp hots of the campground where the mercantile is located came into the store and said he was closing the women’s restroom at the front of the campground because there had been an “accident.” He said the restroom would be closed for a while.

The restrooms at the front of the campground get a lot of action. Not only are they used by campers and the employees of the mercantile, they’re also used by people who walk the trail. Lots of people park in the overflow lot at the front of the campground and visit the restrooms before and after their stroll through the trees. Other visitors utilize the restrooms when they leave the trail to shop in the mercantile or to take a look at the campground. It’s not unusual in the late morning or early afternoon on a weekend to see lines five or six people long waiting for both front restrooms.

A little after 2pm, a woman stepped up to the counter where I was standing. Is there another women’s restroom? She asked me. That one’s locked.

I glanced out the yurt’s front window. I saw five or six people (not just men) in line in front of the men’s room. It appeared the camp host had not yet cleaned the accident in the other restroom.

I told the woman the restroom had been closed because it needed cleaning. (I didn’t mention it had needed cleaning for at least 45 minutes.) Then I told her about the two additional restrooms at the back of the campground. I pointed to the road she should follow to the restrooms and sent her on her way.

When I wasn’t looking, the mercantile manager must have loaned the tourist woman a little bottle of hand sanitizer because several minutes later, I saw the tourist woman handing it back to the manager.

Did you find the restroom ok? I asked the tourist.

Actually, the ranger told me I couldn’t use it, she said apologetically.

My mouth literally dropped open, and I had quite a difficult time closing it. The manager of the mercantile was looking at her incredulously too. One of us managed to ask, What?, and the woman elaborated.

As she walked toward the back of the campground, the female camp host (whom the tourist mistook for a ranger) stopped her to ask where she was going. When the woman said she was going to the restroom, the camp host told her she couldn’t use the restrooms in the back!

The manager and I both apologized to the woman and told her the camp host should not have denied her access.

Both the manager and I were astonished. While we trusted the tourist woman was telling us the truth, we could hardly imagine a camp host prohibiting a visitor from using a functional restroom.

There are many reasons a person might not be able to stand in line and wait for a restroom.  Maybe the woman was pregnant. (Granted the woman didn’t appear pregnant, but I’m not an obstetrician.) Maybe the woman had a physical condition that necessitated an immediate restroom visit. Maybe she’d simply pushed her body to its limit and needed to go NOW! Maybe she was trying to be efficient and take care of her needs elsewhere while her family was using the one open restroom in the front. Maybe she just didn’t want to go into the overused men’s room. The bottom line is, the camp host should not have denied the woman the use of any open restroom in the campground.

During my profuse apology, I asked the tourist woman if she wanted to write a comment card. She said she did. When she finished, I promised to get it to my boss, and I did so by sending it home with his wife.

The next day the mercantile manager and I saw The Big Boss Man talking to the female camp host. I was busy when he came into the mercantile, but the manager later told me he said the camp host said (this is like a game of telephone, I know) there had only been a couple of people in line for the restroom when the tourist lady tried to use the back restroom. That, of course, was a lie, but even if only one person had been in line, the woman should have been allowed to use one of the restrooms in the back. The camp host went on to say she didn’t want any day-use visitors messing up the restrooms the campers were using!

I’m not going to say day–use visitors wouldn’t mess up a restroom in some way. However, it’s the camp host’s job to clean restrooms, no matter who messes them up. I sure hope The Big Boss Man explained to his employee that cleaning a dirty restroom, regardless of who made the mess, is the duty of a camp host.

Monster

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My big mouth has gotten me in trouble throughout my life. I’ve gotten better at keeping it closed, but if I start talking without thinking, I can really make an ass of myself.

It was a day like any other in the parking lot, not particularly busy. A car pulled in, and I stepped over to it. A man was driving; a woman sat in the front passenger seat. The window on the back drivers side door was up and had enough of a tint to keep me from seeing the backseat.

I asked the man if they were here for the trail and he said yes. I told him about the $5 parking fee.

