The people who design and manufacture the equipment used to do road work have a vested interest in seeing the work done well. One single piece of machinery can cost half a million dollars or more, and the sales team has to make sure that when the machine is being used, it is being used correctly, and if they cannot do this, well, there goes a half a million dollars worth of sales.
The machine we’ve been using on the Interstate is a new one, and it seems that there have been problems with it elsewhere, but not here. Not to brag on the contractors we have, or their people, or myself, but quite frankly I just do not see the problem. If you’ve a good crew, and you keep an eye on those things you are supposed to keep an eye on, then when problem do arise, and in this business they always do, then you can fix them quickly. You can’t just put asphalt in the machine and hope a road comes out the other end. There’s work involved, and everyone has to do their part. Your road will only be as good as the people building it, and the machine can enhance the skill of the workers but it can never replace it.
One of the people involved in the process arrives from the people who sell asphalt. Yes, asphalt as a commodity has its own lobby, and there are people who, like the machine salesmen, have a vested interest in asphalt. Yet the idea is pretty much the same; if the quality of the product is inferior then the sale is not going to be made. There is a lot of attention being given to this project because of the new machine, and because the asphalt might get blamed if the work isn’t done well. Conversely, because we are doing it right, and the road is riding well, and because we have good people, we get the positive attention; what is it we’re doing right? She’s a slightly built woman, but worst of all she is cute. This is a man’s world, and there is only one other woman on the project. Kelly may know a lot about the business but all that matters to any of the guys on the project is she is cute. Worse, for her, Kelly looks like she’s sixteen, even though she’s pushing thirty.
There are some very simple questions I can ask someone to find out how much they know about asphalt. They won’t make sense to you, and at least one of them I would never ask in public because of the politics, but Kelly does know asphalt. We talk about what is going wrong in other places, and why we’re not seeing it here. She’s a college grad, and just learning the ropes, but she has a drive for knowledge, and she is sharp. This is an ally. This is someone I can call for help later on in life, if things go wrong, and this is someone who might be useful to me in my career. None of the other guys speak to her very much because she is a woman, and because she is cute. Later, at least three guys ask me if I got her number, and I tell them I did, because I have her business card. Sorry guys, she’s married. No one asks me if she knew asphalt.
As the night grows old all the salesmen leave and there is nothing but asphalt, workers, and traffic. This is where we all really earn our money because it is here, in the deep blackness of the night no one is watching us. At two in the morning we are the watchers. At two in the morning everyone with a vested interested in what we do is asleep, and resting. Only the men, and one woman, whose job it is to stay up late and make sure things are done right are still here.
I’m not sure if there is an official policy on the matter or not, and quite frankly I don’t give a damn if there is or if there isn’t. No one else does either I suspect. When someone breaks down on a project we have to get that person up and running again. Common sense says that a vehicle on the side of the road is a target for a collision. Common courtesy says if someone needs help we ought to help. We do. I was talking to one of the contractor’s men about traffic control when the call came in over the radio. There’s a car broken down inside our containment. We listen and the guy says he isn’t going to stop because the motorist “looks like a queer”. Tell him to find out what the problem is and see if he can help, I tell the contractor. Then this lively debate as to who is going to stop and help, if anyone, breaks out over the radio. I roll my eyes. This could go on until no one working on the project would dare stop to help the poor guy, if it really is a guy. I get my truck and find there is a guy broken down, and he doesn’t look like he’s from South Georgia, to be certain.
What is it about a man that makes him look like a man, or not look like a man? Honestly, I have no idea but I can tell you that anyone with any sense of gaydar at all would look at this guy and think he’s gay. I have no idea what I mean by this but the guy isn’t manly at all, and worse yet, he’s terrified. He’s from Kentucky, heading down to Florida, and suddenly at two in the morning he breaks down in the middle of nowhere on the Interstate in the Southern part of South Georgia. Even though I’m in an official truck and draped in light intensity green, replete with flashing lights on my vest, he’s afraid of me. We have to get his car jumped off and he tries to keep me at least five feet from him at all times. He gets his car running and I follow him to the next exit, to make sure he makes it.
Two people showed up on the project, one male, and one female. One came to us and could have helped us, and one came to us and needed help. Our vision of who we must be, and who others must be disallowed these two people from our world, and because of this, we in one case deprived ourselves of possible knowledge, and in the other case, abandoned our humanity. It’s just after two in the morning on the Interstate, and traffic passes into the night like our lives, and we will never know what has come and gone.