Saturday, July 17, 2010

Road Work

As if on cue the clouds roll in near five in the afternoon and the rains falls in short sudden bursts, and in a few minutes an inch of water can be standing where there was hot pavement a moment before. This is the way things work in South Georgia during the Summer and it’s something we all live with. It can be raining like hell on one end of the street and the sun shining on the other. There have been soon odd consequences of having a truly wet Summer, and this Summer has been a very wet one, but that isn’t what this is about directly. The rain isn’t good for road work, and that is what we’re trying to do.

Back in June there was a wreck in the Interstate and all I really know for certain is a truck driver rammed another truck and was killed. The truck that rammed the other truck was basically gutted; the engine was shattered into a million pieces, the cab of the truck was destroyed, and the fuel tanks were ruptured. Diesel will dissolve asphalt so the crew has to mill out the contaminated asphalt and put new asphalt in its place. Because of the wet weather they decided to do the work starting at two in the morning. This would give them four hour of time before sunrise, and at the same time, because they have been rained out of nightwork all week long, it will give them a very long day to get some things done on another project where they can work during the day.
It’s not spoken of, the reason we’re here, the death of a man who was driving a truck on our project. This isn’t the first fatal accident they’ve seen, and it’s not my first either. People die on the road. You do your job, you try to do everything right every single time, and you hope it’s enough. Most of the time it is enough and everyone goes home alive. Sometimes nothing is enough and someone does something you cannot foresee nor prevent. We still do not know the cause of the accident but distraction or drinking are the leading candidates and someone had called 911 to report the man’s driving before the wreck. We cannot allow ourselves to get distracted by this. We have a job to do, and we have little time to do it.
There is not grumbling or complaining about the hour we begin because it is what it is. Everyone knows why we’re out here. The rain stopped at ten, four hours ago, and the traffic has had four hours to dry the pavement. You would think it wouldn’t take so long but some types of asphalt hold water within, and as it’s milled out the water comes out of it like water coming out of a sponge. Traffic going over the road is like having a constant wind blowing over it, and water evaporates quickly.
There is a staging area near the site and as the traffic control is put into place the machinery lines up in order. The milling machine lumbers forward, followed by trucks, and as the milling begin the asphalt equipment begins to move towards the site. We’re only doing a patch that in one hundred twenty-five feet by fifty feet, but it still has to be done right.
Traffic is still moving at two in the morning, and I wonder where all these people are going. It’s not impossible that I know someone passing by, and sometimes I imagine someone reading my blog and saying, “Hey! I was riding by there that night, I wonder if…” Somewhere passing a few feet from me are people who have their own lives, who perhaps write, or paint, or perhaps they drink and drive, but I will never know. They move away from me at righty-eight feet per second, and for only the very briefest time can they see me, as if I am a dark falling star already on the ground. I’m there as a reflective vest, a blinking light on my hat, another on the vest, and then they’re gone, or I am, depending on the point of view. We won’t call, but I will write, and I hope if you’ve been one the road, someone working there likes you if you were driving safely.

  Everything goes very smoothly but I am already tired. I stayed up all night, like I have tonight, and my energy level begins to sag. I refuse to just keep drinking coffee because I won’t sleep, but by four I’m feeling it. By five I feel nearly dead but the end is near. The crew is efficient and they are tying down the loose ends of the work by six. At seven I head towards home, a driver on the road who is a little sleepy, and we all know where there might end.

I-75 stretches from somewhere close to Fort Lauderdale Florida up to Chattanooga Tennessee.  When it reaches the Georgia state line it becomes my problem until it reaches Exit Eighteen, where the project ends. Each day, thousands of people will pass over the asphalt that this crew has placed the day before, and by the end of the life of the asphalt, perhaps millions of people will have zoomed past the place I’ve written about in the small hours this day. I can’t sleep thinking about the people who use my work to go from one place to another sometimes. I’d like to know if they like the smoothness of the road, or if they like the way the road feels as they drive. I’d like to send out a mass email with a poll in it, or perhaps get a robocall going. But they are all gone, and it will always be this way. I feed migratory fowl, bird with steel feathers and if everything goes very well, they will fly away swiftly and quietly, and never know I was there.
Take Care,


  1. The quality of the road makes all the difference, when you're driving. I've driven on too many bad roads not to know the wear and tear on the tires and shocks are just a part of what is affected when the roads are not kept in good repair. I've knocked a few steel belts loose inside tires on rough roads. If I was driving in Georgia I'd thank you personally, Mike Firesmith.

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