Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When things go wrong....

I rolled on site about 5:45, groggy and still trying to remember why in the hell I’d ever chosen this gawdawful hour of the morning to be out and about.

Oh yeah, work. Paycheck. Being the last line of defense between Joe Blow, driver without a clue, and.. well… himself, mostly.

The overabundance of that particular shade of orange used in road construction reminded me, and woke me up a little.

Strange that the color of orange found pretty much only in road construction seems to act as a soporific on so many people—it always wakes me up.

Maybe because I know that it’s more than just my ass on the line out there.

It was a typical day to start with, the supervisor had me running breaks so I was all over the place all day, fifteen minutes here, thirty there, ten in my car with the spiffy magnetic blinky light on top.

The bonus is, I get to shoot the bull with nearly the whole crew of workers while I’m at it. That’s always fun.

I was just finishing up the lunch breaks, doing the paver last, so that I could give Ron a longer break, since he had one of the crappier jobs that day.

The pave crew loves me. I don’t hesitate a second to reach out and grab one of them by the back of the shirt and jerk him out of the way if he’s not paying enough attention. I learned long ago not to even try yelling. With that much noise, there’s no use.

That’s also why there isn’t a radio on the paver… you hear about one word in four, and look really silly standing there with a walkie-talkie pressed to your ear, the other hand over your other ear, all the while trying to hold a five foot stick with a big metal sign on one end, and keep it from falling into the fresh concrete.

Besides, for a few more hours at least, the paver would be in the hole-of-no-reception, the Bermuda Triangle of radio signals. You could pick up a signal, and even understand the message, if the other person were close enough. But, at that distance, you can shout almost as effectively.

I also trade dirty jokes and innuendos with the pave crew. I’m one of the few females on site who will give them just as much shit as they give me.

“Hey, Twiggy, what’s happening?” Steve walked up to me while I was looking for traffic, trying to startle me. It was a routine game between us, we’d see who could surprise the other one.

It kept both of us on our toes. Sometimes he even managed to get me.

“Not much, Steve-o, how’s your day?”

“Fair-to-middlin. Say, you decided to take me up on my offer yet?” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, somehow managing to come off both lecherous, and a clown.

“You decided to drop twenty pounds, ten years, and your wife yet?” I had to shout to be heard over the noise, and the crew nearest us started laughing and slapping Steve on the shoulder.

Me? They winked at me, tossing off their own joking offers to buy me a drink, a car, a hotel room. I just rolled my eyes and chuckled. Then I told them I was saving myself for marriage, and got three proposals on the spot. I told you it’s fun to B.S. with the guys! Good for the ego, too.

About then Ron came back from his break. I had let him sit in my car to eat his lunch, since there was a driveway handy to where the paver was and I was able to park without being in the nearby ravine or in the way of traffic. Plus, I didn’t want him driving my car.

“No, boys, she’s in love with me, she just doesn’t know it yet.” Ron made a motion as if to put his sweaty, faintly flabby arm around my shoulders, and I dodged.

“In your dreams. Get back to work before I kick your ass or file a sexual harassment claim.” My voice was flat and as cold as I could make it in 98 degree weather.

The crew had all gone quiet and watchful when Ron came back. They’d heard through the site grapevine that he didn’t seem to be taking “not only no, but HELL no” for an answer from me, and he put off his persistence to the same kind of joking that I did with the rest of the guys.

Difference is, they didn’t touch me, except rarely to shove gently at my shoulder when they forgot that I really don’t own my own pair of testicles. Ron had a serious problem with the concept of personal space.

“Back to work.”

I walked back over to my car, pausing to point one toe and hike up the leg of my hideous yellow class-3 high visibility pants, with two stripes of two inch retro reflective tape running around the ankles, at one of the passing supervisors. I tell you, throw in a vest that’s four sizes too big on me no matter what size the tag says, in the same color yellow, with two inch retro striping down the chest and around the abdomen, a bright orange hard hat, and it just doesn’t get much sexier. No, really. It’s downright traffic stopping.

“HEY! EVERYONE SHUT UP FOR A MINUTE!!” The radio that I’d left in my car screamed to life as I crested the hill, obviously one of the base units in either the pilot car or the supervisor’s truck, since it stepped all over anyone else who was talking.

I kept shut up. When a supervisor or a driver uses that tone, something is going wrong, and there’s no telling if its something stupid or if Murphy has come to remind us all of his Law.

