The Tortoise And The Scare

, , , , | Learning | October 11, 2019

(I’m on a team of environmental researchers. We’re operating a mobile laboratory platform that drives around multiple terrains and then stays on-site for weeks at a time. It’s nicknamed “The Tortoise” and has tank treads and is painted in camouflage to blend in with the environment. It looks very military but has “[SCHOOL] DEPT. OF ENVIRO RESEARCH” painted in orange letters on each side. We’re out in the field today moving The Tortoise to a backup site.)

Team Lead: “There’s a twist for today. We need to move The Tortoise across a road.”

Tech #1: “That’s fine. [Local Police] are okay with us blocking off roads. It only takes us about ten seconds to get across the road as is.”

Tech #2: “And last time, they said we should just go ahead and make the crossing. We’ve got hi-vis vests and cones in the truck.”

Team Lead: “Okay. [Tech #1], take [My Name] to the crossing point and get ready to block off traffic. The rest of us will get The Tortoise moving.”

(We get to the crossing point and unload the cones by the side of the road. The Tortoise is very slow-moving, so we’ve got some downtime. [Tech #1] has been on the team for years, and I’m pretty new.)

Me: “Do cars even use this road? No one’s driven by.”

Tech #1: “Technically, yeah. According to the map, it’s in use. I think the park service are the only ones who actually use it, though; it’s not like it really goes anywhere. That’s why the cops don’t care if we blockade it for a bit.”

Team Lead: *on the radio* “We’re almost there. Time to get the cones out.”

([Tech #1] and I don our vests and set up cones. As soon as we set up, the first car we’ve seen drives up. I hold up my hand in the universal “stop” gesture and the car slows to a stop.)

Tech #1: “Huh, just our luck. I wonder who’s out driving in this–”

(At this moment, the unmarked police car throws on its lights and an officer gets out.)

Sheriff: “Hi, folks. I’m with the [County] sheriff’s office. Mind telling me why you’re blocking off the road here?”

Team Lead: “TORTOISE COMING THROUGH!”

(The Tortoise, riding on a set of tank treads, painted in camouflage, and since no one bothered to properly clean it, covered in debris and mud, crawls out of the woods and across the road. The team controlling it follows soon after. Each one of them is so focused on the path ahead that they don’t notice the sheriff. After they roll back into the woods on the opposite side…)

Sheriff: “Uh. What was that?”

Tech #1: “Tortoise.”

(There is a long silence. We begin to gather up the cones.)

Sheriff: “Well… thank you for observing road safety.” 

(Days later:)

Team Lead: “Anyone know why the county sheriff thinks the school owns a tank?”

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