A Long Wednesday

I have been dreading today all week, because it was my field day.  I had to meet a crew on a site at 8 am.  The problem is, I live approximately several hours hours away from the site (depending on traffic and speed you are traveling).  This morning, I crawled out of bed at 4:15 so I could get on the road by 4:45.

It’s not the work I was dreading.  I was overseeing a small crew of people for the first time, and while I was nervous, I wasn’t actually going to be doing any work.  All I had to do was take notes and photographs.  I was dreading the idea of leaving my little puppy by himself.  I was going to be gone for 12 hours, which is too long to leave him in the crate.  Boarding him this young would be a traumatic experience.  Why not leave him in the gated kitchen, an area he is already comfortable with, with lots of food, toys, and water?

I’ve been prepping him for his stay the kitchen, leaving him there while I am work and checking on him at lunch.  Still, today would be the first time he’d be there for that long by himself without my checking on him.

It was not a solution I was thrilled about, but it was the only feasible one I had.  At 4:30, I opened his cage, put lots of food and water in his bowl, and set out durable toys.  I took a Kong treat and spread peanut butter over it to make it tasty and fun for him.  Then I set it on the floor and looked at him, guilt washing over me like a high tide.

“Come here baby,” I said, scooping him up.  I hugged him and gave him little kisses on his head. I think he was more interested in the peanut butter than me, because he was scrambling for me to set him down.

I set him down, imploring him to wait for Mommy, be a good boy, and Oh God, please don’t choke on the toys.

The drive was tiresome and it seemed like it would be dark forever.  The entire drive, I couldn’t stop thinking about Apollo and the disaster scenarios he would get into while I was gone.  Would he be okay? Would he choke on his food or toys?  Would he be expecting me at lunchtime, when I usually check on him?  Would he get lonely?  Each scenario ended with me coming home to find a dead puppy.

I showed up on site at 7:45, and began preparing for the day’s work.  I sent texts to loved ones, saying how worried I was about Apollo. They all texted back, saying not to worry.

The crew did not show up until close to 10.  I sent frustrated texts to loved ones.  I’m so glad I woke up at 4 for nothing.

The work itself went faster than I anticipated.  The experience itself was…interesting.  I have never had to direct a crew by myself before.  I was the only female, by the way, directing three men.  Their tone was overall respectful, but there was still the patronizing “baby” thrown out there a couple of times.  One time, one of the men told me to move out of an ant bed by touching my hips and moving me.  I was so shocked that I didn’t know how to respond.

The same man saw my gum in the car and joked that it was my breakfast and lunch (at least he didn’t say I looked like I have AIDS, which is what a coworker told me back during my summer job I held at eighteen.)

The jokes died down when I was driving the contractor around.  “Were you raised on a ranch?” he asked.  “No,” I said.  “Girl, you’re handling this truck like you were raised driving out in this stuff,” he said.  I kept quiet.  If you know the mishaps I’ve had with parking larger vehicles, then you would know that no one ever thinks I was raised on a ranch.  His comment made up for the gum joke, and I felt a little warmer to him after that.

I could make a whole other blog post about being a female in a male-oriented field, but different women have different approaches to it.  Some get very upset when they are patronized.  Others ignore it if the tone is not overtly sexual or patronizing.  I’m still on the fence about how to proceed. But since they were overall respectful, I ignored it.

Work was done at 3, and I hurried into my truck to drive home.  After driving impatiently through city traffic (why do I have to get stuck behind all the people who want to go 20 mph below the speed limit?), I scurried out of my car and bolted up my apartment stairs.

As I opened the door, I said tentatively, “…Snuggle Bug?”

No answer.

“Apollo?” I said.  I didn’t hear anything.  Frantically, I repeated, “Apollo? Apollo!”

No sounds.

Frightened, I ran to the kitchen, expecting the worst.  Apollo was lying in his bed.  He looked up at me.  When he saw me, he jumped up and down and started whimpering.  I scooped him up in my arms, and he showered my face with kisses.

Today wasn’t so bad.

Wednesday Afternoon

We are putting new carpets in at work, so I’m packing up my cubicle today. It’s a pain, but it allows me to get rid of papers that have accumulated over the past four and a half years.  Going through the papers and recycling them is making me a little nostalgic.  There are a lot of files associated with the waterline project.  I remember when it seemed like I’d be on that project forever, and now it’s been over for nearly a year.  I miss it.

