Category Archives: Work Camping

You Are Here

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We sold maps at the Mercantile where I worked, but most people wanted to look at them without actually purchasing them. One of the maps we sold was produced by the Forest Service and between Memorial Day weekend when the Mercantile opened and the middle of July, the price went up from $12.99 to $20. The other map we sold was better, easier to read, and only cost $12.95. When we ran out of those and the store’s buyer couldn’t contact the publishing company, The Big Boss man ordered some form Amazon, and the price jumped to $20. Just like the law of supply and demand I’d learned about in my high school free enterprise class predicted, we were suddenly selling significantly fewer maps.

One Friday morning, a large extended family came into the Mercantile. A boy of about 14 asked to see a map. The other clerk pulled one out of the display case where we’d started keeping them to prevent theft (our computerized inventory said we had two more maps than were actually in the store, so we knew some had been stolen) and manhandling by people who had no intention of buying. The boy said he was looking for waterfalls, but I don’t know if he was able to locate any on the map.

Model Figure Standing on MapDoes this map say “You are here”? he asked and he unfolded it.

Well, no, I said. If it did, the words would have to keep moving around as you moved through the forest.

The kid looked at me blankly.

I tried again. Only a stationary map will say “You are here,” I told him, but he continued to look at me blankly. I wondered if he knew what “stationary” meant.

Only a map that doesn’t move can say “You are here,” I said, and not a glimmer of understanding flickered across the kid’s face.

I gave up. I was too busy trying to watch out for shoplifters  and helping people find sizes to explain that a paper map moving through time and space with a person has no way to update “You are here” to reflect where a person is at any given moment. With paper maps, explorers must figure out “You are here” on their own.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cartography-close-up-concept-408503/.

This Campground?

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It was Sunday, and I was on my mid-shift break from my duties at the Mercantile. I was hanging out in my van which was parked in the overflow parking lot at the front of the campground where the Mercantile was located. Javier the camp host was sitting in the shade right outside my van, jumping up to collect access fees whenever a new vehicle pulled into the lot. When people stood next to his chair to converse, I heard every word through my van’s open windows.

While Javier was sitting there, a young tourist couple approached him to ask how to get to a nearby waterfall.

This is the waterfall the young tourist couple wanted to see.

We got asked about this waterfall a lot, and I hated giving directions to it. No sign marks the spot, and the directions involve noticing an unmarked road that should not be turned down but simply used as a landmark. At some distance past the road is an unmarked dirt turnout where waterfall seekers must park before going off into the forest on their quest. Usually the eyes of the person who’d asked for directions to this place glazed over before I finished giving all the necessary information, and I had a strong suspicion the person would never even find the right place to park, much less the actual natural attraction.

When I heard the young man ask about the waterfall, I groaned inwardly. I was glad it was Javier giving the directions and not me.

Javier started in. Take a left out of the campground, Javier told tourists.

This campground? the young man interrupted.

Yes, this campground, Javier said like the professional he is, then continued with the directions. I sat in the van shaking my head, thinking of all the things I would have liked to have said to the tourist in response of his question of This campground?

Oh no! Not this campground? Why would I refer to the campground we’re currently in? Just go into any campground, then make a left out of it.

Or course this campground! Why would I be talking about any other campground? Yes! This campground!

My patience grew thinner every day.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Don’t Forget the Tent

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Last summer while working at the Mercantile, I heard of not one, but two sets of campers who got all the way up the mountain only to realize they’d forgotten their tent. Groan.

Sandra the camp host told me the first story.

Photo of Blue and Yellow Lighted Dome Tent Surrounded by Plants during Night Time

Two couples showed up at her campground for the night. They arrived around 4 pm. Sandra checked them in and told then the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Around six that evening, one of the couples was on Sandra’s campsite begging her to open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent.

What?

Apparently as they unpacked, they realized their tent hadn’t made it into their car. They didn’t have a tent. They needed a tent. Couldn’t Sandra please open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent?

Sandra explained she could not open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent. Not only did she not work at the Mercantile, meaning she had not been trained on the store’s procedures, but the cash register was closed and there was no money in the drawer. There was nothing she could do to remedy the couple’s lack of tent.

Sandra was perplexed. She’d told them the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Why had the people waited two hours to try to buy a tent? Perhaps they didn’t started unpacking right away, I offered. Maybe the Mercantile was already closed when they realized they had no tent.

Sandra also wondered why the couple needed their own tent. Their friends

Man and Woman Sitting Beside campfire and in front of tent during Night Time

had a huge tent, Sandra said. It was an 8 or 10 person tent with plenty of room for four adults.


Maybe the tentless couple had been planning a romantic evening that didin’t include their friends, I guessed. Sandra just shrugged. I guess she figured people hoping for a romantic interlude would have planned better.

