It was Thursday, so after a slow four hours in the parking lot, I drove my van over to the campground next door to do a patrol for the camp hosts on their day off. I parked the van in the overflow parking area and grabbed my clipboard to check in the folks who’d arrived on site #1. After they were settled, I dropped my clipboard off in the van and walked over to see if the front restrooms needed attention.
As I bustled around, I noticed a couple who had earlier pulled into the parking lot. I thought they might have confused the campground with the parking lot (as happens often), but I didn’t want to insult them if they knew exactly where their car was. Maybe they were checking out the campground for future reference. So I minded my own business.
I peeked into the men’s and women’s restrooms. The men’s was fine, but the women’s needed paper. And—I remembered from the day before—one of the restrooms in the back of the campground was a roll short. I used my key to unlock the storage closet behind the restrooms and grabbed two rolls of toilet paper. Then I replaced the padlock and unwrapped one of the rolls of TP as I walked to the ladies room.
The man and woman I’d recognized earlier approached me. I thought they were going to tell me they couldn’t find their car or ask questions about the campground. Instead, the man said, Do you actually work here? It was not simply a question, but a challenge.
I thought maybe he was making the tired old you’re just a homeless person joke (read about that foolishness here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/20/just-a-homeless-person/), but he didn’t really sound as if he were joking.
I must have been looking at him with confusion all over my face. He said, Because your license plate is from [not California].
Then I was really confused. What did my license plate have to do with anything?
That’s your van, right? he asked at he pointed.
Yes, I answered as I looked over to it, as if my van could explain the meaning of this bizarre conversation. (My van explained nothing.)
The man again insinuated I was not actually employed and authorized to take money.
I said, Would I dress like this if I didn’t actually work here? (Note: I was in full uniform, including jacket with the company insignia, cap with the same emblem, and brown polyester-blend pants.)
He said, People will do a lot of things for money. You could be just anybody out here taking money. (Although at the moment, I was not taking money. At the moment I was restocking toilet paper in restrooms.)
I said, Do you want my boss’ business card? I was in shock, confused, and offended all at once. The man was basically calling me a liar and a thief.
Do you have a nametag? the man asked.
Yes, I said as I unzipped my jacket and pulled out my nametag.
He took a cursory look at it and seemed satisfied. He must not have realized that someone who would go to the trouble of acquiring a complete uniform and preprinted day passes designed to hang from review mirrors (and including a tear-off ticket for the worker to keep track of sales), anyone who would go through all that trouble then stand in front of a sign asking visitors to pay the uniformed employee, anyone who’d do all that could easily make an ID tag like the cheap ass one the company I work for issued to me. (No one even bothered to sign it on the line under the words authorized by.)
Don’t you see how it could be suspicious, the man asked me, that your van has a [not California] plate?
I didn’t try too hard to keep the you are an idiot tone out of my voice when I said, No. Their license plate (pointing to the camp hosts’ vehicle) has Ohio plates. People come from all over the country to work out here.
He said, Is this some kind of seasonal work?
I said yes and got away from them as quickly as possible. I was totally offended and did not want to chat. Honestly, I was afraid I was going to say something completely rude. Is it ok to call someone a liar and a thief because the license plate on her vehicle doesn’t match the state she’s working in? What about the people who live in Kansas and work in Kansas City, Missouri? What about all the people who live in Connecticut and work in NYC?
The man was not acting casual or interested. His attitude was accusatory, as if he were Mattlock or Jessica Fletcher, and he’d just solved the case.
I would have understood his suspicion if I’d been wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. I’d have understood his suspicion if I’d have been collecting money at a place that didn’t have a sign advising visitors to pay the uniformed employee. I’d have (maybe) understood his suspicion if I’d been loading a case of toilet paper in my van. But he was questioning me while I was in the process of servicing a restroom. Who’s going to do that while impersonating someone authorized to collect money?
The weirdest part of the whole interaction was that when he handed over his $5 in the parking lot, he never questioned me. I would have been offended if he had questioned me in the parking lot. (I wonder if the guy goes into Burger King and asks the cashiers if they are really employees or just pretending to work there so they can steal money.) But in the parking lot, his questioning would not have surprised or confused me so much.
I wonder what he planned to do if I hadn’t produced a name tag, if I hadn’t alleviated his skepticism about my employment status. Was he going to put me under citizen’s arrest? Drive ten mountain miles to the nearest payphone and call 9-1-1? Demand his $5 back?