Two years ago on an August evening, an unknown Oregon number rang my Idaho cell, and I picked up the call that changed EVERYTHING. Jon and I were agitating to get out of Boise, which has outgrown itself —-wanting to move closer to the Coast, somewhere small-town, more like Idaho used to be… (When I was growing up there weren’t a million people in the state! Now they’re approaching a million in the Boise valley.) Jon, who’d been a mechanic at the same mom-and-pop shop for 27 years, was searching job postings all over Oregon, while I drew a radius around every Home Depot to which I might transfer…
Over and over, my life has proven that GOD is a better planner than KANA. (I write that sentence with a sulky frown, because I’ve considered myself a brilliant planner, thankyouverymuch!)
And so it was that despite all our lists, maps, searches, and phone calls, it was this call-from-the-blue that revealed the real plan for our exodus:
“Is there any chance you’d be interested in managing an RV park in Pendleton, Oregon?”
Why HELL YES, since you ask!
We had chosen to live on wheels for just this reason. Everything we owned was in that fifth wheel—so we could just roll up shop and roll down the road! (That’s it just below: ALL Our Stuff, driving down the road.)
We gave notice at our respective jobs, bid farewell to our Church, my AA Home Group, Jon’s folks and brothers, my teenage daughter, our friends of decades… And exactly 19 days after answering that phone call, we were Pendleton residents: registered to vote in Umatilla County and proud holders of Oregon drivers’ licenses (though I have literally had a mug shot that looked better than this photo).
Now here’s the thing. There wasn’t a written Position Description at that time, but we had a pretty solid idea of what we were taking on. We’d lived in an RV (and an RV park) for our entire marriage, I’d worked in the RV park office for several years, and Jon had moonlighted on the maintenance staff in the summers. So it’s, you know… you keep the grass mowed and laundry machines running, manage the reservations and help people park, sell ice and laundry quarters, pump propane, make bank deposits and do the paperwork, pick the best staff you can from whoever is living in the park… stuff like that.
And indeed, when I ended up writing the Position Description a year later, it was full of stuff-like-that. “Reviewing and updating the Park’s legal and operational documents (renter application, rental agreement, park rules, employee handbook, employee contract, etc.) and staying apprised of applicable changes in state and local laws“… You get the drift. And yes, that’s all stuff we have to do.
But here’s what’s NOT in the Position Description—-not even the one I wrote myself. Because some of this shit just has nowhere to fit in a document like that. Snake Charmer, for example? What heading would you put that under? It’s a thing. In the summer we get bull snakes strolling through from the open adjacent fields—-looking enough like rattlers to spook our East-coast guests, and terrorizing poor Bob, who lives here and doesn’t care that they’re not venomous. Periodically I get a call from Bob, barricaded with his little dog inside his motorcoach, under siege by a bull snake lounging beneath his steps—-so Jon jogs over to take it by the tail and swing it back over the fence.
The ACTUAL Job Title Should Include…
The reality of this job is some crossbred chimera of… House Mother. Building Super. Narco. Concierge. Groundskeeper. Zookeeper. Safety Inspector. Sponsor. Hostess. Personal Shopper. Newspaper Reporter. Driving Instructor. Postmistress. Social Worker. Tech Support. Marriage Counselor. Emergency Services. Landlord. Mediator. Plow Driver. Plumber. Ditch-Digger. Electrician. Traffic Cop. Crew Boss. Legal Advisor. Neighborhood Watch. Marketing Manager. Trainer. Travel Agent. And maybe Tiny-Town-Mayor. (Or Tiny-Country-Dictator?—-there’s really not another branch of government in play here.) Plus, occasionally, a touch of Pastor.
I’ve had someone knock on my door to alert me (with quite stern intensity) that there were hamburger buns in some trees! I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do with that information, but I thanked her politely.
Last week a mom knocked on my door for help with her fourth-grader’s math homework (the kids still aren’t back to school-in-person in our county; thanks to COVID they’re suddenly all home-schooled).
I’ve been asked on the phone if there were any possibility I could provide a javelin upon the caller’s arrival, something about a scheduled coaching-session. (We don’t have Craigslist here, but a community FaceBook page serves similar purposes—and my request for the loan of a javelin was certainly one of my odder posts there…)
I do wish I’d started earlier at jotting down the surprising incidents, the sorts of things that leave me owl-eyed blinking and wondering if someone actually just asked me that… But here’s just a small and recent sampling.
