Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reconnaissance

Monday morning.  5:15am.  Cool.  Sleepy.  I go through the motions of my daily waking ritual, only now an hour earlier.  I take up my travel gear, kiss the sleeping ones, and hit the road.  Coffee, black, two creams, loathsome from McDonalds but open and cheap.  I pull into the office at 5:50, unload and re-load into Mike's. We're on the road by ten after six.

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The trip is shy of four hours.  We drive in early morning bleariness.  Traffic is dead.  I may as well be.  We hit a rest stop halfway to our destination.  Temperature's dropped.  I see my breath in the air.  The road rumbles on as we roll west, away from my family, my home, and everybody I love.  It is the first time I've left my daughter for this long, and I miss her already.  But there's work to be had.  We're explorers bound for a brave new world, or at least a different world than home.  The Arch appears in the smoggy distance.  East St. Louis, we have arrived.

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I am no stranger to urban life.  For five years I lived in Louisville, a relative metropolitan with a population in the millions.  I had a few different residencies, one being in a house dubbed the Old Skank.  The heat barely worked.  Water was so hard that it was almost white coming out of the faucet.  The cabinets were tilted and doors would close/open as per gravity's whims.  To get in the tub you had to step over a two-foot wall.  My car was broken into here.  An attempted rape was stopped on the front porch just houses away.  Yes, I know the seedy parts of the city, but all of this had nothing on our corner of heaven in East St. Louis.  Windows and doors were barred; scores of houses were condemned; everything was in disrepair.  But we weren't house hunting; no, we were looking at drainage structures, trying to see how the water was flowing in and around the intersection for our new project.

The stretch of road isn't very far, just a simple interchange with a bridge.  There were around 30 culverts to inspect.  To do this, we found these structures on our maps, then took pictures of them.  If anything of special interest caught our eyes, we'd jot notes down, though this usually consisted of whether or not an inlet was grated and/or clogged.  Occasionally we'd find some crazy outlet conditions, and one culvert took us several hundred feet into a mysterious woods filled with eroded banks and lethal briars.  Ah, but it was nice to be outside, and Monday proved warm enough to need only short sleeves.

We worked hard, and by six o'clock, we were both tired.  The hotel called; supper beckoned; sleep scratched.  We relented.  I brought my computer, aiming to get in some good writing time.  I brought some books, eager to read.  Alas, I was too sleepy.  By ten-thirty I was out, missing Avonlea, missing Keisha, missing Kentucky.

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I had a nightmare, for the first time in ages.  I woke up at 4:40 with goosebumps.  Someone was standing over me.  I dreamed of demons, but I know not why.

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6:30am.  41 degrees.  Raining.  I'd slept with the air conditioner on, so my room was icy.  I hurried and dressed, packed, and headed down to see how awesome the breakfast would be.  There was a waffle maker, so it was at least palatable.  We ate breakfast and went over the plans while reruns of Charmed played across the screens above.  There were a few more culverts to inspect, and since it had been storming, we'd look for some of the pipes we couldn't locate the previous day.

We worked through the rain, and by lunch my feet were thoroughly soaked.  Tennis shoes were a bad idea, but I have no boots other than steel toes.  Wet, cold, and hungry, we finished our reconnaissance.  For lunch, Cracker Barrel had the fireplace lit.  I changed clothes and cozied up to the flames.  A hearty meatloaf later, we were on the road, returning home.  Four hours later, the car was emptied, Rosebud was re-loaded, and I was home.

The collected data will be useful, as I'm starting on a new project.  Basically the site visit makes our 2-d maps much more useful, especially now that I have an idea of how the water will flow after a rain event.  When drawing drainage areas for watersheds, the USGS quad sheets are generally helpful, but aerials and real-world shots sometimes give a different result.  Next comes the actual drainage analysis, the studying of ditch flows and culvert discharges.  Should be interesting to see this go from start to finish.

4 comments:

Bill said...

You are absolutely right, Logan. Without a site visit you never know what you'll end up running into that could have been fixed or avoided. I'm on a job right now that we scouted out twice, and we're still finding surprises. To be fair though, they're underground where we can't really see to well anyway.

contemplatrix said...

you make your job sound rather exciting!

~L

David Wagner said...

An interesting field, it seems. At least, you make it seem interesting! Also, I dig your style and presentation. A nice read.

Dang... wasn't there something you sent me to read a month or so ago? Darn my flighty soul to heck! Gads, I hope I remember to track that file down when I get home... chances are it will evaporate from my brainpan the moment I post this comment... what, may I ask, is wrong with me?

Hope your weekend is a good one, bro.

Dave the Space Case

logankstewart said...

@Bill: I hear ya there, friend. My first project I didn't have a site visit until I was almost finished with it! Fortunately, we have Google Earth, though it pales in comparison to real life.

@L: Bah! Hahahahahahaha.

@Dave: Thanks. And aye, I did send you a short to read (in fact, I sent out four or five), but I just assumed you thought it garbage and didn't want to hurt my feelings (which seems to be my norm). So, no hard feelings there, yeah? Don't sweat it.