Well, we made it to Tennessee in one piece.
Currently the temperature is 91oF, the humidity is so high you need a snorkel to be outside, and the bugs are sometimes so plentiful they get stuck in your teeth; but lucky for me, I am perched safely away from the elements in an air-conditioned campground store that is to be my working home for this summer.
Right, so let’s catch you up….
The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is where we shall be calling home for five months of the summer, a veritable outdoor playground covering 170,000 acres sitting astride the two states of Kentucky and Tennessee.
We are based at Piney Campground at the southern end of the recreation area, nestled in the forest on the banks of Kentucky Lake. There are 384 RV/tent spots here in the campground, so we have plenty of neighbours, especially at the weekends when the whole place completely books out.
Belle is happily parked on a level hard gravel pad with The Beast sat in front, she has only a single small branch slightly hanging over her roof, and she is able to pick up satellite TV – so we know one occupant is happy at least!
We arrived with having no idea of what to expect, both of us slightly nervous for different reasons, and thankfully now a month and a half in to our experience, I think I can safely say – we done chose good (that’s my TN country accent there).
The RV site we were originally allocated didn’t quite pan out for us – it was a great sized space for us but we were surrounded by a few too many trees and, most importantly, we were parked facing directly in to the sun for most of the day. This set up gave us three main problems – first, we would have spent the summer with the blisteringly hot sun baking the paint on the front of the bus; second, the air conditioners would all have had to be running constantly to try and keep the bus cool inside; and third, the windscreen would have had to be permanently covered with our black out screens to keep as much heat out as possible, meaning no view or light from it for five months.
Honestly, I dreaded having to go and ask if we could swap spaces.
Deep in my heart, I knew this was going to happen when we arrived. I know Loops far too well to ever assume we would get lucky with a camping spot sight unseen. I took a deep breath, pushed my British ‘polite acceptance of everything’ trait as far down as it could go, mustered my courage and broached the subject with my boss, Rick.
Two days later (after our handpicked spot opened up), we moved in to a site directly across the road, with no troubles at all. Rick was nice as pie and happy to accommodate us, and our new site has worked out perfectly (and excitingly it even has a visiting skunk and cat at various times).
With Loops settled and planning out his summer tasks (washing and waxing the bus, planning for a new refrigerator, looking after me, more washing and waxing of the bus…..you get my drift), it was time for me to learn my new trade – Campground Store Worker.
Now as far as a campground store goes, let’s not beat around the bush, Piney Campground has a pretty darn large and well stocked convenience shop. It has all the essentials you could need in terms of snacks, dinners, meals over a fire, drinks, hygiene and first aid. In addition, there are sections for fishing and boating equipment, tenting and camping, motoring and RV supplies. Oh, and you can even rent sports equipment and bicycles too, if the fancy takes you.
When I arrived at the beginning of May however, the store was still in a state of flux. In previous years the shop was apparently a good deal smaller and over the winter had been greatly enlarged to accommodate a wider range of stock, which at that point had yet to arrive. So, while the space was there, the shelves were a tad bare for the first couple weeks of my stay. This worked out favourably in the end though, because it meant I had a lot of fun making ‘displays’ as the goods came in. Grouping items together, pegging out the hooks, making things look neat and tidy – well, let’s just say I’ve gotten in touch with my total geeky organizational side!
A month and a half on and we are pretty much settled on our merchandise and now seem to have entered a stage of routine work. What does this entail? Well, here’s what my work week/days look like…
I am timetabled for a 5 day, 40 hour work week. My current days are Wed-Sun, starting work at 8am and finishing at 4pm (except on Saturdays when I start at 7am and finish at 3pm). The powers that be here at Piney seem trusting enough to provide me with keys, a float of cash, and the responsibility of opening the shop by myself every day. I will admit that in my first week I was a little be unnerved by this because I wasn’t expecting it, I was anticipating just showing up each day to work and having no real responsibility whatsoever. Now, it’s old hat, and no panic.
