It was the beginning of March and things were warming up in Southern California. Not so much that I needed to carry water with me, but certainly enough for me to be aware that it was about time to think about snake gators when tramping through the brush in San Diego County. Today I would be working with Urban Corps who had been contracted by the City of San Diego for “Brush Abatement/Thinning” in Tecolote Canyon. San Diego’s Parks and Open Space had awarded a contract to Urban Corps to measure 100 feet from all residential structures into the canyon, and remove and thin the brush within that area for fire safety. While doing so they would also report properties that encroach beyond the parcel boundaries and into the canyon.
“Hóla Eduardo! ¿Cómo está?” Eduardo was an Urban Corps employee who lived in Tijuana and commuted across the border each day to work. I shook his callused hand. He has probably worked with his hands his whole life, never heard of GIS, and had no knowledge of mapping grade GPS receivers. My usual banter of “Geo7x Centimeter Edition”, “Floodlight Technology”, “Laser Range Finder Module”, and “Real Time VRS Corrections” weren’t going to get me anywhere.
I handed him the Rod. I had loaded the parcels and abatement polygons that the city provided as background data on the unit. Even if he was not formally educated, Eduardo was a smart man. “You are the ‘X’, that is the parcel, and there is what the city has defined as the abatement area.” He looked closer. “Press the ‘+’ button to zoom in.” he pressed it, and again, and again until he was zoomed all the way in tight. He lifted the rod and moved it a few inches, let it settle, then moved it a few more inches. Now he was right on top of the city’s shapefile polygon. He smiled. “Can this tell me how far we are from the house there?” I showed him how to launch the laser rangefinder. He lined up the red dot on the closest face of the house and moved until he was 100’ from it. What he asked me next astounded me. “Is this the distance including the slope?” If I had to bet I would guess he had never had a trig class in his life, but immediately understood the implications of 100’ down the 30 degree slope we were balancing on, and 100’ horizontally from the house. I showed him how to look at it either way. We would later learn the cities polygons were spot on except for when someone’s property encroached into the canyon (beyond their parcel line). He began to log the vertices of his polygons of “actual abatement areas” and explained to me how much fun it was carrying 100+ burlaps of brush to the access point for removal. It was my turn to learn something.
By the third area he was running the software like a pro. If the 7X could, it would have been purring like a kitten. It was now just a matter of finding his flags or ribbons, and occupying them as vertices. My job had suddenly become to remove the flags and ribbons and make sure we didn’t leave any trash in the canyon! He was on auto pilot. “What kind of music do you like Eduardo?” I asked. I had brought an iPod shuffle and a small speaker. We were on autopilot. Soon we were both singing Marilyn Manson’s version of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, talking trash, enjoying good company, and making fun of each other when we stumbled on the steep slopes of Tecolote Canyon on a perfect Southern California day. “When I stand under this tree how does this thing do?” It wasn’t really a question he expected an answer to. He parked it under a pepper tree, full canopy; I saw him watch the real time accuracy drop from 1cm to 10cm. He moved into open sky, then back under the tree. If only my training sessions were this easy I thought to myself.
This was it. We parked the truck, it was the last area. He left the truck running and we basked in the AC for a moment. As a licensed Geologist I realized how much I miss field work, the comradery, the physical satisfaction of a days “work”. Our day was almost over, reality was drawing near. He leaned over:
“Juan, baseball is VERY important in my family. I am one of 9 siblings. In our family we made a promise that whoever leaves this earth first among us will visit the living in a dream and tell them whether there is baseball in heaven or not. Not long ago my father passed away, and last night he visited me as promised.”
“Son I have some good news and some bad news”, he replied.
“Please, please give me the good news”
“Son there IS baseball in heaven”
We rejoiced, overwhelmed with happiness.
“So what is the bad news then?”
After a long pause he said “You are pitching tomorrow night!”