The second story of a tentless camper came from one of the other clerks in the Mercantile. This clerk’s husband was the camp host at the busy campground down he road. One weekday afternoon, a camper approached the camp host and said he’d forgotten to bring his tent. The camp host suggested the camper drive down to the Mercantile and buy a new tent. The camper said he would do just that.

Later that day, the camp host saw the camper again. The camp host asked the camper if he’d gotten a tent. The camper said he hadn’t. He said he’d been to the Mercantile but there were no tents for sale. The camp host said all the tents that had been in stock must have sold out.

When his wife came home, the camp host mentioned the camper who’d gone to the Mercantile to buy a tent only to find there were none left. His wife assured him there were at least a couple of tents available at the Mercantile. She also told him that no one had asked her anything about tents that day. She thought the camper had gone into the Mercantile and looked around but didn’t see the tents. Not seeing any tents (and perhaps not wanting to admit to another person that he’d gone on a camping trip without one), he simply left without asking for assistance.

I wonder if the camper even made it to the store where I worked. There was a general store very close to the campground where he was staying. I wonder if he thought that was the store the camp host suggested. The general store was going through a transition of ownership and had very limited stock. I would have been surprised to know that store had any tents for sale.

Person in Blue Denim Jeans Standing Outside the Rain

Of course, people forget things. When I was in my mid-30s I went on a fishing trip without shoes.I was barefoot when I got in the car. I thought I’d put my shoes in the trunk. Apparently not. When we arrived at the lake, I found I was without footwear. Luckily my friend had a spare pair of sneakers in the car. I wore them even though they were several sizes too big.

However, a tent seems like an integral component of a camping trip, especially if the camper is not driving a motor home or a camper van and isn’t towing a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. It seems as if one is going on a camping trip and is planning to sleep in a tent, the tent would be the most important item to pack.

On this day, the cultural beginning of summer, I offer you a bit of advice. If you’re going camping this summer or any time, be sure to pack the tent. Check to make sure you have it before you leave home. Ask yourself, Do I have the tent? Go ahead and double check, triple check, and check one more time. If you find the tent is not in your vehicle with the rest of your camping gear, you’ll be glad you looked for it yet again.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-blue-and-yellow-lighted-dome-tent-surrounded-by-plants-during-night-time-712067/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-and-woman-sitting-beside-bonfire-during-nigh-time-776117/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/feet-rain-wet-puddle-105776/.

Unprepared in a Giant Motorhome

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The giant motor home pulled into the campground on a day I was working alone at the Mercantile. The camp hosts were on their day off, so if anyone was going to keep the driver of the RV from getting stuck in the campground, it was going to be me.

The motor home was the size of the ones I’d seen in RV lots with price tags of a quarter million dollars. I don’t know if it had marble countertops and a full size bathtub like some I’ve seen, but there was no denying it was big.

The campground, on the other hand was small. It only had 14 sites. The road through the campground was only one lane wide and looped through an inner and outer circle of campsites. I wasn’t sure a motor home that size was going to make it around the turns necessary to drive through the campground. I certainly didn’t want that behemoth getting stuck back there.

I went out on the Mercantile’s porch. The motor home was stopped and the driver was no longer behind the steering wheel. A woman in a romper was talking to the driver of a small car stopped behind the motorhome. Did the woman in the romper belong to the motor home?

Excuse me? I called out. Is this yours? I asked, gesturing to the massive RV. It was. The woman in the romper came over to talk to me.

She was probably in her 30s with long, messy hair. She was friendly and hyper. She’d hoped to camp in the campground where we stood but didn’t have a reservation. I told her the campground was very small, and I was afraid her motorhome wasn’t going to fit anywhere in it. There was one site that might have accommodated her rig, but getting to it and in and out of it would have definitely been problematic.

She wanted to walk the trail and buy a map. She wanted to know where she could park while she did those things. I directed her to the second overflow lot, little more than a long, narrow dirt driveway where we sent rigs too big to park in either of the two regular lots.

The woman got the giant motor home out of the campground, but she and her tween daughter were in the Mercantile a short time later. She’d parked in the second overflow lot, she told me. She repeated that she’d hoped to camp in this campground and I said again that I thought the campground was too small to accommodate her rig.

It’s really intended for tent camping, I told her, then suggested she try the larger campground 15 miles down the road or the privately owned RV park in the little community 25 miles away. Maybe one of those places would have a site large enough for her motor home.