So every morning I hop on the Blue Bandit and head for work. My first job upon reaching the shop is to open the fire shed and the ice freezers, both of which sit outside for people to self-serve themselves during the day. I head inside, open my cash register, tidy the shelves and get the coffee machine on before turning on the lights and opening for business.
And then I wait.
Most of my early morning patrons generally want one of three things: coffee, ice for their cooler, or fishing bait. As the day progresses and heats up, the slushy machines, cold drinks and ice creams start flying out of the store. And as the afternoon hits and people are well awake and active, snacks and toys get added into the mix.
My job is to simply total up their purchases, take cash and make change. There is also a fair bit of banter involved; wishing them good luck fishing, answering queries about the hiking trails or fishing licences, and, of course, finding new and interesting ways to respond to the question – “You ain’t from around here, are you?”
For once, rather than getting annoyed with being asked where I from about 20 times a day, it actually provides a nice conversation starter with the campers; it helps ease the awkwardness I think I would otherwise feel having nothing to say to them. Often times they will have a follow up story for me, either they or someone they know who has been to England or Europe, or even just to tell me in such incredibly sincere and amazed voice how much they love my accent (which makes me feel a little better as I am convinced each day I sound less and less British, which upsets me somewhat).
When the shop becomes quiet, I spend the time restocking the shelves or just tidying the gaps in products. I refill the slushy machines, check the ice maker and coffee machines to see they still have water, and then might do a bit of sweeping up.
On Thursdays, the merchandise orders for that week show up and the afternoon is spent (in between serving customers) ticking off inventory sheets, pricing (with a pricing gun – which I sometimes get excited about), and finding space on the shelves for all the new goods.
I’m not necessarily on my own throughout all of this though, for I have co-workers!
Usually mid-morning one or more of them show up (I open early, they close the shop late) and it is these work colleagues who have really made my experience here worth it. For how many times have I wailed on my travels about being unable to meet people and have regular contact with others I can get to know? Well, here that isn’t a problem!
First off – I have the excellent companionship of Debbie; she is our reservations lady who works in a separate office within the shop. She is full of laughter and light, just a bubbly lady full of stories and questions. She tells me of her camping and fishing trips, about the time she shot a rattlesnake through the head with a handgun, about her children and grandchildren. She is fascinated by the fact I hiked the Appalachian Trail and asks me questions all the time about what it was like, she shares her music tastes with me and laughs while I dance about the shop, and she even cut my hair for me (she is a hairdresser too I hastened to add)! Needless to say, she endlessly cheers up my work day.
Next we have Gina, she is the official Forest Service Ranger in the shop. She is like the energizer bunny, she never stops moving, never stops working. Often she will pop in to work on her days off and end up doing some type of job. She is incredibly excited about wildlife, likes catching snakes that are spotted in the campground and loves teaching kids that come along to her craft and wildlife programs. She is also the most incredibly generous person. She is forever treating staff and campers to treats, paying for things herself. I’ve seen kids come in to the shop dismayed they don’t have the money to buy something and she’ll say “Go ahead honey, you’re fine”, let them have something, and pay for it out of her pocket when they leave. She even did this for me – she bought me this…..
Yeah, he’s the turkey vulture I spotted on my first day in the store and promised myself I’d buy when I completed the season. She gave him to me last week, afraid someone else would buy him before I could! She told me it was a gift for all the hard work I’ve done. How lovely is that? She is just a super person to work for.
My other main co-worker is actually an intern for the season – a young college student named Braden. He likes to refer to himself as an ‘enigma’, which makes me laugh but is probably very suitable. I find him to be eclectic, he seems to have many facets to his personality. On one hand he is great for conversation on music, books, politics, and the world at large. He will talk openly to you on many subjects and doesn’t seem afraid of voicing his opinions or what people may think of them. He works great with the kids on the wildlife programs here, is another snake lover, and has the most wild mop hair I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, he’s also still a 19 year old lad who at times can’t seem to put his mobile phone down until I yell at him (pleasantly, of course) and looks sleepy half the time when he comes in to work in the morning.
