George checked the weather forecast on his I-pad several times a day. His wife, Samantha, preferred to look out of the window to make her own weather evaluation. Christmas week she repeatedly reported that it was overcast and rainy; and George, checking his I-pad, tapped his fingers on the kitchen counter to confirm her observations. They were both looking for a day on which they could escort their house-guests to some outside activities. Their selected destination was Pedernales State Park where they planned on defeating cabin fever with rock exploration and enjoyment of the beauty of the Falls. After almost a week of overcast cold winter days, George announced that the next day, Tuesday, was to be fine. Sure enough they breakfasted watching a pink and orange sun-rise over backyard trees and declared Tuesday to be the day.
Samantha got out the picnic basket and loaded it with fresh bread, cold turkey and her own special fruit cake. She suggested a cooler of beer but George shook his head in disgust. He remembered that the consumption of beer, or indeed any alcohol, is strictly forbidden in the Park and he had no intention in being involved in an infringement of this regulation. As he stood watching her in the kitchen he drummed his fingers and snapped his knuckles as he reminded Samantha. He concluded by telling her to forget beer or wine in favor of water and soft drinks. On this occasion she complied without comment, possibly because she thought that they had consumed enough alcohol over the past week.
While the picnic was being packed one of their guests suggested that he might like to swim in the river; an activity which is also explicitly forbidden by well-posted signs along the banks of the Falls. George, knew that his guest had been to the Falls before and was well appraised on the posted regulations; so, being the law-abiding sort that he was, he merely politely cringed, snapped a couple of fingers, and made no comment. Privately he rationalized that he would not take part in any illicit swimming, and secretly hoped that the waters would be too cold, or flowing too rapidly, to tempt anyone to swim. If anyone did attempt aquatics he vowed to appease his conscience by maintaining a distance between himself and the perpetrator.
George drove with care, luxuriating in his cocoon of self-righteous pride in the fact that he was an outstanding law-abiding citizen and driver. When they arrived at the Park they were greeted by a queue of vehicles stacked at the gate. It was obvious that George and Samantha and their guests were not alone in their desire to enjoy the sunlight and beauty of the Falls. Most State Parks have a booth at the entrance where drivers can roll down their windows and pay the entry fee. On this day the booth was dark and looked abandoned. After a few minutes wait the queue of vehicles began to dissipate each selecting a parking space and disgorging both drivers and passengers. Many disappeared behind the building beside the unlit booth to use the toilets while one member from each went and stood in line outside the small shop / cabin on the curbside of the building. Samantha joined the line.
“Is this where you pay to enter the Park?” she asked the gentleman in front of her.
‘I think so,” came the reply. Samantha waited a few moments while she signaled a weak thumbs-up to George. Then she asked,
“Is the line moving? Have you seen anyone come out?”
The gentleman seemed disinclined to enter into conversation but the woman in front of the gentleman turned and looked at Samantha,
“I’ve seen no movement either. Can’t imagine what’s going on – they must be attempting to sell 2015 State park passes, or maps or something.”
“It is an awfully long line isn’t it? I’m beginning to consider skipping the line and just going into the Park.”
Samantha waited five or more minutes with no movement in the long line and no-one exiting from the building. She did a rough calculation in her head. She could see at least eight people in line ahead of her and that was only outside the building. At over five minutes a person it would take at least eight times five minutes that’s forty minutes to pay for entry. She looked around and saw that there was no barrier or check-point between the parking area and the road into the Park. She left the line and returned to George and her guests.
“It’s ridiculous!” she told George, “There is a long line and it’s not moving. I propose that we go in without a pass. No-one is monitoring entry and if they are unable to take entry fees I don’t think that they will be efficient enough to be able to find out that we did or to do anything about it if they do.”
George swallowed hard. He stared at his wife as he stretched out his hands on the steering wheel; he did not like this turn of events. If they had not had guests with them he would have insisted that they wait and pay the fee, but now he read the determination in Samantha’s voice and demeanor and knew that this was not a time for argument. He, reluctantly, turned on the ignition and drove.
The road inside the park took them gently through cedar trees and scrub-land to the parking lot serving the Falls area. The parking lot was half filled with vehicles neatly parked in the locations closest to the trail head. Instead of taking the next closest spot George selected the most remote space and drove his vehicle in as far as he could. It was as though he were attempting concealment, which was, in fact, true. Unannounced to his passengers he was trying to hide the dashboard where there was no pass displayed.
They unloaded their picnic and swimming towels and walked to the trail head. After a short walk through the trees they emerged at the outlook overlooking the Falls. As usual the sight of the grey rocks, quiet pools, and rushing water between pools momentarily spell-bound the group. A lot of people, the contents of the vehicles at the trail head, were scattered across the scene; their presence swallowed up by the majesty of the Falls. George and Samantha and their guests scrambled down the cliff-side steps to select a flat rock on which to picnic.
After their meal the group dispersed scrambling over rocks in the search for more views and in sheer enjoyment of the beauty of the day. A few hours later they came together again and mounted the cliff to ascend the trail to the parking lot. George was pleasantly pleased to learn that swimming had been abandoned as the water proved to be very cold. Now he had only one concern – whether the car was still there and un-ticketed. Laden with the empty picnic baskets, he walked fast as he sped back up the trail. When Samantha and the rest of the group emerged they were greeted by an image of George standing, desolate in the middle of the parking lot, shaking his head.
“It’s gone,” he signaled, “the car is gone!” He looked forlorn and concerned; unable to think about what their next move ought to be.
Samantha sensed his inertia and immediately began to mentally evaluate options. As there was no telephone reception in the park they would have to either walk or hitch a ride back to the park entry station. She looked around to select a candidate to give them a ride and noticed a park ranger jeep parked outside the toilets in the middle of the parking lot. She hated the thought of having to confess to their misconduct but also admitted to herself that at least there was a park ranger at hand. She quickly concluded that the jeep was too small to carry their whole party.
“It’s going to take some time,” she thought, “time to get back to the Park entry point; time for explanations; and time to retrieve the car from wherever they took it. I do hope that they didn’t tow it to some remote lot somewhere. ” Her heart sank and the enjoyment of the day evaporated while she worried about the awful possibilities presented.
She went and stood beside the jeep determined to catch the ranger when he, or she, came out of the toilets. Five minutes passed and she still stood on guard. She was beginning to wonder if the jeep was abandoned when she heard one of her guests calling to George,
“Hey, George, please could you come here and open the trunk?”
Samantha started and ran towards the voice. As she approached she saw what the problem had been. Their vehicle was pulled so far into the scrub surrounding the parking lot that its presence was occluded by the two large trucks on either side of it.