Tech Support, Level
“I need you to help me set up one of those—-you know, a mailbox on my computer,” says one of our residents, hefting himself onto the stool across the counter from me. Not having the least idea what he has in mind, and not wanting to sound insulting, I settle on the vague but diplomatic: “Tell me more.” Email! It turns out the thing Stan wants but doesn’t know the name for is an email account.
I set him up with gmail—and staple the address and its password to his renter’s file, assuming he’ll need help with that again. Sure enough, a few months later he’s at our door asking my husband about his password. Feeling rather proud of my foresight, I produce it on a Post-It, but Stan frowns and says he’s already tried that. “Here. You make it work,” he insists, holding out his device.
It’s a Roku remote.
Sometimes the moment when you understand something is the same moment when you realize you don’t know where to begin with explaining it.
Parrots. Parents. And Other Wildlife
I’ve been asked if we provided grazing for horses. (They might fit through the dog-park gate?) I’ve been asked if we had rules about goats. There’s a six-foot iguana living in a fifth wheel down the way. (And Harley does startle people, sunning in the window at eye level.) There used to be a one-legged man with a parrot (for real!) and after I teasingly called him a pirate, he showed up in the office in full piratical regalia! Actual wooden leg and antique pistol and all. (Turns out he used to make a living playing pirate in Key West.)
I’ve seen cats walking their humans on leashes (and one that rode around on his person’s shoulder), cow-dogs on rodeo ropes, one bear-puppet, a couple imaginary pets. One day a glance out the office window started me laughing—“Ohmygosh, that looked almost like a huge chicken in that camper doorway!” My cohort and I had a good giggle, because how crazy is that! Well it WAS a huge chicken. Harvey, the biggest rooster I’ve ever laid eyes on. (Thankfully, Harvey’s person considerately took him on a drive every morning so he wouldn’t wake the rest of us cock-a-doodling.)
For pure entertainment value, though, it’s hard to beat the people. Especially (being a hike-in-the-mountains, pee-in-the-bushes kind of Western Gal myself) watching the people unaccustomed to wildlife that’s any wilder than, say, pavement pigeons.
An overexcited woman grips my arm: “Ohmygod, did you see the MOOSE?” (Yes, we do see deer in the fields and conservation easement between our fence and the mountains. Do I educate her, or just let her have her moment?)
A person with a camera around his neck (whose country of origin I won’t mention because it’s too exactly-the-stereotype to be believed) asks me WHAT TIME will the family of quail be returning to view? I’m reminded of a back-country hike in Yellowstone, when we ran into another hiker who was anxious about being on the wrong trail “because when I went UP the mountain there were SHEEP.” (Again, do we educate or just point him toward his car at the trailhead? Notice to all hikers: Bighorns do come on legs.)
Just last month a resident asked me to move the birds congregating in the adjacent tree and making a mess on his trailer. I said sorry: “Shit literally happens.” (Though I did enjoy the image of myself swinging into action with tiny bird-size lassos… )
The people-watching prize, however, goes to a colleague of mine who runs another KOA park… Young kid finds baby skunk. Kid’s mom lets kid pick up baby skunk. Baby skunk bites kid. (Go, Baby Skunk!) Mom wants proof that “the animals are up-to-date on vaccinations.” !!! (Park manager silently wishes baby skunk had bitten MOM while he was at it…)
So. What have we learned?
- Wildlife should come with identification.
- And warning labels.
- Quail need watches.
- Turn left at the sheep.
- Unless it’s a deer.
Lettuce Venture Forth to Save a Marriage
My favorite day of the year is the library’s annual Book Sale, when the entire Pendleton Convention Center is given over to tables loaded with books. I go every year “to restock the park’s lending-library” (at which assertion my husband and my staff roll their eyes, knowing I’ll disappear for six hours and still need to go back the next day because I haven’t gotten started on the park-shopping).
The “take-a-book/leave-a-book” shelves in our laundry room are not the only examples of things we keep on hand to lend out. Our “view” sites, for example, only have 50-amp hook-ups, and a lot of folks with 30-amp rigs don’t carry adapters, so we have half a dozen “loaners” at the ready.
And there have been plenty of other things we’ve found and loaned (from home as often as not) when people came up missing something they needed. A pencil sharpener for a math student’s homework. An iPhone charger. Our iron for a quilter. A wrench. A toilet plunger. A large pot for the folks heading home from the coast with a cooler full of crab. A roll of TP. A couple dryer sheets. A pair of reading glasses. A bag of cat litter.
