The campground where the Mercantile was located didn’t have running water. It didn’t have running water during the three previous seasons I worked on the mountain. At the beginning of last season The Big Boss man was confident the campground would have running water before Memorial Day. As of late July, the campground was still bone dry. As far as I knew no one was working on the water system. After Independence Day, The Big Boss Man had stopped talking about getting the water to run in the campground.
Almost every day, people came into the Mercantile looking for a faucet or a water fountain. I’m sure the camp hosts saw as many (probably more) people looking for water than I did. Visitors wanted to fill a water bottle or wash their hands. Every time someone asked for water in the campground, I had to explain there was none.
We sold cold water in the Mercantile, and a significant portion of people did buy it to drink. However, fewer people (significantly fewer people) spent $2.50 for 16.9 ounces or $3.95 for a gallon of water to use to wash their hands.
One Wednesday afternoon, I was working alone in the Mercantile. Two older men came through the door and ignored my greeting. Both men were probably in their early 60s, and each was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt despite the heat. Their clothes were not trendy, and while not shabby, didn’t look new. These men had not dressed up to come up the mountain. They looked like hunters or fishermen (or maybe both), working class outdoorsmen. The skin on the second man’s face was a strange mottled red, as if his sunburn had been sunburned, and he wore an expression of anger or maybe just impatience.
I could tell they were looking for something, but before I could offer to help, their eyes lit up. They’d seen what they were seeking.
They made a beeline to the beverage cooler and considered their options. I heard some mumble grumbles about the cost of the water. I understood their consternation, but there was nothing I could do to change the price.
The first man who’d come through the door carried the gallon of water up to the register where I scanned the barcode and asked for $3.95.
Do you have cups? The fellow making the purchase said.
We have coffee mugs right over there, I said while pointing helpfully,
No, said the red-faced man. Paper cups. To drink this, he said gesturing to the gallon of water.
Oh no, I said. We don’t have anything like that.
I guess they figured if they paid more for water than they paid for gasoline, cups to drink it should come with the purchase.