Being Constructive with Downtime

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Being Constructive with Downtime

Sooner barbarity than boredom.” -Theophile Gautier

Lance was bored to tears; which as any construction worker knows, is not something a guy wants to be on the worksite.  It was the start of a long holiday weekend and traffic had done an admirable job of clogging up the highway.  For Lance, this meant that the shipment of resized I-beams was stuck in the sea of minivans, campers, and RVs that towed along an extra car “just in case”.  Lance had been up in the crane operator since four that morning and the desire to take off early kept biting at him.  Of course, due to numerous delays like the one that was occurring at the moment, the building was behind schedule.

The long hot summer had been made “interesting” by the seemingly endless list of problems.  The sub-contractors that decided they were too busy to run electric were by far the biggest inconvenience.  The buried bones that caused them to call up the authorities didn’t help matters either, but once they determined that the land used to be a horse ranch, the matter was cleared up rather quickly.  (Lance kept telling people that the horse’s tailbones didn’t look anything like human fingers, but no one had listened to him.)  And no one on the site could forget Joe, the out-of-control apprentice who desired it would be great sport to fire off the riveting gun at anyone who annoyed him.  Joe had been dismissed and essentially banned from any construction gig in the next four counties, but he had left a wake of destruction behind him.  Wallboard had needed to be replaced, meetings had to be held about safety, and a few of the men had been banged up rather severely in the attempt to sedate Joe.

ImageIf Lance were being honest, he was rather shocked that they weren’t more set back than they were.  He liked to think his skill as a crane operator was a key reason why.  He never had to make a second attempt.  The many seasons of operating the crane had honed his technique and the crane’s hook and cables stopped exactly where he want when he wanted.  He had watched other operators try to line up their target only to have to adjust and move and adjust again.  Each time Lance shook his head and patted himself on the back for his shining record.

For all the congratulating, Lance still found himself sitting where he had been.  The perch above it all afforded him with a pleasant view, but it was a view he had taken in far too much lately.  The same buildings and patches of grass that were visible today had been there the last four months.  He enjoyed his on-high vantage point at the top of the crane tower, but he had run out of interesting sights to take in.  The mountains off in the distance, towering above the pithy domiciles in the forefront, were hiding behind a thick layer of crowds.  Lance expected large droplets of rain to begin accumulating on his front window at any time.

Looking down to the ground, he thought he saw the work crew walking around.  Sure enough, there was the boss wearing his green construction helmet.  Everyone else had been comfortable with the standard colors.  Red, orange, white; all were high-visibility rated helmets and they all worked just fine.  However the boss had decided that he should special order his green helmet.  He claimed that his gear, “made him feel in touch with the earth that they were working with” and that it, “helped us all respect and reconnect with the dirt”.  Fluffy comments like that made Lance ill.

He wanted to dig a big hole, put in some concrete, and make sure the walls wouldn’t fall over.  Lance was no crazy tree-hugger, he just wanted to build four walls and call it a day.  His two sons were driving his wife nuts and she kept asking him how long he would have to pull double shifts.  The job was taking Lance away from his kids which was putting a strain on Laura, who in turn put the strain right back on him.  A nice view wasn’t worth much to Lance when he’d rather be playing football with his boys.

The options were plentiful for Lance.  He could wish that his crane was magically a mile longer and then he could pick up the truck that was stuck in traffic.  He could use his precision aim to grab his boss by the shoulder and lift him up into the air until they all realized that the day was wasted and the crew could all go home.  Or he could do what made the most sense and try to relax.

Land decided that wasn’t a half bad idea and tried to make get comfortable.  He cranked up the volume on the radio and pulled his phone out of his pocket.  He placed the phone on his chest while he laid back and let his head drape over the back of the seat.  He checked one last time to ensure that the control panel was turned off and then he used it to rest his feet on.  Kicking back and closing his eyes, Lance decided that he might as well try to get a little nap in.  He decided it was better to take a nap than to vent his frustration on all the nearby parked cars.  He was quite sure he could hit them all with the portable restrooms strewn about, but he decided being employed was a better option.  Lance might have been bored, but he wasn’t that bored.  At least, not yet; it was only four in the evening after all.

A Decidely Uncommon Commute

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Decidedly Uncommon Commute

It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” -Theodore Roosevelt on camping in Yosemite National Park

There are things that I do not understand.  Key among them is how the folks on my bus can pass on a free pick-me-up.  People will pay something like twenty dollars to go to the top of the Space Needle.  But put them on a bus and they completely zone out on what they could see for free.

All is quiet.  The last few days of sporadic rain have been swept away.  The sky is filled with the morning hues of light blue and only the perimeters of the sky are touched with clouds.  Like the morning fog that is beginning to fade away, the clouds will soon be a thing of yesterday.  There is a touch of pink in the sky, but the morning doesn’t brag.  The scenery remains confident that those who are looking will appreciate the day without any fanfare or dramatic touches.

Then one comes to Lake Washington.  As the bus drives across a skinny metal and concrete construct, nature shows us how it’s done.  On the right, my fellow commuters and I are granted a brief glimpse of the Olympic Mountains.  Always covered in snow, always majestic; it is a nice “hello” as we make our way downtown.  Then it happens.

It gets me every time.  We drive over a clear blue lake.  The city and the universities do their best to clutter up the skyline; they can only succeed so much.  There is not stopping the Cascade Mountains.  They fill the left side of the freeway.  For a solid fifteen seconds, there is no escaping them.  One hopes for a quick view of the larger mountains on the edge.  Rainier is the diva of the show.  It knows how great it looks and only appears in its full splendor when conditions are perfect.

Even without its headliner, the Cascade Range is jaw-dropping.  It rises and falls with peaks and valleys that any roller coaster would be envious of.  It looks down kindly on Lake Washington beneath it.  Every morning that I am on this first bus of the day, I take in the mountains and hear them calling to me.  I tell them I can’t skip work, I’m “needed” in civilization.

That is usually about the time that I look around at the people riding this bus with me.  They should be enjoying this view; they aren’t.  They sit there staring at their phones.  Whatever has been posted on their e-mail’s newsgroup is more important.  They just have to read that one more page in their fashion magazine.  Spread out before them is a view more spectacular than anything they will see for the rest of the day, let alone in any magazine.  They would pay for a print of this backdrop.  Yet in real life, they ignore it.

I like to think that this story will change.  I dare to hope that all the characters in this story undergo a dramatic shift in their attitudes and wake up to all this wonder around them.  It is only ten-fifteen seconds; surely they have that much time.  For now, the story is still being written and the supporting characters confound me.  Of course, maybe the thing that they don’t understand is how I can possibly ignore my phone for an entire bus ride.

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