The woman had a list in her hand and started asking me about places she wanted to visit. Neither of the places she mentioned were anywhere near us. She seemed really confused. She said when she’d found information about the campground online, the website suggested these other places as also fun to visit, so she’d assumed they were nearby. The problem, I explained to her, was that the National Forest is really big and just because two attractions are both in the National Forest doesn’t mean they’re necessarily close. The woman seemed disappointed but undaunted.

She then asked about water, as in swimming, as in where could she and her kid go to get in the water. I told her about the river, then asked if she’d be going in the car. Oh no, she said. Her friend had driven the car I’d seen her next to, but her friend was leaving. She’d be driving the motor home wherever she went. I told her I wasn’t sure where she’d be able to park it. I wasn’t really familiar with the area around the river, so I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to find a space for something so big.

I didn’t know where to recommend she go to have fun or see things. All of the places I normally recommended were at the end of winding, rutted dirt roads. No way was I going to suggest she take that massive RV off the paved road. I didn’t want to be responsible for her getting stuck in a place where roadside assistance would never go.

She said she still wanted a map, so I pulled one out, opened it, and showed here where we were. I scanned the map’s barcode and told her the total with tax, which was $21 and change. She pulled out a $100 bill. It had been a slow morning, and I didn’t know if I had enough money in the drawer to give her correct change.

Do you have anything smaller? I asked her.

She rummaged through her wallet, and I saw she had several $100 bills. The lady must have been walking around with at least $1,000 in her purse. She determined she didn’t have any smaller bills.

I went to the bank and cleared out my savings, she said apologetically, implying the bank had loaded her down with big bills.

Let me look in the drawer again, I offered, and when I did, I found there were four twenties instead of the three I thought I had. I told her I could break her hundred after all, and she seemed relieved. I think she knew she needed that map.

She ended up buying a necklace for her daughter, so I got one of my twenties back. They left after the necklace purchase, but I continued to think about the woman. She was obviously spending a lot of money to show her kid a good time on this road trip, but her half-ass research and big-ass motor home were leaving her in one lurch after another. She didn’t find out until she arrived that the campground she wanted to stay in couldn’t accommodate her giant RV. The places she wanted to visit were more than a hundred miles away (I learned later from Google Maps), and she couldn’t get to the places nearby because the roads weren’t big enough for the rig she was driving. She’d have been better off throwing a tent and a camp stove into the trunk of a car or spending her money on a Jucy van or an Escape Campervan.

 

Full Truck

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I was about to close the Mercantile for the day when two men walked in.

They wanted to buy a map one said, but they balked when I told them the only one available cost $20. They just wanted to find a swimming hole or a creek. Their campground didn’t have water, and they just wanted to wash up. They gestured to their arms, as if they just wanted to splash some water on themselves.

I said they should go to the river, but they said 15 miles was too far away. They wanted me to tell them about a swimming hole or a creek nearby. I’m not much of a fan of putting my body in cold water, so I don’t seek out creeks or swimming holes. I knew about a waterfall about five miles away, but it wasn’t visible from the road, and it wasn’t signed, so I didn’t tell people about it unless they were enthusiastic, insistent seekers. I’d also heard of a swimming hole within a few miles of where we stood, but I hadn’t been there myself and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. The last thing I wanted to do was send these guys on a wild goose chase.

Because there were just the two of them and because they seemed to want to just splash some water on themselves, I told them about the creek on the far side of the campground where the Mercantile was located. The descent to the water was pretty steep and the water wasn’t  very deep, but I figured it would be better than nothing. I told the guys about the creek; they thanked me and walked out the front door.

I walked out the back door to give a heads up to Javier the camp host who was chopping firewood right across the street. I explained to Javier what the guys wanted and told him I’d sent them to the creek on the side of the campground. Javier was usually easy-going and receptive, but he had a whole list of objections to the guys going to the creek. He wouldn’t get in that water, he said, because of E. coli (from cows, I presume). He had people on site #4, he said, and the people who were looking for water shouldn’t be walking through anyone’s campsite. Well, I knew that. I’d told the guys not to walk through anyone’s campsite. Javier said Sandra, his partner in life and camp hosting, would talk to the guys and handle it.

I went back into the Mercantile wondering why Javier was being so weird and saw it was five o’clock. Time to close the doors! I walked out the front door to flip the sign around so it would read “closed” and hang the chain across the entrance to the long ramp leading to the store.

When I got outside, I saw the two men who’d been looking for the creek or swimming hole standing next to an extended cab pickup truck. There were more people in the pickup truck than I would have thought possible were I not seeing it with my own eyes. The two rows of seats inside the truck were full, and there were easily more than a dozen people sitting in the bed and along its sides. No wonder they didn’t want to go 15 miles to the river. Driving one mile with some many people in the back was probably unsafe.

I stretched the chain across the entrance and flipped the sign, then walked into the Mercantile and locked the door behind me. I walked through the store and out the back door to apologize to Javier.

I thought there were only two of them, I told him. I would have never knowingly sent that many people traipsing through his campground to splash in the creek.

Javier just shrugged. He wasn’t upset especially since Sandra had intercepted them and was giving them other ideas of where they could find some water to wash up.

I wonder where they ended up going.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Hatchets

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The Mercantile where I worked for two seasons sold hatchets. The Mercantile was located in a campground in the middle of a national forest, so the buyer for the store probably thought people would buy the hatchets to use in chopping firewood. We sold a few, not many. Most campers bought firewood from the camp host; this wood was already cut and split to fit in a

Photo of a Pile of Firewood

fire ring. The campers who collected wood for their campfires tended to be prepared with hatchets they’d brought from home.

Usually hatchets sat in a wooden crate in the camping section of the Mercantile and received no attention. However, on one Saturday the hatchets were noticed by boys too young to have them.

The first two boys came in during the morning. They were not accompanied by an adult, which always made me groan. The boys couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, and I wondered if their parents let then go by themselves into Wal-Mart or the mall. I’m not sure why some parents thought because our store was in a campground, it was ok to let their kids wander in alone.

I didn’t bother the boys, but I kept an eye on them. They were horsing around a the back of the store, but not being destructive or too loud. I had no qualms about sending unruly children on their way, but I didn’t feel I had the right to kick out people who weren’t misbehaving.

Then one of the boys found the hatchets.

Ooohhh! Look at this! the one called to his friend. The second boy was over in a flash.

Most of the hatchets had a plastic protector over the blade, but some of the

Black Axe on Wood

protectors had been lost in the shuffle of being unpacked and repacked and unpacked again over the course of the two seasons the Mercantile had been open. I wasn’t sure how sharp the edges of the blades actually were, but I didn’t want to find out by way of some kid’s bloody finger.

You can’t buy one of those without an adult present, I called out to the boys.

This wasn’t exactly a lie. Perhaps no county, state, or federal law required the boys to have an adult present in order to buy a hatchet, but I certainly wasn’t going to let a little kid buy one without a responsible adult there to approve the purchase. Also, kids that young seldom had twenty bucks in their pockets, so I counted on the mention of buying to remind them that they couldn’t afford the tool.

The boys seemed to have forgotten I was there and looked surprised and a bit embarrassed when I spoke. Once they realized I wasn’t going to let them play with a hatchet before they bought it, and I wasn’t going to let them buy one without an adult to ok the purchase, they left the store. I was relieved no one had been hurt and I no longer had to babysit.

The boy who came in later and expressed interest in the hatchets was older–probably closer to 11–but still too young (in my opinion) to have unsupervised access to a tool with the potential to do so much damage.

This older kid was a charmer in a real Eddie Haskell sort of way. He was very polite and smiled with all his teeth at me, but he seemed totally insincere. I suspect he would have kissed my hand and told me I was beautiful if he thought it would have gotten him what he wanted.

He asked me if we sold knives. I directed him to the knives in the glass display case. He was hoping for something bigger, maybe something that had the name of the place where we were printed or engraved on it. I assured him we had only the small, plain ones.

He walked around the store looking at the merchandise, all the while smiling and chatting me up. Then he saw the hatchets. He picked one up and admired it, so I told him what I’d told the younger boys: You can’t buy one of those without an adult present.

He sighed and returned the hatchet to the wooden crate with the others. He walked over near where I stood and said with a dreamy look in his eyes, I just love knives!

He said it the way another kid might say, I just love puppies or I just love baseball or I just love ice cream. I was totally creeped out by the kid.

You have to have an adult present to buy a knife too, I told him while making my too bad face. Realizing I wasn’t going to let him play with or buy a hatchet or knife without adult supervision, the kid walked out of the Mercantile. I was glad I didn’t have to be alone with him anymore.

After that, no one noticed the hatchets again for weeks. I always wondered what was going on when a previously unpopular item suddenly got a lot of attention. Had the stars aligned in just the right way to promote hatchet interest? Were those kids on a field trip with a Junior Hatchet Lovers of America group?

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-a-pile-of-firewood-1405720/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-axe-blur-chop-213942/.



Parked in the Road

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After The Man left the mountain, I stayed at the group campground down the road from the Mercantile where I worked. I was usually the only person in the campground during the week, but since I’d moved in, people had come in each Friday night, stayed over on Saturday, and left on Sunday while I was at work. Sandra the camp host told me this week would be no different.

I returned to the campground a little before six o’clock on Friday evening. All I wanted was to eat some dinner and go to bed.

