Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Interstate Paving Foreman

The job of foreman on any road project is a tough one. Because roadwork only progresses at a snail's pace, he not only manages the workers' day to day tasks, he also must inspire them over the years. After all, any job where they both sign you up for Social Security on your first day and start collecting for your eventual Gold Watch comes with many ups and downs.

In my travels, I've passed many interstate construction sites, and have always felt something of the wistfulness of making friends along the way, then seeing them grow old and gray and retire. They get the job as young, fresh-faced boys. But it doesn't take long and many years have passed. After a while, I'm just giving them a feeble thumbs up and brave face, because they're so much older and, for a few, in failing health.

It's a great thing that they get the best men they can to fill the all-important foreman role. These guys have to wear many hats, not just the standard hardhat. They're like fathers to the men, guiding them every excruciating inch of the way.

Let's say you have a lonely stretch of interstate undergoing roadwork, maybe seven miles. That becomes a community, with its own zip code and culture. There are, however, differences. Since they're working on a road, they can't allow the trees to grow to their full height, meaning they have little shade. So about half the men go blind from the sun, and there's all sorts of other difficulties affecting morale.

The first few years pass, and the foreman sees a need to gather the men for a talk:

"Men, you've braved the troubles and elements for the last seven years. For that, I pay you tribute. This seven mile stretch has demanded a lot out of us, and you have given your all. You have all gone the extra mile, so to speak. If you're down, if you're blue, believe me, I understand. But you must not flag, you must not waver. I assure you, we will -- let me repeat that, we will -- eventually get this sonuvabitch accomplished!

Those are great words. Then it's back to work with renewed vigor. But time and the fatigue of road workers are inexorable, especially when many men have retired, going off to their golden years. The foreman, however, has remained at his post. No one knows this project like he does, and although there's still four miles to go of the original seven, he believes it can be done:

"Men, our community has been enriched by new blood. Which is not to say anything against those who have dropped off. They earned their reward. They paid for their watch with their blood, sweat, and tears. But it is now for you to carry on, as well as the old veterans who remain. I thank you each and every one. And let me assure you, I still believe, men, with every fiber of my being, that eventually we will get this sonuvabitch finished!"

Brave words, to be sure, even as that final four miles stretches out endlessly, looking something like a futile journey to the stars. We'll never reach the stars. The distances are so great. But it's good to have someone who believes we will, for it enriches everyone, certainly at the level of man's imagination.

But time finally yields to reality, and the foreman had to pass from the scene, with the rest of the old timers. It was boom time for the gold watch industry. As the old foreman left, a new foreman came on. A good man, able to read the old blueprints, which were substantially well-preserved, only about half deteriorated. Marks were made showing the passing of time. So many years!

The new foreman, with all new workers, gave the inevitable seven year talk:

"Men, there's only three miles to go. A lifetime for some. But I'm confident, that with advances in medical science, most of you will live to see this stretch completed. For those who do retire, you have my solemn pledge: I will personally see that you are brought back when the road opens. Until then, buck up, and get plenty of water. I need you, we all need you ... and your all.

"In closing, let me repeat the brave words of my great predecessor -- as true now as they were 50 years ago -- You have my pledge, my word of honor, We will see this thing through, and, finally, this sonovabitch will one day be accomplished!"

No comments: