Friday, October 8, 2010

Off Switch

I’m burned out. There isn’t any more twelve hour shifts left inside of this body of mine, or this mind of mine, and as of three in the morning, Friday, October eighth, I am shutting down. I will not return to work until Tuesday, at six in the afternoon. I am tired of the Interstate. The Interstate is tired of me. It’s not as if we hate each other, or we’re going our separate ways forever, it’s just that my mind is tired of thinking about work 24/7 and I’m losing my ability to do what I need to do to make things work the way they should.

Math is becoming more difficult. Adding and subtraction are hard enough but when it comes to trying to figure the square area for a certain space I’m totally useless without a lot of time and a calculator. I’ve been writing down questions I need to ask people because I cannot remember the question before I get to the person. I’ve been writing down the answers because I cannot remember those either. Sometimes, I find notes to myself that I do not remember writing. This has been a very long, very hard, very frustrating week, and even though everything has gone well, it has extracted a cost from my ability to function, and it is time.

I can write in the worst of times because there really isn’t anything else that I do which defines who I really am other than writing. It’s Desmond for those of you who were addicted to “LOST”. If I can sit in front of a keyboard for an hour a day I can keep from losing sight of where I am, and who I am, and what’s going on around me, for the most part.

It was a weird night last night.  The dust kicked up from what we were doing rose straight up into the air, because there was no wind, and then the breeze picked up and we were caught in a swirling mass of dust that came down from the floodlights like tiny flakes of snow. The noise of the machinery drowned out any conversation, and everything but the noise and the thoughts. I always find a safe place to stand wherever I’m out near traffic so moments like this won’t kill me, but last night, even though I had already found a spot that was protected, I forgot that I had, and after ten seconds of daydreaming I realized I hadn’t checked to see if I was in a clear zone, and it freaked me out a little.
If you break down in the side of the road, keep your car between you and traffic. Keep away from the side of the road. Changing a tire is a bitch in any conditions but no one ever died from a tire being hard to change, and there have been many people hot while trying to change a tire. Screw it man, just bite the damn bullet and call a tow truck and let someone who is going to rip you off take the chance on getting killed.
By and large, the men who operate construction machinery have two jobs; operating machinery and trying not to kill people. Even the smallest piece of machinery on a construction project is lethal if it hits a human being. Even the slowest piece of machinery is going to cause tremendous damage to a car, and those within, if that car crosses into the work zone, or the machinery crosses into traffic. The men who operate equipment are totally aware of this. Most of them have seen things, horrible things, incredible suffering, and some have seen death. Night work multiplies the problems, and if you really want to get a man’s attention on a construction project then bring up the subject of safety. Mention you have an idea that will make things better and you’ll draw a crowd. Fear, people, the fear of being killed, and the fear that some simple error will kill someone else, hangs in the air like dust.

I carry a flashlight wherever I go on the project. I keep it turned on all the time, and when I get around someone operating a piece of machinery I flash the light in his mirrors to let him know where I am. If I am going to walk behind where he’s working I make sure he sees me, we make eye contact and I wave at him, and wait until I am certain he knows I’m there. I do this with truck drivers. I do this with back-hoe operators, I do this with the guys who are supervisors, and after a while, they all realize that I am a walking advertisement for someone on the ground who does not want to get backed over. I won’t walk between two pieces of equipment that are running; if they both begin to move, where do I go? I won’t walk between the road and a piece of equipment that is running. If that machine pulls out into traffic I’m trapped between live traffic and dead steel. Everyone out there, if they are in the driver’s seat of something that has an engine, will know where I am when I’m around. Even exhaustion cannot take that from me.
It’s a contagious thing. When you go an extra step in being safe around other people they begin do to little things, too. There is a guy who operates a Bobcat, which is a very small bulldozer looking piece of machinery, who taps his horn each time he passes me or my truck.  “Here I am! He tells me when he does that, and as of yet, it’s never been important for me to know that. But we talked about it, and he agreed with me if it isn’t important right now, one day, maybe never, it might be, and that one time will make it all worth it.
I’m tired. I need some rest.

Take Care,
Mike

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