Dirt RoadThe way into the campground was a dirt Forest Service road. It was rutted and dusty and bumpy and rocky, but if I drove on the wrong side of it as I headed to the campground, I could avoid the worst of it. The Forest Service road continued past the campground and disappeared into the woods.

The campground wasn’t very big and had no marked sites. People just figured out where to park and pitch their tents so they could be as close to or as far from the other people in their group as they wanted. Most groups congregated near the fire ring and the cluster of three picnic tables.

A narrow dirt road ran through the middle of the camping area. That road connected to the Forest Service road at two points, one on each end of the campground. Folks could enter and exit the camping area at either of those connection points. My camp was closest to the first connection point, but I almost never used that part of the road because it was steep and badly rutted. I drove a little bit farther to enter the second connection point, and when it was time to leave camp, I backed out of my parking space and drove through the campground so I could exit where the road was a little better.

When I arrived home that Friday evening, I drove over to the second entrance point to find a giant motor home trying to park on the far edge of the campground. An angry-looking woman stood outside the motor home, halfheartedly trying to direct the driver of the behemoth. The driving pulled the motor home forward two feet, backed it up two feet, pulled it forward again. I stayed on the Forest Service road with my blinker signaling a left turn until the woman motioned for me to make my move.

I drove slowly through the campground and saw several vehicles were parked off the road. I went to my campsite, cooked and ate my dinner, then crawled into bed. It was well after dark, but I was still awake when I heard a noise like an 18-wheeler nearby. The noise was close, and it lingered. I got out of bed and peeked out my front curtains. I could see what seemed to be vehicle lights, but I couldn’t tell what sort of vehicle I was looking at. I shrugged and closed my curtains. Whatever those campers were doing was not my problem.

In the morning as I was leaving for work, I saw that what the campers had done was indeed my problem. The sound I heard in the dark was a second giant motor home arriving. Both giant motor homes were blocking the Forest Service Road, and the second one was blocking the path out of the campground. I didn’t get out of my van and try to talk to anyone about the danger of blocking roads. Since I wasn’t the camp host, I was lacking in all authority, and no way was anybody going to be able to move that motor home out of my way in a hurry. I needed to get to work, so I slowly and carefully backed my van all the way to my campsite where I was able to turn around and exit from the steep and rutted part of the road closest to my site.

When I got to the campground where the Mercantile was located, I went directly to speak to the camp hosts, Sandra and Javier. I apologized for starting their morning with a problem, then went on to explain what was happening at the group campground. Javier said either he or Sandra would go down there later that morning to check in the campers and let them know they couldn’t block the road. I left things in their capable hands.

Javier reported back to me after he spoke to the campers at the group campground. The drivers of the motor homes told him they didn’t want to hit trees while trying to park in the dark, which did apply to the motor home that had arrived after the sun was down. However, in the case of the first motor home, darkness was a total bullshit excuse because when I’d seen people trying to park it, there was a good two hours of daylight left. But oh well. Javier said he’d told the motor home folks that there was plenty of room to park their rigs inside the campground, and the situation was all taken care of.

When I returned to the group campground that evening, I found that the motor home people had interpreted plenty of room to park the rigs in the campground to mean plenty of room to park the rigs in the middle of the road running through the campground. No fucking way! No one could drive through the campground because two giant motor home were completely blocking the road.

I stopped the van, turned the engine off, got out, and walked over to the people sitting around a campfire. I told them my name, said I worked for the company managing the campground, and pointed out where I was camped. I told them I was concerned about the motor homes blocking the road. If there were an emergency, I said, if there were a fire or someone if had a heart attack (I looked pointedly at the elderly man who’d come over to talk to me) having the road blocked might delay emergency responders. If a Forest Service employee saw the blocked road, I added, he or she wouldn’t be happy.

We talked to the Forest Service, the elderly man told me. A guy came out here! He said park there!

It turned out they had not discussed the parking situation with a Forest Service employee. They’d discussed the parking situation with Javier. The campers maintained Javier had told them the giant motor homes could not block the Forest Service road but could block the road through the campground.

I shrugged and said, If Javier told you to park there, that’s good enough for me. I turned around, got back in my van, turned it around, and drove slowly down the steep and rutted entrance near my campsite. If they weren’t concerned about most of their cars being blocked in by the motor home, why should I worry? In an emergency I could get my van out of the campground; if the campers weren’t concerned for themselves, I wasn’t going to spend my whole night worried about them.

I didn’t ask Javier if he’d told the campers to park their giant motor homes in the middle of the campground’s road. I didn’t see him until Sunday morning, and I knew the motor homes and the rest of the group would be gone before I returned from work. There was no sense making a big deal out of something that soon wouldn’t matter.  Beside, Javier was the camp host, not me. If he’d told people to park in the middle of the road through the campground, that was his call.

