Men in Trucks

Once upon a time, a shirk-ling among Pennsylvania highways was being torn up. (The project was locally based, in suburban Philly, rather than another brainchild of one of Penndot’s erratic mood swings- at the very least, there was that much to be thankful for.) 313 was not the biggest of the big… not the most widely traveled, not the most overused. 313 was maybe the running back in the high school football pecking order of roads.

For a year or more, business owners along the highway speculated and griped about what effect the construction would pose on their bottom line. Some talked of lower than normal inventory orders, others conceived of closing for the duration of the work or laying off staff. Some merely made due with trying to direct their customers through the maze of detour signs and cement trucks.

I spoke to one clothing retailer who said he’d fantasized about taking a large portion of his inventory to the next local government meeting. “Since they’re not doing anything to help the business owners, the least they can do now is throw some money our way. Besides, you’ve seen how these guys dress. They need all the help they can get.” He gave me his ‘off the record’ wink…

Where local government took a holiday, the media at least tried to step in. Another storeowner told me about a fluke Monday, early during the scheduled construction, when a large number of people had somehow made it to the store. Several used its back alleyway entrance. (One set of mother and child actually made the mad dash across the highway, skirting between open pits and bulldozers. After an hour, still in the store, still waiting to be helped amidst the crowd, Child said to Mother: “Let’s leave before the hole out front gets bigger!”)

As this store was already short staffed, when a reporter tried to speak with the owner “over how the construction was affecting business” he was unable to steal even a moment. The owner told me later, “In two weeks time, that was the busiest we ever were!”

The most amusing note about all this construction is how it brings out the little boy in every man. For all their complaining- for all their worries accentuated by dollar signs, and red zones, and bottom lines- where was every male owner and employee when the big trucks arrived? Watching the stone being hauled in and out, the pits being dug, and the giant bulldozers racing here, there, everywhere. The look of glee on these faces was borderline reverent…

All of this reminded me of the day care center I worked at while I was in college. Every Thursday morning on trash day, the boys would NOT sit still at the breakfast table. They had to run to the windows and watch the garbage men go by in their great, reeking trucks. They cheered and begged the men to honk their horns. Obligingly, many did, most waved, and I think all of them smiled at those fat little faces plastered against the glass.

Even amidst the 313 construction of 2006, a suburban Philly mom told me that when the road was being worked on in front of her place, on a particular Friday, the men graciously invited all the neighborhood kids to explore the trucks after they were done for the day. With supervision, the kids climbed into the seats and made every sort of mechanical sound possible. Afterward, the workers brought pizza for all.

Childless cynic that I am, I asked her who paid and wondered aloud if this wasn’t time better spent moving ahead with the job??

The mother just scowled at me and walked away.

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