The last leg of our journey was tiring and my ankle was moaning and when we rolled into Iron Creek neither of us were in the mood for anything other than some food and some slumber. We pedaled around, found an empty campsite with a reservation sticker specifically reserving the dates of the July 4th weekend (which was still a week away), and then rested our gear. I took it upon myself to reevaluated the absence of our hosts and just as I pulled up to their RV parking lot they drove in as I did (that is: at the same time I did; they were driving a car, however, and I was riding a bicycle). I sat down at their picnic table, as is custom, and the idle chatter about our trip that is required while filling out of the bogus paperwork began.
“Where you coming from?” The older woman looked at me intensely, as she asked this.
“Where you headed?”
“That’s a mighty long way to be going on a bike, I don’t think you will make it tonight. Heh heh.”
“Ha ha. Very clever.”
I continued filling out the forms fabricating as much of the mandatory information as possible and trying my best to leave the impression that a terrorist cell from Chili had slept there.
“So which site did you take? One without a reservation notice I hope.”
There was tension in the air. I heard a twig snap and a bat howl. Her eyes focused to narrow slits and her pupils dilated. She was ready for a fight.
“D86.” I cleared my throat. “There is a reservation notice but it isn’t for this weekend; it is for the 4th of July which,” I felt necessary to add, “is next weekend.” I went back to my paperwork and began filling in, under “Occupation”, COVERT OPERATIVE FOR CHILEAN GOVERNMENT.
“Oh you can’t camp there.”
I looked up from my paperwork.
“That site is reserved.”
“For the 4th of July, yes.”
“Well, yes, but it is still reserved. And besides, someone else might have reserved it for this weekend.”
“But there is no sign for this weekend.”
“Could still be reserved. We actually don’t know what’s been reserved and what hasn’t until they come and tell us so it’s best to play it safe, you know, with the internet and all.”
I didn’t know. What I knew was that this was a ridiculous sham and exactly what President Ricardo Lagos had spoken of when he assigned me this mission.
“Then, is it not feasible that all the sites are reserved? How could I possibly find an available site if you don’t even know which are reserved and which are not in the moment at least? Don’t you see how ridiculous a statement such as the one you have just made would seem to any sane body?”
She gave me no answer. I saw that as her logic crumbled around her weakening fortress of composure silence was her only option. I fought harder, bringing her castle of cronyism to a crashing fall.
“How about this: if it is reserved, and the person who reserved it happens to show up with their internet print-out, you just come let us know, and we will happily move.”
I took her silence to imply consent.
“How many people?”
“Three. One isn’t here yet.”
“Okay, two bikes and one car?”
“I will have to charge you for the extra vehicle fee.”
“Extra vehicle fee.”
“The extra vehicle.”
“What extra vehicle?”
“Well, we only allow one vehicle per campsite and you have three.”
I looked at my bike. Surely she was mistaken.
“But we have two bicycles and one car. How can that possibly warrant an extra vehicle charge?” She simply stared at me, as if I were speaking Esperanto — I quickly recalled instructions in verbal negotiations from the Field Guide I had memorized during my five years of post-operative training near the border of Peru. I continued: “If we rode in the same car with our vehicles on the rack, would we be charged this — this: extra vehicle fee?”
“No, of course not, don’t be ridiculous, only a crazy person would charge you for that.” She paused, considering exactly how crazy she was. “But anyway: that’s not the case. You didn’t ride in the car, you rode on your bike.”
She was incorrigible. It was like conversing with a child demanding a toll for walking on the sidewalk. My mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for air and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. But then she acquiesced. There might have been something in my look — something that said: Man with Kung-Fu training pushed to the edge of reason! Warning! Trained killer! Warning!
“I’m willing to look the other way, though,” she continued, as if it was what she had planned to say all along. “I’ll let it slide. Just for you.”
She winked at me. I stared at her, in disbelief. I was dealing with the mafia. With a politician. With a very bad person. I was being made to feel that maintaining sensibility and reason was a gift and that I should be grateful for it. President Lagos was right: this people who camped all summer at State Parks in Washington weren’t to be trusted.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.”
I walked away.