Summer of 2020. Yes, that summer. The Covid summer. I had miraculously managed to find an internship as a seasonal technician in Texas (read about that experience here). We were a team of 3: two undergrads and our grad student leader.
Things were going well. In ecologist-speak that means that we had gotten lost hiking at night only once and the gravest injury was a bloody slap on the forehead by a tree that didn’t appreciate its branches being cleared.
We were heading into town for supplies. We didn’t realize it was Sunday.
There’s very little to distinguish a Sunday from a Wednesday in the field. Especially on a three-week expedition with no off days. The day doesn’t really matter. Shopping for groceries is exactly the same whatever day it is.
Except in this town, the streets were empty. That’s because when I call it a “town” I mean a town. A small, Texas town with a population of a couple hundred.
Not a problem. The grocery store was generously stocked and the streets were paved. We loaded our cart with ham and bread and checked out. But the closer we got to our truck, the more noticeable the sideways tilt became. In the 15 minutes of shopping, our tire had gone completely flat.
Not a problem.
Scissor jack. Check.
Tire iron. Check.
Easy tire change…or not.
Despite our flawless techniques and the fact that we jumped on the tire iron (to create more torque), the tire lug nuts refused to come loose.
The Chivalrous Gentlemen Were Quickly Bested
Our team of three women struggling with a tire quickly came to the attention of the local townspeople. With great kindness and varying hints of superiority, a handful of men came to our aid.
The first arrived with a nod and took the tire iron out of our hands. He carefully fitted the iron onto the first lug nut and turned. The tire iron slipped off the lug nut and he took a stumbling step to keep himself from falling. But it wasn’t until his fifth attempt failed that his confident expression slipped.
The second man arrived, he wore a kind smile that didn’t hide his feeling that: I am certainly stronger than this guy.
Soon, surprise had overtaken his face and a third man came to take his place.
The Search for the Mechanic
Finally, we ended with a huddle of about five men discussing with great seriousness how to remove this tire. It was concluded that this was a job for a mechanic.
But this was a small town, remember? There was one mechanic in town.
And it was Sunday. He was closed.
But to truly illustrate the charm of the small town, everyone knew exactly where he was. “Joe [the mechanic] is having a barbeque,” one tells us, “Let me go see if I can find him.”
While we waited, and while the men continued to attempt to turn the lug nut even though they had all failed, we called AAA.
The Replaced Tire
The AAA mechanic had to drill away the lug nut cap. It was so rusted and corroded that no one would have been able to loosen it. We bought the men who had taken the time to help us Sam Adams and headed on our merry way. Us to our campsite. Them to Joe the mechanic’s barbeque.
There’s no moral to the story except that when working as an ecology field technician fun mishaps are a staple. It is one of the reasons I love my job.
P.S. I got to hold a Screech Owl on this trip. Read my last post for more.