Whew! The last month has really beaten me up. It’s hard to believe that just thirty-four days ago, I was a full-time writer and perfectly content to be there. Since then, I’ve moved from the relative insularity of my command post for world domination (aka my humble home office–meh, the former sounds better) to a much more interesting and extreme office.
You see, my new office is my work truck, which I spend a good 65% of my average day in one way or another. Moving at an average speed of 52 miles per hour (yes, I’ve done the math), I’ve pretty much covered most of Southern Utah and seen some sights that the vast majority of people never will.
What makes my new office so extreme is the fact that I’m constantly on the move. Muscles I hadn’t exercised in years are now being forced to cope with the fact that yes, I’m five years older and yes, we’re going to do this anyway. Lugging around anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds of gear, I’ve had to climb, crawl, and occasionally slog my way to testing sites all over the southern half of the state. Given I’m thirty pounds heavier, this is not an easy feat, but I’m adjusting. Perhaps the most exhausting part of the job is the mental demands it levies: keeping up with myriad pieces of paperwork, working out how to get to Job B without leaving Job A high and dry, making sure the soil, asphalt and concrete samples I take are logged in correctly and in a timely fashion. This is where experience comes in, and outside of writing I have as much experience only in this job and one other.
The financial compensation for the job is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. Especially in a small town in Southern Utah, where the economic picture is cautiously changing but not nearly as frantically as other more optimistic but short-sighted places, I make REALLY, REALLY good money compared with most, and insanely good by the lights of the average college student. However, the best compensation is the views I get from my office and the access I get to places most people can never see. One example of this is this picture, which I took from the Ski Patrol overlook at Brian Head, UT. In case you’re curious, the elevation at which I took this picture is 11,000 feet:
Now, the obvious question is, what was I doing at Brian Head?
On this particular day, I was waiting for concrete trucks. Funny: I had never given any serious thought to what goes into building a ski lift. If I’d thought about it, I would have realized that just about any erection that sticks more than six feet in the air has concrete involved. However, since ski lifts are not a normal part of my daily life and never have been (I don’t ski. Sonny Bono, hello!?!) it never occurred to me to give them much consideration. However, pouring the foundations for them has given me a new appreciation for how much work goes into the science of fun, to say nothing of the work involved in pouring on a nearly vertical slope as opposed to the relatively flat ground I’ve become accustomed to. And operating over two miles above sea level? Good God, I thought I was going to have a stroke a couple of times!
While I was in a holding pattern waiting for the next mud truck, I noticed this little pond. I’d driven by it several times in the previous days, but had a perfect chance to take a picture. What does this pond do? I’m guessing it’s an artificial detention basin. What’s its purpose? Aside from holding water, I don’t know and truthfully don’t care. As the Polish proverb making the rounds on Facebook has it, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I just knew it looked pretty, with the pines all around and the reflections of the fat, fluffy clouds shimmering in its mirror-still surface. So, click!
Not all my jobs are so picturesque. Take for example a field trip I took to the Back of Beyond just today. On the way to the testing site, the red dirt and gravel road made a jarring contrast to the more muted greens and browns of the desert grasses and trees. The sun shone through a light, thin haze of clouds, casting a warm brassy light over the scene. I toodled along my way, occasionally raising two fingers in salute at the rare vehicle in the other lane. (Only one failed to return the greeting; for all their faults, Utahns tend to be very friendly people.)
I located the turnoff to the site and promptly found myself on an only slightly less well-maintained gravel road, which I followed for what felt like hours and my odometer claims was less than three miles. As I drove, I scanned the metal gates I passed looking for a white rag, the sign the client had left to assure me I was in the right place. Finally I located the gate, which was closed, and hopped out of the truck to muscle it open. This, in turn, startled the flock of sheep who had been grazing placidly on the other side, and they turned almost as a single unit and loped away into the trees. I smiled, relieved I wouldn’t have to explain to some sheep rancher with an itchy trigger finger how his prize Rambouillets got out of his pasture. (I guess they were probably Rambouillets, anyway; I barely know a sheep from a mountain goat, never mind being able to pick out individual breeds.)
The moment I got to the site, however, things got a lot more interesting and less placid. Steel-gray clouds scudding menacingly over the treetops like the inevitable harbingers of an alien invasion, accompanied by menacing rumbles of thunder. I hurried to get my nuclear density gauge and the ancillary gear together, hoping to take my tests and be gone before the weather closed in.
