So, I’ve actually got a long list of Things to Accomplish today, and so of course a million distractions arise, including “I should tell this amusing anecdote!”
As a compromise between “Relentlessly Do All The Things And Then Collapse” and “Sit Here At The Computer All Day And Then Realize You Have Accomplished Nothing” I will A) tell this anecdote and then B) run my many errands.
I’ve told this story before–once buried in a footnote to an older blog post, and once at Phoenix ComiCon. But you might be a new reader, or someone who doesn’t read footnotes, or someone who wasn’t at my Spotlight at Phoenix Comicon! And it is an amusing and educational story.
So. I’ve worked a lot of different, mostly low-paying (all low-paying, now I think of it) jobs. And one of those, as my bio mentions, was rodman on a land surveying crew.
At the time, the one-person remote controlled instruments were just beginning to be a thing, and were really expensive, but I’ve seen more and more surveyers out and about working by themselves, so it may be the whole rodman thing is going away. But when I was doing it, pretty much every crew at least had two people on it–the crew chief/instrument man and the rodman. The names are kind of self-explanatory: the instrument man ran the instrument that measured angles and distances, and the rodman placed and held the rod that the instrument measured against.
Somewhat ironically, at the time of this story the crew chief I was working with much preferred to place the rod himself, and so I learned to run the instrument. So not only was I not a man, I was not in fact using the rod. (I am quite proud of a couple of my accomplishments on that job, so I’ll just mention casually the time I closed a transit loop perfectly. I am still pleased to think of the chief’s reaction when the numbers all cancelled out to exactly zero.)
Surveying is pretty much all outdoors, in all weathers except rain–the instrument basically shoots a beam of light at a mirror on the rod, and that’s how it measures things. Rain gets in the way. But pretty much no matter how hot or cold it was, we were out in the field. Sometimes that meant in the city measuring a lot for someone’s mortgage, and sometimes that meant out in the country cutting our way through brambles half the day.
Which this one job was. It had been a week of brutal heat, most of it cutting through thorns so the instrument would have line of sight (that beam of light can’t get to the mirror if there are leaves and branches in the way!), and oh, yes, giant horseflies. So the fourth day, bright and early, I was setting up the instrument and the crew chief had gone ahead with the machete to cut a path to where he wanted the next measurement. I got all set up, and looked to see where the crew chief was, and saw him coming toward me. No rod, no machete, just walking. “What’s up?” I asked and he just walked right past me, back through the woods to the truck.
I found him standing by the truck, right hand wrapped tight around his left. “I cut myself,” he said. “God damn horsefly.”
So. He was tired–it had been a long week and because this site was a long drive from the office we’d started much, much earlier than usual. And he’d been cutting brush, and one of those horseflies had landed on his left hand and bitten him, and he’d forgotten that he was holding the machete in his right hand.
Yes. He’d swung the machete at the fly on his hand.
At this point I’ve got visions of severed fingers, but there’s no point panicking. “Right,” I said, “let me see.” Which he didn’t want to at first, but finally he opened his hand, and wow, that could have been much worse. He’d need stitches on all four fingers, but the blade had gone parallel to his hand, and it wasn’t great, but nothing severed, okay, good. I fished some ice out of our cooler–when you work a job like that in the summer you don’t go anywhere without a cooler full of water and ice–and got that on his hand, and I went back into the woods and hauled all our equipment back to the truck and loaded it up, and then I drove to the nearest emergency room.
It was already kind of funny by the time I started up the truck, though some of that laughing was of the “or else you’d cry” variety. And it remains funny in hindsight. But I’ve never forgotten that lesson–some tools just aren’t good for some jobs, and machetes do not make good flyswatters.