“Just got a call,” Now that she wasn’t yelling, I recognized the voice of the supervisor. “We’ve got State Patrol coming hot, hit and run up north, vehicle description: Dark green pickup, unknown plate. Probably a largish dent somewhere near the front. Keep an eye out, hold all traffic North End till I get the Hi-Po led through. Pilot car, what’s your 20?” When Bad Things Happen, we always revert to absolutely proper radio protocol. Well, our company protocols anyway. Probably a mish mash of every protocol known to man, but they work for us. At least they keep easily misunderstood words out of it for the most part.

“Traffic is south bound, passing the plant now.”

“Shit. Farmgirl, you copy?”

I had a moment to think, don’t cuss on the radio… while the Boss Lady’s message came through to me.

“10-4”

“You anywhere near the paver recently?”

“Yep, and I know what you’re thinking.. I think there’s room to squeak ‘em by if I move a couple of drums, I’ll jump on that now.”

“If we’ve got a wide load that bridge will be a problem.”

“If we’ve got a load that wide we’ve got bigger problems than the bridge. And if it looks too tight, you can always pull the Hi-Po over into Bantry’s driveway.”

“You’re right. All right, you move those drums and then snag an air horn and start warning workers.. you won’t get to all of them, but some is better than none.”

“10-4 Boss Lady, I’m on it.”

“Pilot car, what’s your last?”

I half listened to the description of the last two vehicles in the line, while I headed back towards the hole.

I hauled ass back to where I was, and tweaked off the paving supervisor by squeezing his margin of safety to close to nil, I told him we had emergency services coming through, had to have the room, he grumbled, and asked if his boys could move them back out when the noisy bastards got through. Why not? Less work for me.

I snagged one of our refillable air horns, made sure it was charged, and started hauling ass southwards. Nothing up north but the concrete trucks, and they were usually good about looking, but we had four separate crews out on the slab, and they tended to trust in the supernatural abilities of Traffic Control to put a Vulcan Mind-Meld on every person in a traffic line just a wee bit more than I’m comfortable with.

Blow the horn out the window, shout “Hi-Po, running hot, watch your ass!” get a nod, repeat.

I got two crews warned before an orange truck, followed so closely by a silver Colorado State Patrol rig with all the bells and whistles going that they might have been tied together, popped up ahead of me. Thankfully, I was far enough south that I could dodge into the dead lane, stop, and let them by, without damaging the concrete.

My little blue Malibu rocked on its suspension as I did a close approximation of a high-speed lane change, mentally thanking my ex-cop parents for teaching me things like that instead of telling me to go play with my dolls, and pulled as far away from the live lane as I could get.

Guess those other two crews don’t really need my warning now.

“You want a tail, Boss Lady?” I spoke loudly and clearly into the radio, knowing that my supervisor would be high on an adrenaline rush, and with the added noise of the sirens and the wind in the rolled-down windows, it becomes very important to make sure that nothing is garbled.

“No, head south and check the drums, I think I nicked a couple going by the blade.” I had to listen closely to distinguish the words from the rush of wind and the double-whammy of the siren, over the radio and going by.

“10-4.”

My own adrenaline was up, and I drove a little too fast to check the drums, and set the ones she’d popped back on their bases. I retrieved the lightweight plastic barrels from their respective resting places in the ditch on the dead lane side, and set them back on the rubber bases with a hollow plastic popping noise.

I was just about to continue with the breaks when…

“SHIT!”

Don’t cuss on the radio, Boss Lady…

“Boss Lady, you got a copy?”

“What’s going on?”

“What the hell was that all about?”

The radio chattered to life, inconsequential questions, stupid people cluttering up my radio when I needed to talk. I was the only one mobile and free on site, I needed to know what was going on and I couldn't find out while they were yamering.

I caught a free second and jumped on it, “SHUT UP ALL OF YOU! Stay off the radio unless you have something relating to traffic to say. Boss Lady, you need me?”

Silence.

My adrenaline started pumping again, and I keyed up again, holding the mic button for a second before speaking.

“Boss Lady, do you need me?”

Silence again.

Double Shit.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

From what I get, that's probably a good place for the chapter break. As a teenager, I read a lot of Louis L'Amour- his novels and memoirs. I'd say you have the action *moving* and it feels like it's building up and the stage is pretty well set.

mustanger

Anonymous said...

sounds good so far kiddo. Sounds like a dozen or so times that we have done this. I can see where you are going and the nightmare is about to start.

Farmmom

Kristine said...

Oh man, talk about a cliffhanger.
Now I'm going to keep refreshing all day to find out what happens next.

Great writing by the way. I'm hooked on the story now.