It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a misadventure, so here is one I have been promising you all for a couple of weeks.
It was the last day of a field job. Besides the rain suspiciously appearing only when we were sampling, it had been a decent day – we were getting a lot of work done and were ahead of schedule. “Yay,” I thought happily. “We should be out of here at noon and back in town by three or four. I can make my running group tonight. We’re doing so well today! YAY HAPPY THOUGHTS YAY.”
And that was my downfall. It is the Law of Field Work – as soon as you think you’re ahead of schedule or nearly finished with the work, something dire will happen.
The rain became torrential. We struggled to finish our samples and ran into the truck. I was soaked and shivering. Since we were stuck in the middle of a field, we wanted to get out if it as quickly as possible before it became too muddy. I drove us away from our spot, unknowingly turning into a muddy area. “Jen, watch out!” my coworker said. I braked. “No, don’t stop!” she said frantically. I tried turning the wheel to change direction. “No, don’t turn the wheel!” she cried. “Just go!”
I put my foot on the accelerator, but it was no use. We were stuck.
My coworker, who has more experience of being stuck in mud, got behind the wheel and tried everything she could. We put cardboard and plastic underneath the tires. I removed mud from the treads to gain more traction. We even tried pushing the car.
We were hopelessly stuck.
Resigned, I called a wrecking service. Since we were in a small town, the wrecker wasn’t sure he’d have the capability to haul us out. So I called a wrecker about 30 minutes away. He promised us he’d be out in an hour.
The rain had stopped by now, and the sun leaped over the clouds; the universe clearly was taunting us. My coworker, who initially had been silently frustrated with me, began cheering up. She told me she’d seen and done a lot worse in the field, and started telling me horror stories of times she’d gotten her truck stuck in mud. I feel like getting your truck stuck in mud is clearly a rite of passage for work in the field.
I bet you all thought that this entry would end with, “And then the wrecker came to tow us out, and we all lived happily ever after,” but no. Getting the truck stuck in the mud is only the beginning of this story.
While we were waiting for the tow truck to arrive, we tried to get as much work done as we could without having a truck. Carrying some of our sampling equipment, we walked out of the site to sample at an adjacent one. As we locked the gate, we noticed two men sitting in a truck, staring at us.
The men flagged us down and asked questions about our work. My coworker answered them politely, and we continued on our way. After our work was completed, we walked back towards the gate. “Hey,” one of the creepy men said to me. “I like your hat. Where did you get it?” (In the field, I wear this sun hat that my coworker teasingly refers to as a “granny hat.” Clearly, these men have very low standards.) “Uh…Walmart,” I said, quickening my pace. One of the other men asked my coworker more questions about our work and then started hitting on her. Creeped out, we went back into the property and closed the gate behind us.
While we were dealing with America’s Most Wanted, we had been struggling to get a tow truck on the property. The place I’d called kept pushing back their arrival time. Frustrated and hungry, I canceled the work and called a local place, who promised they’d arrive in 20 minutes. After a snafu with the directions (we were in the middle of nowhere, after all), the local wrecker came to the property. I’ll call him Al.
As soon as Al came on the property, one of the creepy men who had been hitting on my coworker started walking over to us. My coworker and I shot either other worried glances. “That guy owes me money,” Al said, narrowing his eyes. “He’s been hassling us,” my coworker said in a hushed voice. “Can you stick around and make sure he leaves us alone?” “That is not a problem,” Al said.
“Hey man,” Creepy Dude said, approaching us. “I got a truck. I’ll haul these girls out.” “Naw man, that’s cool,” Al said dismissively. “I got it. You just get on back home.” “Nah man, really,” Creepy Dude persisted, “I got a truck. I can get them out. Just let me help you.” “Man, no,” Al said. “These girls called me. I got it. Just get on home.” This exchange went on for another minute or two until Creepy Dude said sullenly, “Can I talk to you in private?” My coworker and I hung back, afraid we were about to witness a showdown. “Either he’s mentally ill, or he’s on something,” I whispered, watching his mannerisms.
Al finally managed to get rid of Creepy Dude. “He’s trying to help y’all out so his debt to me is cleared,” he said. “I don’t work that way.” We thanked Al for helping us out. “Not a problem,” he said. “This man is not good people. He is a crackhead and a drunk.” Oh, okay then.
Al told us that his wrecker was too big to haul us out and might get stuck. “We’d need a tractor to haul me out then, and we don’t want that to happen,” he said. He mentioned a friend of his having a truck that could get us out, but said that invoicing would be a bit of an issue. “Ricardo doesn’t do government paperwork, if you know what I mean,” he said.
My coworker and I shot each other another nervous glance.
Just then, a huge wrecker from the first towing company I’d called showed up. Even though I had canceled their service, they showed up anyway. We gave them the go-ahead and they drove their wrecker cautiously on the property.
Creepy Dude, who clearly missed any subtle social cues, followed us on the property with his truck. “I could have gotten y’all out of there for free,” he told us from his truck. I turned away, wanting him to leave. He finally did.
Five hours later, our truck was freed from the mud, not after some good-natured ribbing from the boys hauling us out (“How did you girls find the only muddy spot in the field to get stuck in?”) Filled with relief, we waved goodbye to them and continued with our work. It ended up being a long day, but as we drove home, we couldn’t help laughing at our adventures.
I don’t know how it happened, but word somehow spread around the car rental place of our misadventures. As I rented a truck this weekend for another field job, the employee said, “Hey, were you part of the crew that got a truck stuck in mud?”
On a slightly unrelated note, I’d had this song stuck in my head the entire field job. I had heard it the first time I had been to this site a year ago, so I always associate this song with working on that site (mental flavor). On my way home, I heard it on the radio!
A nice little bit of serendipity for my troubles.