As we spoke, I heard grunts and groans and growls coming from behind the closed window in the back. It sounded nothing like a dog, so I thought there must be a kid or two in the backseat playing around and making funny noises in hopes of freaking out the lady talking to the driver.

I should have said, What’s going on back there? or Do you have kids in the backseat? Instead, I opened my mouth and what came out will haunt me for the rest of my days.

Do you have a monster back there? I asked. I thought it was a funny thing to say. I’ve met plenty of kids who like to pretend to be monsters. I swear, I thought there was a kid back there playing.

The man used his control button to roll down the back window. In the backseat sat a young girl of about ten years with obvious physical and mental developmental disabilities.

That’s our special needs daughter Amelia, the man said happily. That’s how she communicates. We adopted her two years ago.

Needless to say, I wanted to sink into the ground and never be seen or heard from again. I felt like such an asshole. I would never purposefully refer to anyone with a developmental disability as a “monster,” but that’s exactly what I had just called the girl. Why hadn’t I kept my big mouth shut?

I stammered and stuttered and sent the family on their way.

I sat at the front of the parking lot feeling awful. What I’d said was not what I’d meant. Then I thought about how awful the parents must feel when complete stranger said ugly things about their beloved daughter. How could I make amends for what I’d said?

The man and his daughter came walking by later. I decided I should apologize.

I’m sorry for what I said earlier, I told the man.

What did you say?  he asked pleasantly.

Was he playing with me? Did he just want to see me squirm? (If that’s what he wanted, I knew that’s what I deserved.) Did he really not know what I’d said? If he didn’t know what I’d said, I certainly didn’t want to repeat it. Why hadn’t I kept my big mouth shut? I was only making things worse. Again, I wished the earth would swallow me whole.

I hemmed and hawed and stammered some more. I don’t remember exactly what I said to the nice man and the sweet girl he doted on, but it was apparent to me the monster was the person wearing the uniform, not the one looking at trees with her father.

I did learn a lesson from my rudeness: I don’t make any cracks about what’s going on in the backseat until I see who’s sitting there.

Biker

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I was working the main parking lot on the penultimate Saturday of the season. I hadn’t been there clouds, countryside, forestlong when a bunch of folks on motorcycles pulled in. That’s when I remembered the same thing happened late in the season the year before. There was a motorcycle rally in the valley and the bikers were coming up the mountain to enjoy driving the winding, turning, curvy roads. Lots of bikers roared past the parking lot, but just as many decided to stop and see the sequoias.

The majority of bikers were men, and most were traveling in groups of 3 to 6. I did see a handful of women and a few lone wolves, but while none of the groups seemed to be organized gangs, men traveling together was the order of the day.

At one point, a small group of guys was milling about near the front of the parking lot. Most of them were probably in their 20s, while maybe two of their number were middle age. One man was older, with glasses and a grey ponytail. He looked like Jerry Garcia might have looked had he lived another decade. I could see the older man was looking at me, but I thought I probably had dirt on my nose.

Finally, he approached me. He must have been looking at me trying to get his courage up because he asked me in a low voice, as if he were embarrassed, Is this hike hard? I’m an old man. I don’t get around like I used to.

headlight, motorbike, motorcycleMy heart went out to him. Here was this tough guy biker, hair in a ponytail, wearing black clothes and boots, worried he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the young bucks on a walk through the trees.

Don’t worry, I answered softly so none of his buddies would overhear. It’s more of a stroll than a hike, It’s paved and wheelchair accessible. There are lots of benches on the trail too, I told him. If you need to sit and rest, just tell the others you’re basking in the glory of the trees.

After my reassurance, he walked away with a grin on his face.

Even the toughest of us will be old someday, but we’ll always want to be able to keep up with the kids.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/clouds-countryside-forest-idyllic-319833/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/headlight-motorbike-motorcycle-vehicle-1658/.