A narrow dirt road ran through the middle of the camping area. That road connected to the Forest Service road at two points, one on each end of the campground. Folks could enter and exit the camping area at either of those connection points. My camp was closest to the first connection point, but I almost never used that part of the road because it was steep and badly rutted. I drove a little bi farther to enter the second connection point, and when it was time to leave camp, I backed out of my parking space and drove through the campground so I could exit where the road was a little better.

I drove slowly through the campground and saw several vehicles were parked off the road. I went to my campsite, cooked and ate my dinner, then crawled into bed. It was well after dark, but I was still awake when I heard a noise like an 18-wheeler nearby. The noise was close, and it lingered. I got out of bed and peeked out my front curtains. I could see what seemed to be vehicle lights, but I couldn’t tell what sort of vehicle I was looking at. I shrugged and closed my curtains. Whatever those campers were doing was not my problem.

In the morning as I was leaving for work, I saw that what the campers had done was indeed my problem. The sound I heard in the dark was a second giant motor home arriving. Both giant motor homes were blocking the Forest Service Road, and the second one was blocking the path out of the campground. I didn’t get out of my van and try to talk to anyone about the danger of blocking roads. Since I wasn’t the camp host, I was lacking in all authority, and no way was anybody going to be able to move that motor home out of my way in a hurry. I needed to get to work, so I slowly and carefully backed my van all the way to my campsite where I was able to turn around and exit from the steep and rutted part of the road closest to my site.

When I got to the campground where the Mercantile was located, I went directly to speak to the camp hosts, Sandra and Javier. I apologized for starting their morning with a problem, then went on to explain what was happening at the group campground. Javier said either he or Sandra would go down there later that morning to check in the campers and let them know they couldn’t block the road. I left things in their capable hands.

Javier reported back to me after he spoke to the campers at the group campground. The drivers of themotor homes told him they didn’t want to hit trees while trying to park in the dark, which did apply to the motor home that had arrived after the sun was down. However, in the case of the first motor home, darkness was a total bullshit excuse because when I’d seen people trying to park it, there was a good two hours of daylight left. But oh well. Javier said he’d told the motor home folks that there was plenty of room to park their rigs inside the campground, and the situation was all taken care of.

When I returned to the group campground that evening, I found that the motor home people had interpreted plenty of room to park the rigs in the campground to mean plenty of room to park the rigs in the middle of the road running through the campground. No fucking way! No one could drive through the campground because two giant motor home were completely blocking the road.

I stopped the van, turned the engine off, got out, and walked over to the people sitting around the campfire. I told them my name, said I worked for the company managing the campground, and pointed out where I was camped. I told them I was concerned about the motor homes blocking the road. If there were an emergency, I said, if there were a fire or someone if had a heart attack (I looked pointedly at the elderly man who’d come over to talk to me) having the road blocked might delay emergency responders. If a Forest Service employee saw the blocked road, I added, he or she wouldn’t be happy.

We talked to the Forest Service, the elderly man told me. A guy came out here! He said park there!

It turned out they had not discussed the parking situation with a Forest Service employee. They’d discussed the parking situation with Javier. The campers maintained Javier had told them the giant motor homes could not block the Forest Service road but could block the road through the campground.

I shrugged and said, If Javier told you to park there, that’s good enough for me. I turned around, got back in my van, turned it around, and drove slowly down the steep and rutted entrance near my campsite. If they weren’t concerned about most of their cars being blocked in by the motor home, why should I worry? In an emergency I could get my van out of the campground; if the campers weren’t concerned for themselves, I wasn’t going to spend my whole night worried about them.

I didn’t ask Javier if he’d told the campers to park their giant motor homes in the middle of the campground’s road. I didn’t see him until Sunday morning, and I knew the motor homes and the rest of the group would be gone before I returned from work. There was no sense making a big deal out of something that soon wouldn’t matter.  Beside, Javier was the camp host, not me. If he had told people to park in the middle of the road through the campground, that was his call.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dirt-road-1008739/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/beige-wood-putted-on-fire-164168/.

The Moment You Realize You Picked the Wrong Sugar Daddy

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The guy must have been at least 60. His beard, neatly trimmed close to his face, was completely white. He wore a ball cap and t-shirt and shorts.

The woman was younger, no older than 35, slender and going for a neo-hippie look. She wore a golden tunic with long sleeves over tight pants. The tunic was form fitting, made from fabric that seemed a little thicker than the warmth of the day warranted. Her dark hair was straight and hung below her shoulders. She had no bangs, but she did have a beaded headband tied around her forehead. I suspect quite a bit of thought had gone into her outfit, which seemed a little too pulled together for an afternoon in the woods. (The beaded headband really made it seem like she was trying too hard.)

