Friday, October 9, 2009

Determining Intent

And speaking of cold....

In my recent post about returning to Forest Grove I touched on an incident during our 1990 trip that should have taught me something. Regrettably, I am a slow learner.

On that memorable excursion we camped for one night in Yellowstone National Park, and after all, one night is plenty of time to devote to one of the world's premier natural wonders. Anyway, we got out our ancient sleeping bags - Sally's blue mummy style bag, my green Coleman bag (suitable for zipping together with a second, had we owned it), and two cloth bags for the girls. The night was cold, damp, and scary. The scary part was the sound of a bison bull grunting directly outside the tent. We figured out what he was when the sun came up and we saw him grazing at the other end of the campground.

We survived, though I was convinced that we did so by the barest of margins. As we drove northward toward Glacier National Park the next day I argued with Sally that our sleeping bags were inadequate, and that we needed something warmer before camping the obligatory one night in another national park, this one even further north.

We agreed to shop for new gear in Helena, Montana, where we found both an outdoor recreation supplier and a branch of AAA Motor Club, which we thought we needed for some unremembered purpose. It seemed beyond serendipitous that the store had sleeping bags on sale, and we selected 2 new adult-sized bags, and a three-quarter sized one as well. Money was tight in those days, which must explain why we didn't buy enough sleeping bags so everyone in the family could actually have their own.

With our new, sale-priced sleeping bags stowed in the back of the van, we left Helena behind, heading north on Interstate 15 toward Glacier NP. As we drove, I continued thinking about our fortunate purchase, when mathematics reared its ugly head. In mentally adding up the total of our purchase I obtained a figure much lower than that indicated on the charge slip. We had been hoodwinked! They hadn't given us the sale price! Those opportunistic Helena outfitters had seen the Nebraska bumpkins coming and had pulled a fast one! I couldn't help but think of the scene from How the West Was Won where Jimmy Stewart (portraying Linus Rawlings) went into the cave to see the varmint, only to get a knife in the back from the fetching maiden working her swindling father's evil intent.

I vowed to telephone the store to inform them that I was on to them. The only problem? There were no exits on that stretch of I-15 for nearly twenty miles. We had no brick-in-a-bag car phone (they were originally called car phones, by the way, before it was noted that it was dangerous to use them in cars), not that there would have been any cell towers there anyway. We continued to the next exit, only to discover that it was "Wilderness Access - No Services". The AAA Motor Club should have warned us. "No Services" meant no phone booth. We were devoid. Bereft even.

I became even more enraged than before, and resolute. Those swindlers would not stab ME in the back! No sir! I wasn't going to take this sitting down. OK, I had to remain seated because I was driving, but you get the picture. We exited at the "Wilderness Access" and turned the van back southward. I had nearly half an hour to rehearse the piece-of-my-mind speech those Helena swindlers were going to receive. Unless, of course, they had closed the store immediately after cheating us, riding off to their own "Wilderness Access" with their ill-gotten gains. I was possessed, much like Karl Malden (portraying Zebulon Prescott) had been in How the West Was Won, where after killing all the Missouri River swindlers in a rage he implored God to take their souls, "whether You want 'em or not!"

We drove back into Helena, and found the store again. It was still open! Ha! Evidently they were looking for more bumpkins to swindle. I parked across the front entrance and marched in, wielding my receipt like Excalibur. Unsuspecting, they looked up as I arrived....

"Oh, good, it's you! We overcharged you! We've been trying to figure out how to get ahold of you to let you know. We've already credited your card with the difference."

I changed, somewhat, the wording of the incendiary speech I had prepared. "Uh, OK."

We got back into the van, and I, chastened, probably told the kids that they should remember the lesson from the experience. We shouldn't always assume that everyone is out to cheat us. No. The world is actually teeming with kind souls wanting to credit our charge accounts with the difference, if only they knew how to get in touch with us.

* * *

I recalled this tale this past week when faced with multiple plumbers who didn't return my phone calls within the imaginary time limit that still frequents my brain. After all, plumbers do spend much of their time trying to figure out how to avoid talking to me. Missouri Ruffians all, they are.

It turned out that one plumber misplaced my note, and the other called a few minutes later, and appointments were made and kept. Maybe this time I will hold on to the lesson from Helena. No, they aren't all out to get me. And even in the darkest hour, it's good to remember the words of Robert J. Hanlon, adapted (unwittingly, I'm sure) from other words by Robert A. Heinlein:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Who knows? Maybe Fox News isn't evil after all.

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