Scruffy

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Shortly before Labor Day Weekend, two coworkers quit suddenly. The Man was sent to work my old job in the parking lot, and I continued to staff the mercantile. The manager and I worked alone on the two days the other had off each week, and we worked together on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

After Labor Day, weekdays were very slow. Some weekdays, the mercantile took in less than $100. Slow was fine with me. I entertained myself by writing or reading, and I got paid the same no matter what I sold.

One Wednesday I was working alone. The weather was cold and rainy, and only a few people had been in the store all day. Late in the afternoon, a man and a woman—both with totally white hair—came in.

Are y’all here for the trail? I asked the couple.

They said they were. I told them there was a $5 parking fee.

The fellow with the white hair started to laugh. That’s what the guy down the road told me, he said.  I told him to take a hike!

I assured him the parking fee was real. The fellow with the white hair insinuated The Man (who was working the parking lot alone that day) was an imposter ripping people off $5 at a time.

Don’t you think it’s a long way to come up this mountain to hustle people?  I asked the fellow with the white hair. It’s a pretty slow day for that too, I told him.

He didn’t have on a uniform, the woman said.

He didn’t have on a uniform? I asked incredulously. I was confident The Man was wearing a uniform when he’d dropped me off at the mercantile that morning. He wasn’t wearing a jacket like this? I asked,  gesturing to the company insignia on the jacket I was wearing.

He was wearing a uniform, the fellow with the white hair said, sounding irritated.

That’s not what you told me, the woman said.

The fellow with the white hair looked at me and said, He was kind of scruffy.

I was aghast. That’s my boyfriend! I told the fellow with the white hair. He had the decency to look embarrassed.

The Man has facial hair, it’s true, and his jacket may not have been pristine clean since we live away from civilization and can’t always do laundry the moment our outerwear gets dirty. However, I’d call him handsome, perhaps rugged, but not scruffy.

The fellow with the white hair continued to defend his doubts about The Man’s validity as an employee empowered to collect parking fees. He knew a woman, he said, who hustled people by collecting money in parking lots…

Where? I shot back at him. Grateful Dead shows?

He nodded, while his lady friend grew increasingly embarrassed.

I told him again it sure was a long way up the mountain on a slow and rainy day to tell lies just to get a few bucks. He continued to look embarrassed, but not nearly as embarrassed as the woman with him.

The fellow with the white hair may have doubted The Man’s valididy, but he didn’t doubt mine. Not only was I wearing a uniform and a photo ID, I was standing behind a cash register in a store. I collected that old coot’s $5 parking fee before he went back to his car.

 

Nice Day

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Toward the end of the camping season, the mercantile was closed for inventory. The manager worked with two ladies from the corporate office to count everything in the store. Apparently four people would have been one too many for the task because when I showed up for work, I was told my services were not needed. The Big Boss Man didn’t want me to lose pay, so he told me I could work in the campground to make up my hours. I walked over to the parking lot where The Man had my van and changed into a cobbled together camp host uniform. Back at the campground, I cleaned restrooms, raked campsites, collected access fees, gave directions, and had a very nice day.

guide, idaho, mapFor a slow parking day, I gave a lot of directions. So many people who pull into the campground or the parking lot are unsure of how to get where they’re going at best, but usually out and out lost.

I talked to a lovely young woman who wondered if she and her guy should take the time to visit the nearby national park. I told her they totally needed to visit. As I told her, while our trees are beautiful, the national park is like a magical fairy land of giant sequoias. That’s what she wanted to see, she said, so she and I discussed the best route to take.

The next people who needed directions were an old couple from West Virginia. They were totally lost. They were supposed to meet the woman’s brothers in a national park, but followed their GPS (which had been programed to our coordinates while they were still in West Virginia) to a campground hours away from where they wanted to be. I told them how to get where they wanted to go,, and they hoped the brothers would still be there.

Another older couple pulled in later in the day. I noticed their big ol’ Chevy conversion van right off. I explained the access fee of $5, and the woman in the passenger seat asked if her Golden Age card would cover it. I said it would not cover parking, but it would get them half off camping. Most people who want to use an access pass to pay for parking don’t want to camp, but this couple decided to do it. I told them what sites were available, and they drove through the campground to pick one.