The guy walked in first and asked if he could park in the lot outside the Mercantile.

5 Us Dollar BanknoteSure, I told him. There’s a $5 access fee. You can take care of that right here, I said as I reached under the counter for a day pass.

Since when do you charge for parking? the old man asked. I could tell he was not down with paying to park.

I’ve been here four seasons, I answered, and there’s been a parking fee as long as I’ve been here. If there’s no attendant on duty, it’s on the honor system. You put your payment in a self-pay envelope and drop it in the iron ranger.

Usually when I say honor system to old guys who’ve visited the trail before and not paid for parking, they shut up because they know they’ve behaved dishonorably and don‘t want to admit their moral failing. Not this guy. He just kept fussing about having to pay the whole time he did so.

The young woman came in during the access fee transaction. From the way they spoke to each other, I could tell they knew each other, but I couldn’t determine their relationship. The age difference suggested father and daughter, but that’s not the vibe I was getting from them.

The young woman began exclaiming over how expensive everything was. Maybe, like me, she is accustomed to shopping in thrift stores. We sold t-shirts as low as $18.95 and ball caps for as low as $16.95, not excessive prices for souvenirs on top of a mountain in California as far as I could tell.

I always wondered about people who complained about prices right in front of me. What did they hope to accomplish? Did they hope I’d haggle with them, offer them a better price? I always wanted to tell them I didn’t set the price, I couldn’t change the price, and I didn’t want to hear their bellyaching about the price. Instead, I just kept my mouth shut and felt uncomfortable.

The couple (not a couple?) left, but the young woman soon returned. She said she needed water and walked over to the beverage cooler where she studied the price list.

$2.50 for a bottle of water? she exclaimed.

That’s right, I said mildly.

I believe $2.50 for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water was wildly overpriced. I think it’s wrong to overcharge people so steeply for a basic human necessity, especially since packs of 24 bottles of that size could be purchased most anywhere in the valley for under $5. It seemed wrong to me to charge $2.50 for something that cost $.20 (or less!), even considering it was hauled up the mountain and keept cool. Charging $1.50 or $1.75 would be pricey, but understandable, but $2.50 just seemed greedy, especially for water. Sure, jack up the price for Gatorade or iced tea or potato chips—things people don’t need—but don’t screw people on the water. However, no one I worked for asked my opinion on the price of water, and when I offered it anyway, I was largely ignored.

Of course, this young woman with her neo-hippie headband had no way of knowing who set the prices or how I felt about them. I suppose I could have explained myself, but really, I just wanted her to buy her water (or not) and be on her way.

About that time, the old man walked back into the Mercantile. You getting some water? he asked the young Clear Disposable Bottle on Black Surfacewoman.

It’s $2.50! the woman exclaimed. I just really can’t afford that right now, she told him melodramatically.

She must have told him at least three more times, I just really can’t afford that right now before the old man reluctantly asked, Do you want me to get water for you?

I don’t know if she could tell, but I sure knew he didn’t want to spend $2.50 on a bottle of water for her.

The gallons are $3.95, I said helpfully. Personally, I’d rather spend $3.95 for 128 ounces of water instead of $2.50 for 16.9 ounces of water.

The old man bought the gallon.

I never did figure out the relationship between the old man and the young woman, but if she was hoping he’d be her sugar daddy, well, I felt sorry for her. I’ve never had a sugar daddy, but I know a good one should be generous with money, not complaining about having to pay $5 to park and being slow to take the hint about buying water.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/abraham-lincoln-american-dollar-banknote-cash-259258/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/clear-disposable-bottle-on-black-surface-1000084/.

Turf War (Part 2)

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Lighted Bonfire PhotographyBonus blog day! Yesterday’s post ended up being quite long, so I decided to break it into two parts. Today you can read about what happened when three sets of people wanted to use one group campground and I was unsure as to who actually had the reservation.

I walked over to the other group trying to use the campground. A mildly distressed looking woman sat in a camp chair holding an infant.   A couple of little kids were milling about. A man approached me, and I suspected he was the man I’d been warned about. He was in his late 30s and had a big red beard and wore a ball cap.

I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Samson. I explained there was some confusion about who had reserved the campground. I indicated the people who were packing up and said we’d determined they didn’t have a reservation, and they were leaving. I explained another woman said her group had reserved the campground, and I was trying to help determine who was supposed to be there.

Now who are you? Samson asked me. I could tell he was trying very hard to stay polite but was beyond frustrated.

It was a fair question. I’d taken off my uniform and was wearing a tattered tie-dyed t-shirt and a colorful batik skirt. I looked like any other middle age hippie in the woods.

