Someone suggested I cut down on my coffee which would be like the pope cutting down on hiding pedophile priests.; it is in the nature of what I do and how I get things done. The buzz is what I like, and even though some would suggest the crash isn’t worth it, I would suggest if you keep enough coffee in your system you will not crash. Ever. The downside to this is I’ve slept about twenty minutes in the last month and I am beginning to get a little weird. I don’t mean weird in my normal sense but weird in the sense this is all beginning to fold together. Everything is everything and there isn’t a reason nor a way to discern one from the other, and I wonder why I ever tried.
When the plant broke down last night I knew they would push it to try to make production but I had no idea it would stretch out as long as it did and I don’t think they knew either. At midnight the math looked bad, and honestly, is there any math other than multiplication that looks good after midnight? By one in the morning the math looked a lot worse but at that time there wasn’t anything anyone could do but press on. Sitting alone in my truck with a simple pocket calculator I put our time off the interstate no earlier than ten in the morning, nine hours hence. I had been at work since six in the afternoon, and that meant all in all, I was in the middle of a fifteen hour shift.
There are some things I absolutely will not do on a construction project. I’ll never drink alcohol, or take medication that might slow my reflexes. One drink before work is two too many. Do the math and if you’ve had one ounce of alcohol three or four hours before work you might as well cash it in and call in stupid. I won’t wear a MP3 player either. I don’t need Aimee Mann dragging me into another world when there are a few thousand cars an hour passing by me at seventy miles an hour. I won’t take my shoes off, either. Be ready to run, even if you cannot outrun whatever it is, you might be able to get out of the way. I wear running shoes instead of boots out here. A lot of the younger men do, too, and I think for the same reasons.
Nine hours to go, with six gone, and the night is long. There are certain Great Truths that will haunt a man that late at night. With all the noise and light and shadows and work, there is also a sense of isolation. Conversation isn’t necessary and it isn’t easy. Sometimes talk isn’t going to happen because no one has anything to say, and no one has anything they want to hear. The roar of the machines, creeping along at their one thousand feet an hour pace, and the nonstop coming and going of the trucks along with the back and forth presences of the cleaning machine gives the whole operation the feeling of a tiny city, replete with a lack of humanity, moving towards nowhere, and getting there slowly.
I move my truck up, do the math on whether or not all is well, walk back to the machines, they catch up with my truck an hour later, I move my truck up, do the math on whether or not all is well, walk back to the machines, check on the rollers in back of the machines to let the operators know I’m watching, walk back to my truck, check traffic control, get more coffee, and never say a word to anyone. The asphalt spreader is the center of the universe, and I’m a tiny dark comet with an erratic orbit. The rollers move back and forth in back, the sweeping machines move and forth in front. The trucks pull up and dump asphalt into the mixer as it travels in front of the spreader that follows closely behind receiving the steaming mixture of rock, sand, petroleum and heat. We all creep along the same straight line, a thousand feet an hour, watching the clock move ever slowly, and time seems to stand perfectly still in all of this.
I feel ghosts. The long dead come to visit, and I shake them off like clingy insects, but they swarm slowly around me like a private fog. The departed, both living and dead, come to ask why and no amount of math can turn them into the past for a while yet. Asking the same questions I have always asked I always get the same answers, and it would seem one day I might stop, but day is a long time away, and night owns me. Sara locksteps with me, accusing me again of the past and finally I say out loud, more loudly than I realize, “Stop it!” and two workers look up to see who I’m talking to. They look at me and I look past them. They shrug, grateful it isn’t them, and not caring if I have ghosts. Sara fades away, content with victory, and happy to go find someone else to play with for a while, perhaps. One turns into two, after a few years, and a decade passes by, and three in the morning brings the thought there are still six or seven hours left. This is what it feels to be stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Time brings nothing but more despair, and no hope. I look up at the wan stars and they are mostly killed by the lights on the machines. A thousand cars past by and I see film clips of faces, less of their lives, and I wonder if they even see me. A passenger stares at us and I wonder what she sees, or what she thinks she sees, if at all.
Four, five, dawn, six, seven, eight, nine….home. Suddenly it is all as if a bad dream, and as I write this out, it seems as if it did not happen, but I must go now, and do it all again.