I talked to them quite a bit that afternoon. The man said they were from Illinois, and when I asked about their Southern accents, he said they were from southern Illinois. I thought he was joking until he told me they do their grocery shopping in Paducah, KY. (I always forget Kentucky borders the Midwest.) They also spend a lot of time near Gulf Shores, AL, which I’m sure also enhances their accents.

I asked the fellow about his van, then told him about mine. He and his wife aren’t full-timers, but they do travel extensively in their van. Las year they’d visited the area (their daughter lives nearby) in a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, but the mountains destroyed its transmission. They already owned the conversion van, so this time they decided to travel in it. The minivan was really too small for two people, they agreed, and they were really enjoying the extra room in the larger van.

The fellow asked me if I watched YouTube videos, and I said not so much. He said he really liked watching van-build videos. He talked more about van builds, and some part of our conversation led me to say, If you go to Quartzsite, AZ in January, you can go to, and we both said, the RTR. He’d heard of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous! He said he’d never been but would love to go. I told him I’d been to three RTRs, and I became something of an instant celebrity. He was quite impressed to learn I’d been where he wanted to go.

When The Man came to the campground to pick me up that afternoon, we went over to the couple’s campsite. I wanted to introduce them to The Man, and I wanted to give them my business card with the name of my book (Confessions of a Work Camper) and my blog address on it. The four of us had a good conversation about minivans and transmissions and traveling. When we left, I said, Maybe I’ll see y’all at the RTR someday. They agreed that maybe I would.

Between meeting the people in the conversion van and going home that afternoon, I met a group of adventure, camping, forestyoung people on a birthday celebration camping trip. I showed them to their campsite and told them how to get to a secluded waterfall. They were mellow stoners—love kids—and I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of the area.

It was fun to be a camp host again, especially on a slow day near the end of the season. I didn’t have to work too hard, and I met nice, interesting people. If every day as a camp host could be that good, I’d never want to do anything else.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-navigation-guide-108942/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-trees-adventure-tent-6714/.

I Don’t Like People

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The black SUV pulled into the campground early one Sunday afternoon late in the season. The Man and I were working as camp hosts there, and I’d stationed myself near the overflow lot to collect access fees while he worked the main parking area.

The fellow driving the black SUV was rocking the wet look; he’d gelled his curly dark hair to within an inch of its life.

I asked the man if he wanted to park so he and his passenger could walk the trail. Curly said yes. I told him about the access fee and pointed to the dirt area where he could park. He gestured in front of himself and asked what was all of that. I told him it was a campground. He asked if there was any parking in the campground. I told him the parking in the campground was for people camping.

My confusion must have shown on my face because the woman in the passenger seat said, He doesn’t like to park by other cars.

Yeah, curly agreed. I don’t like people!

O-kay! I thought, but I found a spot where he could park the SUV away from other vehicles.

As I wrote the parking pass, Curly explained himself. It wasn’t really that he didn’t like other people. I’m a people person, he proclaimed. The problem was door dings. He didn’t like door dings, and people are just not careful with car doors. It was ok if the wind flung a door; he understood the wind sometimes caught doors and crashed them into other cars. However, he didn’t want to park near people who might be careless with their doors.

It’s going on three years, and not one door ding, he said proudly.

The woman in the passenger seat just grinned. She had heard this all before.

I don’t really understand the preoccupation with keeping vehicles “nice.” I live a rugged life and my material possessions—including my van—show wear and tear from the way I live. But to each his/her/their own. If Curly wants to spend his time and energy worrying about door dings, that’s his business.

Before paying me for his pass, Curly jumped out of the SUV and ran around to the other side to open his companion’s door. After the exchange of payment and pass, I watched Curly and the lady walk away, one of his hands in hers, the other carrying a picnic basket. I was glad I could help him have a nature experience free from the worry of coming back to a dinged door.