Vail Daily column: The sweet smell of a good attitude
August 14, 2015
I was stranded in a nudist colony with a broken crank.
Perhaps I should clarify. First of all, it wasn't a nudist colony — it was a "clothing optional" hot springs. Secondly, my broken crank wasn't a body part but a bicycle part.
Several years ago I was cycling through Idaho when the crank of my touring bike snapped off; I could only assume due to metal fatigue and not from my massive thighs.
The nearest bike shop was about 50 miles away. I called, and they said they had the parts needed. The bike was not ridable, so I decided to hitch hike. I stood on the side of the road with a fully loaded bicycle and stuck my thumb out only to pick-ups and vans.
After an hour of no nibbles, finally a honey wagon pulled over. By "honey wagon" I mean a sewer truck. The driver's name was Luke, and though he pumped waste for a living, he was dressed better than I. He wore khaki pants and a spotless white shirt with his business' logo on the chest.
There was just enough room to strap my bike behind the truck's cab. For the next 30 miles, I received a lesson in leech fields, cesspools, holding tanks and the intricacies of human waste removal. Did you know there is a drastic difference between a cesspool and a septic tank?
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A QUICK STOP
To say Luke was into his job would be an understatement, akin to suggesting Donald Trump lacks savoir faire. He would speak with such emphatic earnestness that it lent gravity to human waste. (I can't believe I just typed that.)
Not that I'm complaining. Luke's home base was only a mile from the bike shop and he was happy to drop me off right at the front door, but he needed to make a quick stop first.
We turned into this small resort called something like "Tranquil Soak." It had a few buildings, small cafe and several tubs all supplied with hot mineral water. Luke was there to perform the yearly maintenance.
I asked if he wanted any help or if I should remain in the truck. He said he didn't need help but would enjoy the company. (I got the sense that Luke was a little lonely, which could be expected of a dude whose favorite topic is sewage.) Just after I climbed out of the cab I was handed an oversized T-shirt with the company's logo on the chest. "Pretend that you're my helper and not a civilian."
We pulled up to a manhole cover that was disguised by an old time wishing well. We used two poles to lift the facade out of the way to access the septic tank. Luke again went into the difference between a septic tank and a cesspool.
He actually said, "I know we have already covered this topic but it is important to know the difference."
I wondered if he thought I was applying for a job. At the time I had no idea that the facility was clothing optional. When we drove in, everyone I saw was dressed in swim suits.
Luke climbed into a white one-piece jump suit and rubber gloves up to his elbows. He removed the metal cover and slid a hose down into the tank. He told me to stand back (didn't have to tell me twice) and started the pump.
We stood by the honey wagon as Luke looked at some gauges and would occasionally move the hose.
It was in the middle of all this when three women wearing only hats and sandals walked by about 50 feet away. Luke was animatedly informing me that about 25 percent of Americans use septic tanks, which is much higher than in Europe. He glanced up, followed my eyes, and admonished, "Eyes front! You MUST remain professional."
Luke's self-discipline was impressive.
Suitably chastised I maintained eye contact with Luke while he discussed the pros and cons of leech fields. I kept my eyes front while we replaced the wishing well on top of the manhole cover. Luke left an invoice at the office and we drove away.
A few miles down the road, Luke spoke: "You handled yourself pretty good back there." I have no idea why, but his assessment of my performance made me feel proud.
The entire time we were together, Luke mostly spoke and asked very little about me. But just before he dropped me off he asked what I did for a living, when I told him I worked in the media he said, "Well then we are in the same business, except I pick up and you deliver."
As he drove away I still wasn't sure if I had met a guy who was really into his work or had an amazing sense of humor.
But I do know this; a good attitude and healthy perspective can go a long way toward making the best of any crappy situation …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.