I preface this paragraph by stating that I do not want to be one of those people who always talks about her dog.  I remember when my friend Tap adopted a cat, he would not stop talking about what Bert did today.  I remember thinking, “COOL STORY BUT I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR CAT.”  But now, I totally understand. I’m sorry, Tap.  My conversations with loved ones have consisted mainly of what Apollo Did Today or Apollo’s Progress or Apollo Still Isn’t House-Broken What Am I Doing Wrong?  I’m surprised they still answer my texts and phone calls.

So I will try my best to refrain from talking too much about my puppy but I have to say several things: 1.  He slept all night last night, which was awesome and 2. he is learning how to fetch.

I better get back to packing up my cube. Is it Friday yet?

edit: I found the iPod that’s been missing since March on my bottom shelf. How the heck did it get there?! At least this repacking has been useful.

Tired

I’m tired but, in typical fashion, I do not want to sleep. My body resists sleep as much as it can. I always feel like I’m missing out on something important.

It has been and will be a long week. I’ve completed day 3 of a 7 day field shift that consists of nothing other than driving for a straight 9-10 hours.  After my field shift is completed, I head to the office for several more hours to work on a report that is due Friday.   I’ve already logged over 40 hours of work this week alone.

I am not complaining.  The driving gets to me though.  It is not hard work, but it’s mentally exhausting.  I do not get a weekend, but I’m taking next Tuesday off.

I kind of need a hug.

It’s Only Monday and I Am Getting Exhausted

Work has been incredibly busy.  This is a good thing. I like being busy. But it can get exhausting at times, especially when you work for 8 days straight without a break, and 7 of those 8 days are out in the field.  Bless my understanding, supportive loved ones for their patience.  Exhaustion + lack of sleep + long days = super-sensitive, crabby Jenny.

But this weekend I didn’t have to work, and it was just the tonic I needed.  I slept – a lot.  I slept for 8 or 9 hours yesterday and then took a 2 hour nap later in the day. I watched Prometheus (and it was awesome). I went shopping. I ate a ridiculous amount of Mexican food.  I went salsa dancing for the first time in nearly four years (it was a blast! I’m still sore).  I read a lot.

Back at work today, I felt more energized and ready for the week and the upcoming tasks.  All was going well until the end of the day. I was starting to feel tired again. Brushing it off, I called a contact.  I had sent this person an email last week that had gone ignored.

When he answered, I asked him how he was doing and politely asked if he’d received my email.  With frustration and, I sense, a little hostility, he retorted, “Yes I did.  I’m in a meeting right now.  I can’t talk right now.”

Then he hung up.

What? Really?

I was smiling as I hung up because I was thinking, Are you serious? What have I done to upset you this much?  Why did you answer your phone if you are in a meeting?

But my smile faded into frustration.  Dude, seriously, I’m just trying to do my job here. I was polite. I was cordial. I gave you more than a full business day to respond to my request.  Why are you being such a dick?  What have I done to you to deserve such rudeness?

It may be a long week.

Three Things: Sketches From the Field

I.  I was putting samples away when I heard the bark. I turned around to see a large dog resembling a pit bull.  He was barking furiously at me. I froze.  I had been told stray dogs were around this property, but I hadn’t seen one until now.  The neighbors adjacent to the property kept their dogs chained up. The dogs barked all day, with sad, frantic barks that made my coworker and I think they were abused.  As the dog growled menacingly at me, I wondered if he was from the property next door and had somehow escaped.

When I was in high school, my dad and I were completing one of our early morning runs when a pack of dogs started running after us.  My dad had dropped his voice to a growl and said forcefully, “GET OUT OF HERE.”  The dogs scattered.  “You can’t show fear,” he had said afterward.  “They sense it.”

As the dog barked at me, I thought about that encounter and considered my options – would I have enough time to jump in the truck if he decided to charge at me?  Channeling my dad with all my might, I straightened my shoulders, dropped my voice, and shouted, “GET OUT OF HERE.”

The dog continued barking, so a whole lot of good that did.

I tried again, but even I could sense the weakness in my voice.  Finally, mustering my strength, I lowered my voice to a low register and bellowed, “GET OUT OF HERE.”

The dog stopped barking and looked at me.  Then it retreated with its tail between its legs.

Not gonna lie – that kind of made me feel like a badass.

II.  I went inside the gas station to purchase ice.  It was shady-looking on the outside, with bars hanging ominously on the windows.  Inside, the red decorations did nothing to brighten up the place.  Greasy food sat unappealingly on the counter, waiting to make the person to eat it miserable. “Oh God, don’t ever eat there,” my coworker had warned me. “No, no, no, no, no.”

As I purchased the ice, the cashier looked at me, and pointed at my sweatshirt, which bore the name of my alma mater.  “Is it okay that you’re missing school today?” she asked with apparent concern.