But by far the most frequently-loaned item is my husband. As callers hesitate on the phone about reserving a site that would require backing up with their RV, I spin out my spiel: “I’ll be happy to loan you my husband to help wave you in! He can even back in my Mother–and she doesn’t back her RV!” I usually get a laugh (and a reservation) out of that line. And he has more than once been asked (each time by the driver’s wife, who was spared their usual routine of direction-shouting and accompanying marital tension) if he wouldn’t like to join them on the road.
“I’ll loan him to you–but you have to give him BACK.”
Last week I was on the phone with an incoming guest agonizing over the question of whether to maneuver his oversized motorhome-with-tow off the tricky exit to our local grocery store: “My wife has been repeating for THREE DAYS that she hasn’t seen a head of lettuce,” he fretted.
“Hang on,” I told him, and texted my hubby at the grocery store: pick up Romaine. “We’ve got you covered—just come on in and we’ll bring the lettuce to you.”
“Ahh… You just saved my marriage,” he sighed.
Things You Don’t Say (Out Loud)
- “I understand you feel that other rig shouldn’t be parked so close to the road’s edge, but…. It was STATIONARY when you hit it with your motorhome.”
- “Oh Shi-i-i-i-t! That’s gonna be a ten thousand dollar fix.”
- “You know. If you’d listened to my guys’ directions, you wouldn’t be limping out of here with your half-million-dollar coach’s back end held on with bungees and duct tape! (Oh, and I’ll be in touch about the damage to my fence.)”
- “I understand you feel that your ginormous 45-foot monster couldn’t possibly drive beneath the tree branches on this site, and I understand you’re upset about the damage to your roof and awnings from the five-inch-thick limb that took three guys, a ladder, and some power tools to cut OFF my tree before you could get unstuck from it. Gosh, how funny that this limb has gotten to BE five inches thick without EVER being hit by anyone, ever. (Oh, and I’ll be in touch about the damage to my tree.)”
- “I understand you’re upset that the cement post protecting the cable box on the lawn was in the path of your parking… But you didn’t FEEL it when you hit it with the middle of your bus? Or as you scraped the WHOLE rig along it? Oh, and the shiny car you’re trailering behind?”
- “Maybe at ninety-two you shouldn’t be driving a 45-foot RV towing a trailer!”
- “Maybe at thirty-two you shouldn’t be driving a 45-foot RV towing a trailer!”
Truly, they should test people before they climb behind the wheels of these things. And a classification system. You know—-we see Class One and we can say, “Right that way, Sir, feel free to park yourself.” Class Four? “Stay right there. Our guys will guide you in!”
And on your way out… Just turn left at the sheep!”
It’s a Beautiful Day in the…
Right now we have eighty households in the park, in addition to the nightly travelers who stay here on there way to someplace else. These are people I know and chat with and feel somehow responsible for. And believe me, it’s not always Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood up in here—but I can influence how it IS.
Like a party-planner pondering whom to seat by whom at dinner, I play Tetris with personalities when I place (or move) people into and out of specific sites. The guy who goes to work at 4am and has to run his diesel before he leaves? He goes right out by the park entrance. The lady with three excitable dogs can’t go into the slot by the dog park, because they’d bark themselves to death at the windows. This one doesn’t want to talk to anyone, that one wants to talk to EVERYone. This one is friendly and helpful to everyone, so we put him next to the open spots where nightly guests arrive and sometimes need help. That one is a grouchy S.O.B. who has been known to berate visitors for speeding or talking outside in the evening, so we’ll keep him as far as we can from the nightly-visitor-spots. And so on.
I know what these people do, and the webs that stretch out from our park into the community… This spring a store manager (who lives here) texted me when they got a shipment of suddenly-scarce sanitizer, so I could run down and get some for the park. When one of my employees tested positive for COVID, I heard it from his girlfriend’s aunt (who lives here) ten minutes before he even told us. When we subsequently needed to get the rest of our employees tested and couldn’t find out the cost for uninsured, one of the hospital staff (who lives here) got us the instructions we needed. When an elderly resident fell and had to summon the ambulance several times in succession, the head EMT (who lives here) collaborated with me to bring in Senior Services. When we reserved a suite at the casino hotel for our anniversary, the desk clerk (who lives here) gave us an unexpected half-off discount. When we had a domestic-violence episode in one of our households, the chief of Tribal Police (who lives here) had the inside track on information that quickly resulted in the jerk’s removal-and-jail-time. And so it goes. We’ve only lived here for two years, but in a small town a person can put down wide-spreading roots.
And THAT should be in the Job Description!