I heard a story, not sure if it’s true about a man, let’s call him Hal, who at the beginning of 2020 wanted to find a way to deal with the lockdown. He was a regular guy with a few kids, I’m guessing three. Like so many others at that time, he decided to invest in a fifth wheel trailer. This kind of trailer has an overhang sleeping loft and usually is towed with a huge hitch in the bed of a powerful pickup truck.
He bought the truck. He bought the trailer. The family went on one camping trip and everyone loved it. Why wouldn’t they? The trailer had all the modern amenities. A full kitchen with granite counters, deep sink, residential sized fridge. There were three televisions, a mid bunk room, a bath and a half, the works. They stayed at a private resort campground and although they couldn’t swim in the pool, couldn’t hang out in the game room or playground, there was an ice cream stand that delivered door to door.
After that one trip however, there was a problem with the air conditioning. Something came loose, maybe it was a screw on a blower, but the end result was the AC didn’t work right. It had to go in to the dealer for a warranty covered repair. This is not the sad part of the story.
The dealership was super busy as everyone and their grandmother was either buying an RV that needed to be prepped or was bringing in their ancient RV to be repaired as it had now become their most valuable possession.
Any rig being brought in was parked in the overflow lot next to the dealership. Hal brought in his nearly brand new rig, handed the keys to the receptionist at the office and was told, “we’ll have her fixed and back to you end of day.”
The day ended with no call. Nest day came, and again Hal didn’t get the call to come pick up his trailer. He waited until late afternoon but then got a message that the office closed at four. It was understandable that the repair might take longer than a day. It would have been nice to get a phone call. Again he put aside his complaint in favor of being reasonable. It was a crazy time. Customer service was the first thing to go in crazy times.
Finally late the next day he got a phone call. There was a delay it would be a few days more. Hal held back the few choice words he had to say and accepted the circumstances. They didn’t have another camp trip for three weeks. There was time.
Time flew by. Into the second week, Hal was a little less agreeable.
“What’s the problem? I don’t understand. You said you had the part. It was a quick job.”
“Yes, we’re very sorry but we’ll take care of it today.”
“If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to come by, get the part and get my trailer.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Great, thank you.”
The end of the day, there was another call.
“Your trailer is ready. Come by any time during office hours.”
He took off from work early, pulled into the dealership, picked up his keys and headed for the lot where his trailer was parked. Only thing was, the trailer was not where he parked it. Then he realized, of course it would have been moved. He searched every row but could not find it. He made the assumption that it was in the main business lot, maybe still being prepped. They were supposed to wash the rig after every service call. The person at reception was the same but he noticed he didn’t see any of the sales people he dealt with when they bought the rig. He had spent nearly a full day and a few hours over a week debating which one to purchase. Now that he thought of it, the décor was different too. They must have remodeled in the past thirty days. He ignored the red flags flying and went up to the desk.
“I’m sorry, I should have asked. Where is my rig parked?”
She smiled. “Sure, I’ll look it up.”
Hal gave her his name, the type of rig and waited. She typed away on a keyboard, scrolled through screens with the zippy clicking of a mouse. Then she looked up. “Just one minute,” she stammered. “I’m having an access problem.” She gave him a shaky smile then disappeared into an office.
Hal stood there for five minutes. Another customer came up next to him. The receptionist returned.
“Can I help you?” She asked the woman standing next to Hal.
“Hey, not meaning to interrupt, but weren’t you taking care of me?” Hal said trying really hard to keep his tone even. His wife aways told him, “if you feel that vein at your temple throbbing, it’s probably a good idea to take a deep breath and step away from the situation’. Well he couldn’t step away. That was part of the problem. He had kept his distance way too long. “Can I please see your manager?”
The woman next to him backed away from the counter.
The receptionist gave him a thin smile. “I escalated your situation. He’ll be right out.”
“Please it will only be moments. There are others that need help.” A line of two more people had formed. “Can you step aside and wait over there?” She pointed to one of the chairs with a potted plant next to it and a rack of brochures about the joys of RV ownership.