As it happened, I was not so lucky. Large drops of rain began to pelt my head, my arms, and least fortunate of all, the paper on which I was recording the readings I had taken. Worse, the thunder grew even louder, and through the trees I could see flashes of lightning. This made me especially nervous because I once saw a ginny hopper (the name for the person who works beside a scraper making sure the grading indicators are visible) get struck by lightning. The bolt arced off the blade of the scraper and nailed him. I still recall this happened on a Thursday. The guy was back and good to go on Monday morning. Tough mother; I’d’ve taken a solid week off after that if it’d been me.
So I finished my tests as quickly as professional ethics and thoroughness would allow and raced for the shelter of the truck. After securing my gear, I pulled off the site and started back down the road toward town, some forty miles away.
In just a few minutes’ time, the weather had gone from cautiously benign to deeply menacing. The quaking aspens, which had reflected the sun’s glow back so cheerfully only a quarter hour prior, now reminded me of white-robed mourners at a Wiccan funeral in the dingy gray pall cast by the clouds and rain. Some of the darker faerie tales I’ve read came to mind, and I found myself unconsciously scanning the sides of the road with a little extra caution lest I should find myself confronted with something miraculous or diabolical. Ichabod Crane, skinwalkers, and other even less cheerful tales capered and cavorted in my mind, seeming to peer out at me from the trees.
The gravel road that had given such excellent purchase now swelled under the kiss of the water like a lover responding to the ministrations of someone who knows her body as well as her own, revealing something I knew at a glance when I first saw it: the dirt was actually clay, which can be very slick and treacherous to drive on when it gets wet. The rain was coming down so hard it cut rivulets, tracks and pools in the road, making the going even more tricky. The wind gusted, abusing my pickup with wheezing fists. When this failed to slow my old but still game truck, the hail began. From stones the size of peas to a couple of overachievers the diameter of dimes, they rattled against the roof of the truck like gunfire from above, making it all but impossible to think, never mind hear anything but the infernal racket of fast-moving bits of ice striking metal.
And then it happened. A gust caught the tail end of my truck at exactly the wrong moment. I fishtailed once, twice, three times, fighting the wheel desperately to prevent a slide. A moment later I came to rest on the margin of the road, where large vehicles and time have not compacted and bonded the earth to itself as happens on gravel roads. I growled something that would make my boss’s ears bleed if he’d been present and kicked the truck into low gear, romping on the pedal as I did so.
No good. I was stuck. I put it in reverse. Same as. Now the hail was coming down in earnest and I thought nervously of the scraper behind me, planing the road into corduroy as a form of repair from the ravages of the winter. I seesawed the shifter back and forth, from reverse to low and back again. Every move seemed only to get me more stuck.
A red Jeep Cherokee turned onto the road, moving slowly and cautiously. Even so, they nearly clipped the two-point buck which bounded over the barbed-wire fence just past the roadway, took three graceful leaps, and cleared the plain wire fence on the other side. Only luck and the fact they were driving carefully spared them. Just beyond this incident, of course, was me, stuck in my truck miles from help in a hailstorm with a piece of heavy equipment coming up behind me and nowhere to go.
He rolled down his window and shouted, “Are you okay?”
I wasn’t, but I still offered a slightly surly thumbs-up.
“Are you stuck?”
Yes! I wanted to scream. “Yeah,” I mumbled, nodding just enough to make sure he got the point.
“If you have something to pull you, we can get you out!” I think he yelled. (I say I think because the racket of the hail had now escalated to a full-scale assault on my eardrums.)
I shook my head. “I’ll be okay in a minute. Just need to wait for this to go away!” I called back.
He nodded skeptically. “Okay!” he called. Kicking his vehicle into drive, he departed at a stately pace.
A moment later I managed to catch onto something. Maybe it was a chunk of rock, a dry patch of non-clay material that my previous struggles had exposed, or a particularly robust tree root. Either way, a little more rock and roll with the shifter got me skidding across the road and safely out of harm’s way. My pulse thudding and my cheeks flaming with embarrassment, I turned up my smooth jazz playlist and putted away from the scene at a measly 15mph.
Now, sitting here, the same storm I met up with almost four hours ago is back for a return engagement, howling through the trees like a bean’sidhe and glowering down at the town. I’m safe and warm in my house, drinking a beer and talking with you fine folks. All’s well that ends well, so they say…and frustrating as my office can be sometimes, it sure as hell ain’t dull!
So, I’m curious: What’s the weirdest or coolest thing that’s ever happened to you in YOUR office? Leave a comment and tell all! ;)
Until next time,