Flower power

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, July 10, 2010

For Austin residents up early enough, they’re a regular sight: young women cruising the city’s streets in carts equipped with water tanks.

Seven days a week, this crew of four waters more than 200 flower pots and arrangements around Austin, including those hanging from light poles downtown.

And these young watering pros all said they enjoy the summer job.

“I like working outside,” 21-year-old Jenny Ball said. “You always get to talk to people.”

Ball is the group’s veteran — she’s been watering the city’s flowers for three years. Now a community health student at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Ball said doing the watering work is a good change of pace in the summer.

It also helps that she gets to work with friends. Shauna Bates and Hannah Brandvold, both 21 and in their first summer as waterers, graduated with Ball from Austin High School in 2007.

“We get to work together,” Bates said. “It’s really fun.”

The three classmates are joined by 18-year-old Kayla Gorman, who recently graduated from Austin High School and started the summer job. Together, the four make quite the team, routinely laughing and having a good time, but also efficiently getting the job done.

That job starts on most days at around 7 a.m. Two of the four young women are on at a time, and they each take their own cart. Together, they get both sides of Main Street and Fourth Avenue done, while also hitting spots such as the library.

Later in the morning, the waterers will split up, with one heading toward the East Side Lake area, while the other waters flowers around Wescott Field. The work requires a lot of fluid, meaning the crew will stop five or more times a day to refill the cart’s tank, which contains a combination of water and fertilizer.

The four said they’re careful to take their time with each flower pot, especially the hanging ones. Though it may look like a lot of water is being wasted when they water these flowers, the crew said a lot of liquid simply bounces off the top of the plant or out from the sides of the bowl. However, they don’t consider the job done until the hanging pot is full of water, which is essential on hot days when the plants drink up so much.

Typically, this means five hours of work — or more — per day for these dedicated waterers.

“It’s not a race, that’s for sure,” Brandvold said.

On some days, work starts even earlier. Take last Sunday, which was, of course, the Fourth of July. Because of the mid-morning parade, the crew was out on the streets at 4:30 a.m., trying to get the watering done early so people setting up their chairs wouldn’t get dripped on.

However, water work isn’t always smooth. All three of the new workers have had to adjust to driving one of the stick-shift carts — a transition that isn’t always easy.

“If you’ve never driven a stick before, it’s kind of difficult,” Brandvold said, adding that she has stalled her cart a few times.

But other times, mishaps are completely unavoidable. For instance, Gorman found herself stuck with a dead cart on Tuesday in the street near the Midtown Building. After sitting in the road for a bit, Gorman got a tow from a supervisor.

And these things happen even to experienced waterers — Ball said during her first summer, a few pieces unexpectedly fell off her cart while she was driving.

“It was embarrassing,” she said. “It was kind of the first day by myself.”

Despite the occasional snafu, the four all love working outside and with each other. And it doesn’t hurt that citizens seem to appreciate them, too.

“Sometimes people tell us, ‘You guys are doing such a good job watering,’” Brandvold said. “So that’s nice to hear.”