“I’m going to stay right here, thank you.”
It was another twenty minutes before a man dressed in khakis and a golf shirt sporting a logo of a teardrop trailer with speed lines under its wheels on a winding road. It caught Hal’s attention. Wasn’t the logo CW with a mountain behind it?
“You like the logo?” the man said. “We had to ditch the CW since we are no longer “Camping World”. We’re “Camp Universe”and we’ve got so much more to offer. Name is George, how can I help you?”
“You can give me my trailer back.”
George laughed. “Of course!” George went to the keyboard. The receptionist glanced sideways at George.
“What did you say the make and model was?”
Hal repeated it.
“When did you bring it on?”
“I told her all this already,” Hal said pointing to the receptionist.
“I’m sorry just double checking your information.”
Hal noted beads of sweat forming on George’s brow. A full minute of silence went by then George looked up. “Mr.Weis, we don’t have any record of your trailer coming in for repair. Are you sure you’re at the right location?”
After throwing his wife’s advice aside and making sure everyone in ear shot knew he was a very unhappy customer, it was explained that the dealership had changed hands. His trailer was not in the roster waiting for repairs. The new owners had no knowledge that it existed. When Hal asked how could he get a call that it was repaired. That was the receptionist’s error. She had his name and trailer type on a notepad. There was another fifth wheel, same make and model that completed repair when she saw the note, she thought he was the owner. She was an employee of the previous owners and claimed she was so busy she kept a list of what she needed to do. She didn’t notice that she had out an old notebook and list.
“But we can provide you with the contact information of the previous owners so you can bring the matter up with them.” He took back the keys.
That led to getting a lawyer and listening to the legalese that said that the lot where he parked his trailer had a sign, “park at your own risk”and even though the dealership ran out of space and had promised to fix the AC the same day, they were not responsible for maintaining the security of the trailers.
Because the trailer was likely gone for more than thirty days, Hal had a tough time convincing the insurance company he managed his asset diligently.
In the end, Hal did not get back the money he invested in the trailer. He could not afford another trailer. The family’s camping fun was over. He was bitter and angry. A news story ran locally that painted the dealership as heartless, greedy and uncaring.
Note- this is a dramatized version of my recollection of a story in the news, ninety percent fiction.
I’m sharing this story because something comical and unexpected happened to me that made the news story a part of my reality. The individual who had the experience of his trailer stolen while parked in a “park at your own risk” lot, erected a big sign that blasted “Camping World” as not being a reputable business. I drove past this every day for months. I considered how disappointed and sad it was for this man to have envisioned happy memories with his family in a new trailer, and then be robbed, left without recompense and his only outlet was to share his anger with the public. A little further up the road there was even a sign on a front lawn, a little hidden in bushes that said, “Camping World for sale $5”. At least that’s what I thought it said. Recently, another sign was added round the bend, “Camp Wood $5”. It was only after the context of the new sign, that I looked at the other more carefully (mind you this is going by at fifty-five miles and hour)and noted the other sign said “Camping Wood”. I really still can’t believe that for a year, I saw “Camping World” and pondered that it was a strange joke to make a sign that it was for sale at a bargain price. It never made sense to me except that he was that upset. But it’s all about context (and speed!) which totally relates to writing.
Context cues have to be clear and they usually work best with a little reinforcement. It was the second sign about Camp Wood that allowed me to see the first sign in a new light. So if you’re writing a scene that a conversation is leading up to an explosion of emotion, be sure to have context cues that say things are going down hill. For example, the sky darkening from a storm on the way, a cloud blocking the sun, a crow or hawk screeching, black smoke belching from a truck, you get the idea. Without the proper cues, the reader may not be prepared for the next scene which may lead to some head scratching.
Sorry couldn’t come up with a better example than that. Point is, humans easily read things wrong, so don’t be surprised when people miss something about your story that you thought was obvious. Just learn, add some context cues, see if that doesn’t help.
Write on! Camp on too, but maybe set up a security camera if you have to leave a camper unattended.