Last season, my co-worker and I handed out a trail guide to the driver of every car that parked in the parking lot. These were nice trail guides: trifold, printed on both sides in color on heavy, glossy paper. We had trail guides early this season too, until right after Memorial Day.
The company I work for doesn’t provide the trail guides; they’re provided by an association promoting giant sequoias. The association recently did some work on the trial, and my boss told me the plan is to mount informational plaques on wood in front of the featured trees. He doesn’t know if this plan will do away with the trail guides or when the informational plaques will appear. In the meantime, as I told my boss, visitors are sad every day when I tell them I have no trail guide to give them.
My co-worker and I were discussing the possible demise of the paper trail guide. I noted they must cost a pretty penny, so doing away with them would save someone money. Also, I speculated 95% of them (a number I pulled right out of my ass) end up in the landfill, so doing away with them would be an environmentally sound step.
However, my co-worker countered, people like getting the trail guide. Being handed the trail guide makes them feel as if they’re getting something for the $5 they pay to park. I couldn’t argue with him there because I knew he was right.
My co-worker left for the day, and I was in the parking lot alone.
A car pulled in, and I approached the driver’s side. Through the window, I saw a driver who looked like a retired junior high school teacher–very uptight. When I told her about the $5 parking fee, she wanted to use her Golden Age pass. I explained we accept no passes and offer no discounts in the parking lot. She was surly, so I explained further that the private company I work for has a concession with the Forest Service and is allowed to charge the $5 fee to maintain the restrooms and the parking lot.
She snapped, The Forest Service maintains all the restrooms!
(I love setting people straight when they speak with authority but obviously don’t know what they’re talking about.)
I stayed very calm and said in a friendly voice, No ma’am. The Forest Service does not maintain these restrooms. The private company I work for maintains the restrooms and buys the toilet paper.
She had no retort on the topic of restrooms, so she asked about the campground next door. I gave her the information, even told her she could use her Golden Age pass there to get 50% off the camping fee. She said she was going to look at the campground.
I said something like Ok, Great! but in the privacy of my brain, I was thinking, Good riddance.
It wasn’t good riddance for long; she was back in the parking lot a few minutes later. I guess she hadn’t like what she saw in the campground.
I took the woman’s $5 and handed her a day pass.
Don’t I get a trail guide? she demanded.
We’ve been out of trail guides for about six weeks, I told her calmly. I don’t have any to give.
Can’t you make photocopies? she demanded.
This question made me chuckle aloud. I don’t even have electricity at the campground where I’m the camp host. I don’t have any way to make photocopies, I told her.
She was quite exasperated now. Surely the company you work for has an office, she said. They could make photocopies there.
The company I work for doesn’t provide the trail guides, I told her. They’re provided by an association…
I realized the conversation was unworkable. She would have a counterargument or another question in response to anything I said. I decided to try a new tactic.
Would you like a comment card? I offered.
My new tactic for complainers I can’t seem to placate is to offer a comment card. If the complainer accepts the card, the heat’s off me. Not only does the card distract them, but they quit complaining to me because their complaint is now moving on to a higher power. If the complainer does not accept a comment card, we both knows/he is not adequately invested in the complaint. The complainer usually quits talking at that point, and I certainly quit listening.
Oh yes, the uptight woman said. She certainly did want a comment card. If I’m paying $5, I want a trail guide, she told me.
Just like my co-worker had said.
I got the comment card for her. She didn’t hand it back to me, so she must have mailed it in to the president of the company for which I work. She wasn’t the type to decide it was no big deal after all.
when I read this, I pictured the old maid school teacher from Little House on the Prairie, Almanzo’s sister Eliza Jane
I tried to post a picture here, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Go here: https://www.tumblr.com/search/eliza%20jane%20wilder for an appropriate photo. Just add 40 pounds, and that’s the lady.
Good call, Maddie.
I can relate to the surly woman. I absolutely hate that concessionaires don’t have to honor my Golden Access pass. I traveled for years on hardly any money. $5 was and is a very big deal. I know you see it different because of who you work for, but when I got my pass in the 80’s, it was promised to us that some things were free and others half price….one of the few perks of being disabled. It’s often very confusing now that both private and public administration of public lands has come to be a thing.
Wendy, I hear you. It is totally confusing to people that some places offer free admission with the Golden Age pass and some don’t. Also, when people get passes (especially passes they pay for, like the America the Beautiful pass) I think the people who sell them really talk up the idea that they can be used to get in everywhere. There is so much confusion.
I wish would could accept all the passes in the parking lot. It would make my life a lot easier.
When people complain to me, I can’t do anything, so I offer then a comment card to fill out. That’s going to be the only way things change. So I encourage you, when you encounter a private company with a concession doing something you don’t like, ask them who you can complain to. Ask for a comment card. If they don’t have a comment card or can’t tell you who to complain to, call the local ranger station and complain to them. There is a chance of change only if the public voices their discontent.
Also, the company I work for does give half off the camping fees to folks with Golden Age and Golden Access cards. That can save people a lot of money.
In any case, what made this woman worth writing about is not so much that she wanted to park for free because she had a Golden Access pass. What made this woman writing about was her nasty, nasty attitude.
Thanks for your comment, Wendy. It is nice to get the perspective of someone on the other side of the $5 bill.
Everything costs money, employees, trail guides, rest room cleaning. Many people seem to have a double standard about that: if they’re on the paying end, they don’t want to pay; if they’re on the receiving end, they want as much as they can get. Kind of hypocritical, IMO.
It’s like camping free on BLM (etc) land. Some people think because there’s no one around to watchdog them, they can leave all of their trash behind. Others will go through the area with a bag and pick up the trash because they don’t like parking in a pig sty, and they know that if the trash dumping continues, the BLM will either start charging, or close it off. Stupid people can’t figure this out.
I don’t think that I would have the patience for your job.
You are right, Sue, that everything costs money. If a private company was not charging $5 to maintain the restrooms, the Forest Service would have to do it, which would mean it would get done less often and the general public would be paying for the human power and toilet paper through taxes. This way, only the people who are using the facilities are paying for them.
Of course, many people understand this. Most people do not complain about paying the $5 parking fee. (Yesterday a man told me it was the “best $5 [he] ever spent.”) Those people don’t make for great stories, so I don’t write about them much. But yes, they are the majority.
The comment card is a good idea. f people want to complain, they should complain effectively. Otherwise, there’s no point.
I agree with you, Muriel. Complaining to me does no good. I can tell my boss people complain, and he shrugs his shoulders. But if the comment card goes to the president of the company I work for, maybe something will change. Supposedly, the president of the company I work for shares every comment card he gets with the Forest Service. I think if enough folks with the Golden Age card complain, something will change. However, most people want to gripe to me in the moment, but not take the five minutes it would take to fill out a comment card. Sigh.