I couldn’t help smiling.  I told her that I’m no longer in school, adding, “I’m 27.”  “Oh my gosh,” she said, surprised.  “You look so young!”

When I’m out in the field, I don’t wear any makeup, so I do look much younger.  The older I get, the more I crave this mistaken youth.  I will be 28 in the summer; I know this isn’t old. I know this.  But I look at my face and see trace signs of laugh lines and crinkles around my eyes, despite the anti-aging creams I use. If I purchase alcohol, getting carded is no longer a guarantee.  Stubborn strands of white are starting to appear amongst my dark hair. I was at my alma mater a couple of weeks ago and when I visited the library, I couldn’t get over just how young everyone looked. Then I realized that these students had been in elementary school when I had started college ten years ago.

So if someone thinks I’m still in college?  I’ll take it.

III.  If you get along with the person you’re working with, you’ll talk. A lot.  You really get to know your coworker during these trips.  Only once did I have a terrible working experience, where silences punctuated our bickering. But most of the time, I really enjoy the time I spend with a coworker out in the field.  You will hear travel stories, confessionals, salacious bits of gossip about coworkers.

Eventually, the job will tire you and conversation lulls.  This is the perfect time for self-reflection, especially since you usually are out in the middle of an empty field. I can’t say that it’s always the most scenic-looking field.  But there might be a cow or horse keeping you company, and you find yourself staring at the empty expanse of land in front of you.  The sun might be sitting prettily in the sky, and you realize you are grateful to be out here, in the middle of nowhere, reviewing what you’ve done with your life to get yourself here, right now, in the middle of this field.

The field, if you haven’t guessed, is the perfect setting to think deep thoughts – when you aren’t working, of course.

As I sat on my bucket, waiting to take my samples, I allowed myself to be lost in my thoughts.  Like many people, I wear multiple hats and I try my best to balance the multiple roles I juggle in life.  I strive to be a good daughter, an awesome sister, a loving girlfriend, a loyal friend, a hardworking employee, a dedicated runner, an interesting writer, a competent musician.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t occupy these roles with perfection all at once.  I struggle to find harmony between my roles to make everyone happy, and I cannot.  It bothers me when I can’t.

But it all goes back to Radiohead – “If you can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.”

Someone Needs Remedial Math

And by “remedial,” I mean, “sixth grade math.”

At work, I was assisting with a proposal and was tasked with various items to assist the process.  When I asked my project manager if he needed anymore help with the proposal, he said, “Yeah, there’s some problems with the units on the table you put together.  Can you take a look at it?”  “Sure thing,” I said, and began poring over the table.  In remediation, the Environmental Protection Agency compiles a list that tells us what acceptable contaminant levels in certain media (groundwater, air, or soil) are.  One of my tasks had been to find the guidance levels for the chemicals we were interested in, and convert the guidance levels from milligrams per kilogram to micrograms per kilogram.

Easy (or so I thought).

The units I had converted admittedly looked way too tiny to be feasible, but I did the math again – divide by 1000 to get from milligrams per kilogram to micrograms to kilograms, right?  I put together a spreadsheet showing my work in case they questioned it again.

Oh, they questioned it alright.  One of the project managers stopped by my desk afterward and said, “Jen.  Your units?  You’re shifting them the wrong direction.”  And then floods of shame hit me as I realized the enormity of my ignorance.

I needed TO MULTIPLY by 1000. Not DIVIDE by 1000.

OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD.

The shame was enormous.  I mean, I’m the engineer, right?  I went to grad school.  I’m not saying this makes me the sharpest tool in the shed (because obviously, I am not).  But I mean, I had to get through Calculus 3 and differential equations and the horrible Dynamics and Vibrations class that stole our souls (I still don’t know how I passed that class), and then crazy math in grad school, but I can’t CONVERT UNITS PROPERLY?

SO MUCH SHAME.

I decided I was past the point of redemption, and went into my project manager’s office to apologize and see if he needed any more help.  In a moment of vulnerability and the need to create some kind of rapport, I said, “I felt like a dumbass when I realized I messed up the units.”  “What?!” my project manager asked, sounding shocked.  Then I realized that at work, everyone knows me as sweet, quiet, polite Jen.  Which I am all of these things outside of work, but if you read my blog, then you obviously can figure out that I also curse frequently, which is not something I do at work.  “I er…felt stupid,” I corrected myself.

And I left the office in more shame.

I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about my mistake, right?  It’s pretty minor in comparison to NASA’s unit conversion mistake, which caused them to lose an orbiter.  All I lost today was my pride.

Misadventures in the Field – Stuck Trucks and Dubious Characters

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?”

Sigh.

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.