At work, the plant is split between the Plant side and the Mesa side, neatly bisected by Interstate 5. The Plant side, of course, has the reactors and ancillary equipment needed to generate steam, turn turbines, and other such cool things; the Mesa side, where I currently dwell, has supporting groups and the parts warehouse. As a procurement engineer, when they add a system on the Plant side, I get to travel over there to figure out what they put in so that we can stock some spares when the inevitable repairs come along (and you’d think that they could design using parts already in the warehouse, but every one has their favorite brands, it seems). Since I vanpool, I have to take the shuttle bus, which ends up eating a good three-four hour chunk out of the day, as our schedules never quite meet up.
While on the shuttle’s route, I saw a few folks slip down a small trail marked by a single, intriguing sign — “CAUTION: Mountain Lion Sighting.” The following day, I rounded up a few friends from class to head down the same trail — I’m pretty sure it leads directly on to Camp Pendleton, but it’s not clear who has ultimate ownership, whether the plant or the Marines — it’s closer to the plant, but I think it leads to some Marine housing, and the main users are probably Marine kids.
Case in point: one of the places it leads to is some sort of overflow pond; the outflow culvert is well-decorated with graffiti. For the most part, it’s not particularly artistic, and so seems like the sort of thing bored teenagers would sneak out to do. But for me, it’s nice to get away from the desk I always seem to take root with concentration in, and find new places, new secret places where other people have been before. Hey, it’s probably as close to urban exploration as I’ll get.
We did find mountain lion (or perhaps a big dog?) tracks later, following deer prints even as we followed the trail. Another day, a good-sized snake was sunning itself across the entire path — I nearly stepped on it until I realized that the branch was wriggling, and nowhere close to any tree that could have dropped it. Out here, we mostly worry about rattlesnakes, and this one didn’t shake anything at me, so I’d have been all right, but I don’t plan on challenging the local wildlife, all the same.
As I get better at my job, it’s easy to spend all day inside and refuse to go outside, whether to walk down that new system or just to get a little sun. I like the camaraderie of this four-person cubicle, and I’ve gotten to know my coworkers faster than when I was in the ‘preferred’ solo cube. Yet it’s just as easy to get stuck with extra hours through peer pressure or lose your train of thought every five minutes when you start getting asked the same questions you’ve sought from other folks. People will always — always — make demands on your time, and I just need to remember that I also get to make some demands for me.