The Audience Phenomenon


I was chatting with someone after one of my tool kit demonstrations at the 2013 Overland Expo, and he asked if I ever experienced the “audience phenomenon.” After he explained I laughed and said I certainly did—but not the same way most home mechanics do. 

If you work on your own vehicles, you’re probably familiar with the cosmic rule that makes visitors show up out of nowhere to watch and comment or, more often, chat about subjects completely unrelated to the task, usually at just the moment when your frustration with some obstinate part or inaccessible fitting has reached a crescendo. Concentration goes out the window and progress grinds to a halt. Even if it’s someone whose company you normally enjoy, it’s a maddening interruption—and if it’s that neighbor across the street who uses binoculars to determine when he can show up and continue his theories about how the U.N. is secretly taking over the curriculum of our public schools, you’d be forgiven for musing on alternate uses for your 18-inch breaker bar.

However, Roseann and I live 40 miles from Tucson, in a spot so difficult to find that Google Maps will give you the wrong directions. Needless to say I’m not often interrupted by casual visitors.

At least, not human visitors.

We’re surrounded by fine Sonoran Desert habitat, keep several troughs filled with water around the yard, and regularly toss out generous handfulls of black oil sunflower seed. In response, the local wildlife has decided that our presence is to be considered no more troublesome than that of the lower servants in Downton Abbey. Even the resident zebra-tailed-lizards—normally skittish—don’t move out of our way, and if we happen to sleep past murky pre-dawn, we’ll awake with deer looking impatiently through the windows wanting a drink, cardinals and quail on the porch pecking forlornly at the clear plastic bin that holds the sunflower seed, and a Harris’s ground squirrel that’s learned to climb one of the porch chairs to check for movement in the cottage. 

A few years ago I started collecting snapshots taken while I worked on various vehicles. The Clark's spiny lizard in the lead photo was a resident for four years. She got so used to being fed crickets that any time we came out of the house she'd run full-tilt at us, a trick that once got her underfoot of Roseann and cost her the end of a tail. It got so that if I sat on the floor to work on something she'd climb up my leg and I'd have to toss her off in order to get anything accomplished:

We live at 3,800 feet elevation, which is habitat for both the diminutive Coue's whitetailed deer and the larger mule deer. Ninety percent of our deer visitors are the whitetail, and multiple generations of does have taught their fawns to ignore the human fiddling about with the big shiny contraption and enjoy the water:

(Parenthetical remark: Only while compiling these photos did I notice how many were taken while I was fiddling with the British/Indian motorcycle. Just sayin' . . .)

Bucks - especially mule deer bucks - tend to be much more wary than does, at least at our place. However, one day while working on my bicycle I looked up to see a beautiful mule deer drinking from the bird bath:

Another day while I was tracking down an electrical fault on the, uh, yeah . . . British/Indian motorcycle, I looked up to see a juvenile tortoise heading across the porch toward me. With scant regard, it continued an unerringly straight path through my tools, past me, and out the other side:

It's good that I like to start early on vehicle projects, because sleeping in is not an option around here if you're the slightest bit sensitive to that feeling of being watched:

On the other hand, once you're up you need to watch where you step while doing your servant duties. Notice anything unusual in this photo?:

If you missed it, look closely in the bottom left corner:

I moved this one off a few hundred yards, but rattlesnakes are welcome residents, since they eat rodents that might otherwise wreak havoc on wiring and hoses in our vehicles. For two years I was stumped by how mice were gaining access to the trunk area of our old Porsche and setting up housekeeping:

I seriously considered dropping a diamondback into the trunk and leaving it for a week or so, but the thought of how exciting driving the car would be if I couldn't find it again dissuaded me. I finally found the mouse access point under the steering rack, and sealed it with expanding foam (don't tell the Porsche purists).

I usually try to finish up work before dark, since burning bright work lights wastes the electricity we produce through solar and wind energy, but occasionally a project will run late. Visitation drops off markedly then - at least it seems to. Some time ago our driveway security camera caught this image just a few yards from the carport:


Hey - as long as they keep quiet, the mountain lions are welcome to hang around and watch.