My workday at the Mercantile had been long. I’d already dealt with a lost family who only wanted to visit famous trees and an elderly couple who despite having made a reservation online claimed they had no idea the campground lacked running water. It was now nearly 5:45, and although the Mercantile was scheduled to close at five o’clock, I wasn’t quite finished with my nightly duties.
My last task of the workday was to zip shut all the windows on the yurt housing the Mercantile. The windows opened and closed from the outside, so I had to leave the yurt to complete this task. The straps that held the rolled window covers up were higher than I am tall, so I had to stand on a small step ladder in order to unlatch the strap and lower the covers.
I’d just finished zipping down the last panel when I heard a car pull into the campground. Something about the way the car slid on the gravel told me the driver was on a mission. I ducked into the yurt and hoped the people in the car would go away so I could get out of there undisturbed. Of course, that was not to be.
Hello! Hello! I heard a feminine voice yelling just outside the yurt. When I turned around, I saw a woman who was probably in her early 60s standing on the small back porch. Her hair was grey, but she seemed athletic and well moisturized. She had unhooked the yellow chain that’s supposed to convey to people not to step onto the porch (but often fails at its job). She was assuring me she was going to replace the chain, but I wished she’d never moved it to begin with.
I didn’t open the door. For security reasons, I don‘t open the door once the Mercantile is closed. For reasons pertaining to my sanity, I don’t open the door once the Mercantile is closed.
Did you just close? the woman asked through the flimsy glass covering the door’s window.
No ma’am, I answered. We closed at five.
This seemed to disappoint her. Perhaps she thought if I’d just closed, I’d be more inclined to let her into the store.
Ok, the woman said, undeterred. I have a few questions.
Here we go, I thought.
I was talking to the camp hosts here yesterday…she started
They’re on their day off, I said, in no mood for exposition. I’d anticipated her question of Where are they now? or maybe When will they get back tonight?
Oh, ok, she said, seemingly giving up on her idea of speaking to the camp hosts that evening.
What kind of food do you sell in the store? she asked, moving onto the next item on her agenda.
I listed some of our snack options. Chip, usually, but we’re out right now. Payday bars. M & Ms.
I don’t eat any of that! she snapped at me as if I should have already known her dietary habits. Do you sell any fresh vegetables?
No, ma’am, I said. No fresh vegetables. There’s a general store 10 miles down the road…
I was just there, she interrupted. They didn’t have any fresh vegetables either.
I wasn’t surprised by the lack of fresh vegetables for sale on the top of the mountain.
The closest place to get vegetables is probably the town at the base of the mountain, I told her. There’s a grocery store down there.
The woman seemed supremely displeased by the lack of fresh vegetables in the area but ready to move on to another topic.
My camp host says you have a map of the trails, she said.
We have one map, I replied. It’s $20. But the store is closed.
By “closed,” I didn’t just mean the doors were locked and the window covers were down. I meant there was no money in the register. All the money had been counted and was now locked in the safe. I’d gone through the register’s closing procedure, and the drawer was no longer active. Once the drawer was inactive, it wasn’t activated again until the next morning. The entire point of purchase system was closed for the night.
I have an excellent map! the woman said as if I should have known that too. I just want a sheet that shows the trails in the area.
During my time working in the Mercantile, tourists often thought they were going to find stacks of free literature in the store. They thought we were a division of the Forest Service and would have free maps and brochures to hand out. Most people were surprised to find out I didn’t work for the Forest Service but instead for a private company that paid a lot of money to the Forest Service for a permit to do business in the Sequoia National Forest. The Forest Service did not give us any literature to give out. Any handouts we gave to tourists (and there were a couple), were photocopied at the expense of the company for which I worked.
No ma’am, I told the woman on the back porch. I don’t have anything like that.
She explained again what she wanted, in the event I hadn’t understood her the first time, and dropped in another my camp host said for good measure. I didn’t point out that I wasn’t sure her camp host had ever looked around in the Mercantile to see what we actually had there, and when she asked about a map showing trails, he probably referred her to the map we sold for $20. I also didn’t point out that if I had anything vaguely resembling what she was looking for, I would have gladly handed it over just to get rid of her so I could go back to my camp after an almost nine hour day mostly on my feet. Instead I just repeated. No ma’am. I don’t have anything like that.
Finally she took me at my word and left. I huddled in the store until I heard her car pull away, lest she think of new questions and accost me before I could lock the door and make my way to my van.
Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-business-closed-logo-1152831/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-vegetable-lot-1300972/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-outlined-map-793088/.