Monday, October 25, 2010

My Daily Thinking About Sewage Workers

I think about sewage workers first thing every morning.

I've driven by sewage plants all my life, seeing them off the road with an assortment of facilities. They used to be completely exposed, and some still are, but now many of the ones I see have metallic domes over them. It seems like the way it used to be was they had a pipe sticking up in the middle with a horizontal spray pipe going toward the edge, rotating. Then in other towns I've been through, it's just a big exposed lake posted so you won't accidentally go swimming or fishing there.

Inside the sewage facilities, I don't know what it looks like, but this is where it gets good. Because I have various thoughts about it. My practical side, of course, says it must be very spartan, with workers in white, wearing hard hats and carrying clipboards, charting out the facts and figures, daily input and output. A guy sits in a control tower and by remote control lifts a muck screen at 10, 2, and 4 to be spray cleaned by a robotic hose. That's the practical side.

My more romantic side sees it like this, thin men in black and white gondola driver outfits, wide brimmed flat hats, with big wooden muck sticks, sort of like what the boatmen of Venice carry but tailor made for a different line of work. I see them watching a certain amount of input coming through a brick archway, then a gate falls into place so they can smooth out what they have. They go about their work very silently, only tipping their hats to the control man when it's time to pass it through to the next station. If there's an emergency, an overflow, they pull up a black neck kerchief so they can filter their breathing.

The truth is probably somewhere closer to the middle, between the workers in white with clipboards and these more romantic thin characters with their tight black pants. Be that as it may, we know they're out there doing their thing, since the work of sewage processing is a work you never hear bad things about. It runs smoothly, perhaps the most efficient and reliable thing government does.

But here's what I think every morning about sewage workers, that they're looking at the input, carefully monitoring it, and drawing one big conclusion: As the input increases, someone always says, "It looks like everyone's getting up!"

There's four big output pipes. We've got the south side of town checking in, a thinner gruel like substance, since they're so poor. The east side, robust yet modest. The north side, very stout, a workingman production. Then the west side, substantial and it doesn't stink.

6:00 is less, 6:30 more, 7:00 more yet, 7:30 the high point of the morning, 8:00 trickling off, 9:00 the schools are checking in, and so forth.

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