(Originally posted on our 2011 Field Blog — by Chris Thawley)
May 27th started well enough for our lizard team, with construction work on the enclosures filling the morning, and a supply run occupying the afternoon. As we set off after lunch in our then-trusted minivan to buy tools, materials, and groceries, little did we realize the epic journey of frustration we were embarking on. Travis and I worked through our to-do list in Andalusia and, before stopping at Walmart for the last of our groceries, we pulled in to Sunbelt Rentals to check prices on Ditch Witch rentals (for digging in the enclosures). As we mentally prepared ourselves to enter the fascinating cultural wonderland of the Andalusia Walmart, Travis slid the electronic fob* into the dash, turned the ignition, and…nothing happened.
Travis twisted the key several times in rapid succession and looked at me in confusion and disbelief. He flipped the lights on and off along with the wipers, proving that the battery was fine. We switched seats, and I tried turning the fob with the same results. We both glared at said fob and cursed the engineers who decided that fancy-dancy electronics were better than actual keys. Using a still functioning piece of technology, Travis’ iPhone, we left a voicemail for Nicole asking for assistance, and then proceeded to analyze our situation and formulate alternative plans. We needed a vehicle to get supplies for the fence and as transport to our field site, so being without one would seriously cripple our ability to do work. Our plans were as follows: Plan B: Check with fleet services at PSU to get our car fixed quickly (not possible late Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend); Plan C: rent a car to use as a field vehicle (not possible late Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend), Plan D: Get Nicole to somehow get a car and pick us up (not possible late Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend); Plan E: Flag down a passing DeLorean, hit 88 mph, travel back in time to May 15th and get a car with a real key (not possible IRL); or Plan F: Chris and Travis have died of dysentery and frustration. In the end, we followed Plan Q.5378: Head to Walmart, get towed by the craziest tow truck ever, and get picked up and driven home by a clutch friend.
After another round of frantic fob twisting, pulling off parts of the ignition, futilely attempting to start our van with the valet key, and realizing that the odometer actually did say “bad key” instead of the mileage of the van, we called the only AAA-approved tow company in Andalusia, an outfit known as Cobra & Mystery Enterprises. No, we are not making this up. As I headed to Walmart to purchase enough food, drink, and supplies to last for an extended period of carlessness, Travis once again worked his iPhone magic, juggling calls to the PSU motor pool, the local Dodge dealership, and the unintelligible director of Cobra & Mystery Enterprises, and setting up a sanity-saving ride from our friend Mark Hainds, a local naturalist, accomplished hoghunter, and longleaf pine expert.
As the sun softly slid below the horizon and the stars winked into sight, your narrators were still left cooling our heels in the parking lot of Sunbelt Rentals. An estimated wait of 30 minutes for a tow had stretched to over an hour, and we began to wonder if the “mystery” of the Cobra & Mystery Enterprises was if the truck would ever show. After several more raspy, near-unintelligible phone calls to the tow truck operator, our efforts were rewarded with quite the vision, a cobra-adorned tow truck sporting metallic blue flames across the hood rolled into the lot next to us (Pics below). Note the prominently displayed AAA certification to convince customers that they aren’t becoming stars in a B-grade horror flick.
The driver hopped out of his cab, blocked his tracheotomy stoma with one hand, and began chaining our poor van to the back of his outrageously decorated truck. As the tow truck pulled away to deliver the van to the Dodge dealership for repair, Mark Hainds arrived, loaded us and all of our supplies into his car, and took us back to Solon Dixon. As of this post, it’s been 10 days since the van’s failure to start, and it’s still sitting in a parking lot in Andalusia. We’ve rented a bright, red, ticket-magnet of a truck so we can do research, finished the enclosures and another set of behavior trials, and managed to waste over a day of each of our lives dealing with the minivan. Really, though, we’re just grateful to still be alive after our surreal evening of Southern gothic.
*Editor’s Note: An electronic fob is a newfangled key-like device which fits into an electronic ignition on the dashboard of a car. While it is not a key itself per se, it generally transmits a code to the engine to the car via radio waves which activates the ignition system**
**Editor’s Other Note: 3 seconds after seeing this fob in State College, Chris said, “What do we do if this breaks?” The answer is above.