I explained to Samson that I worked for the company that managed the campground, and while I wasn’t the camp host, I lived in the campground and was trying to help figure out who actually had a reservation. Samson relaxed a little when he realized I was trying to help, probably because he was confident in his claim on the campground and assumed I’d be kicking out everyone else and allowing him to stay.

He said his brother made the reservation. I called over the young woman with the long dark hair, but she and Samson didn’t know each other. The young woman said her group’s reservation was under the name Gloria Lang. That was not a name Samson recognized. I went over to see what name was on the reservation card clipped to the pole, but the camp host had forgotten to hang a card. It didn’t look like I’d be able to solve this mystery unless I left the campground. I explained to both parties that I’d drive down to the other campground and speak to the camp hosts. Both Samson and the young woman seemed to appreciate my offer to help.

Javier and Sandra, the camp hosts, were surprised to see me when I arrived at their campground. I explained what was going on, and Sandra pulled out an arrival report and determined the reservation had been made by Gloria Lang. Mystery solved!

We decided we should tell Samson where he needed to go to meet his brother, so Javier made a list of all the folks scheduled to arrive in his campground that day. Then he called The Big Boss Man and let him know the situation and also got a list of reservations for all the other group sites on our side of the mountain.

Javier hopped into my van, and I drove us down to the group campground. When we arrived, I saw the big group who wanted to camp for free had left. More people in the Lang party had arrived, and Samson’s family was holding steady on the end of the campground they’d staked out. Javier hopped out of my van to talk to Samson, and I walked over to talk to the Lang party. I told those folks the reservation was indeed in their friend’s name and that Javier was explaining things to the other group.

I thought it would take about two minutes for Javier to explain what was going on and for Samson and his family to start packing up, but two minutes stretched into five and then ten. Finally Javier walked over to me and said Samson didn’t want to move and was insisting that he and Javier go to the Mercantile and call The Big Boss Man together.

Good luck! I told Javier, and I drove my van over to my camp. The Lang party turned on their electronic dance Tents Surrounded by Treesmusic and began unpacking.

The next morning I asked Javier what had happened when he left with Samson, and I got the full scoop.

It turned out that it wasn’t Samson’s brother who’d make the reservation but Samson’s brother’s girlfriend. Samson didn’t know his brother’s girlfriend’s last name, so even if there had been a reservation card clipped to the pole he wouldn’t have necessarily known he was in the wrong place. Samson also repeatedly played the we have a six-month-old baby card as a reason they shouldn’t have to move.

Samson talked to The Big Boss Man, but they couldn’t figure out if his brother was waiting for him in a pay campground or in some boondocking area. Samson continued to insist that he wanted to stay right where he was. The Big Boss Man told him the same thing Javier had been saying: since Gloria Lang was paying $136 a night for the campground, it was up to her who stayed there. Neither Javier nor our boss could force the Lang party to let Samson and his family stay. Also, there was no way for The Big Boss Man to help Samson find his brother if Samson didn’t know what name the reservation was under.

When the conversation with The Big Boss man was over, Javier suggested Samson talk to the Lang party and ask to stay in the campground with them for one night. He suggested Samson mention that it was getting dark and mention the baby in hopes that the Lang party would have pity and let the family stay. Then in the morning he could search for his brother. Samson insisted Javier go back to the group campground with him and use his position as camp host to influence the Lang party.

They got to the campground and the situation was explained to Samson’s wife. When she found out Gloria Lang had the legitimate reservation, she said no way were they staying where they weren’t wanted. It probably didn’t help that while Samson was away the mosquitoes had come out and were eating her and the kids alive.

Samson asked Javier where they should go. Javier told him about three boondocking areas he knew of.

Samson wanted to know what they would do if there were already people on a boondocking spot when they arrived. Javier told him that’s why he’d told Samson about three different places.

Samson asked Javier to ride with them and help them find a boondocking spot. Javier said no.

Then Samson asked Javier to help him take down the tent and pack their gear.

Look man, Javier told me he said, I’ve been working all day. I just want to go home and eat dinner. No, I’m not helping you take down your tent and pack your gear.

I believe it was then that Samson refused to give Javier a ride back to his campground as he’d previously promised to do. Javier didn’t want to bother me (although I would have happily given him a ride), so he hoofed it home.

I didn’t know any of these details when near dark I saw Samson’s jeep pulling his cargo trailer head up the road and out of the campground. All I knew was that the interlopers were gone, and the Lang party and I had the campground to ourselves.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/lighted-bonfire-photography-1434598/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/tents-surrounded-by-trees-1309584/.

Turf War (Part 1)

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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.

Black Bird on Brown GrassI 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 Six Camping Tents in Forestdidn’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.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-bird-on-brown-grass-1309237/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.