The final two people on the shop team I only see sparingly, as they work on my days off and in the evenings when I am not about. Teresa is a seasoned store worker, having worked in other campground previously, and takes care of most of the ordering of the stock. Trevor is our other intern; he’s from Texas and constantly wears a cowboy hat, talks about guns and cooking food; you look at him and immediately think ‘Texan’, you can’t help it.
It has been a pleasant change to be able to not only meet these people, but to actually form friendships with them, to be able to learn more about who they are, where they are from, and what their lives are like; rather than passing by like ships in the night as I usually do.
So while overall everything is ticking by quite nicely, I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t any challenges with my job, I feel I should just point out one or two of them I’ve had to face.
First – nickels and dimes; I just can’t for the life of me remember which name goes with which coin. I just wish that they were called 5 cents and 10 cents. That’s far more straight forward and sensible.
Second – filling up an ice cream freezer really hurts your hands, like to the point of frost bite hurts.
Third – the total and utter humiliating embarrassment I have to face when I can’t understand someone’s accent. If you’ve not been out here to the sticks of TN, you might not be aware that there are some thick accents out here, as thick as molasses. In some cases, I have been able to get away with the ‘smile and wave’ technique – as a person says something obviously jovial as they exit the store. But when a person asks you a direct question and requires an answer, well, it becomes a nightmare.
I had a gentleman come in and ask – ‘You got some flice water?’ Well, at least that’s what I though he said. I stopped and gaped and panicked for a second, I’ve never heard of flice water, but I’ve stocked the shelves and never come across it. So I repeated his request back to him “I’m sorry, you’re looking for flice water?” Hoping he might shed some light on what it might be. “No, I need a flice water” he says again. I obviously have a look of horror on my face that tells him I have no clue what he is saying and yet know it would be incredibly impolite to say this to him. “Flice water. Fliiiice water. Fliiiiiiiiiiiice water.” He keeps repeating it. “For gittin’ flice!” And eventually something in my brain finally clicks! “Ohh, you mean a fly swatter!”
Seriously. Thick as molasses. It just gums up my ears and brain. Urgh.
Our time here in TN hasn’t all been about the work though, I do get days off of course. While we haven’t ventured out too far (some days it is nice just to relax in the bus), there are a couple mentionable places we have been to.
One of our early excursions was a drive up The Trace, the main road the runs north to south through the Land Between the Lakes. We stopped off to see a herd of bison grazing in a field and for a brief visit to The Homeplace, a working recreation of an 1850’s farming homestead. We have also taken in a show at the small planetarium they have in the centre of the recreation area.
We have visited the local town of Paris (with its very own miniature Eiffel Tower), had the thickest and tastiest milkshakes from Sonic, and joined the local library and taken books out (that was just me, not Loops).
Loops ventures out once a week (while I’m working) to either the nearby Piggly Wiggly for food shopping or, if he’s feeling more ambitious, takes a longer drive to the town of Murray to the Walmart.
We did have an unexpected treat a couple weeks ago when Loop’s mum and stepdad came to visit with us for a weekend. We headed over to Fort Donalson National Battlefield and Cemetery, which had been on our to-do list, and dined out in the evening. The fort I thought was a particularly interesting stop as it had a rather fascinating backstory that involved Ulysses S Grant, who later went on to have a huge impact on the civil war.
In addition to our out and about excursions, I have also been keeping busy closer to home. After being inspired by Gina and one of her crafting programs, I’ve decided to try my hand at rock painting. Apparently this is currently ‘in fashion’ as a thing to do and does exactly what it says on the tin, you find a rock and paint a picture on it. So I gave it a go….
And surprising this has been rather relaxing. I personally think doing something a little childlike helps offset the way too serious side of my personality.
And speaking of painting, I think I might pop off now to do some. I have promised my sister some painted ladybugs for her garden and recently collected some new rocks from the stream down the road for just that purpose.
I will endeavour to keep you all up to date as the months progress, I have a hankering to do a post on the ups and downs of the full-time RV life, now we’ve been at this for a couple of years, as well as doing some out loud thinking about what our plans may include for next year.
Until then, angels on your body!
(I’ve been reading The Loop recently, sorry).