Imagine for a moment that you are in your car. Or, more likely, your truck. Your windows are down. A soft, warm wind blows through them, tousling your hair. The radio is tuned to your favorite station, or your iPod (OK, probably not your iPod) is playing your favorite song. The speed limit is 40 miles per hour but you’re driving a comfortable 35. You’re not in a rush.
Then, another motorist, visibly less serene than you, comes up on your rear and follows much too close. She is yelling, you can tell. You can’t hear what she is saying — her windows are rolled up — but you deduce that she is probably yelling at, or at least about, you.
That perturbed motorist is probably me. Nice to meet you. I’m an impatient driver. By that I mean I’m totally willing to curse (with my windows up) at other drivers who inconvenience me in any way. I hope you don’t take this personally and I don’t want you to think I’m an unreasonable person, or that I’m particularly temperamental. It’s really more the opposite. I treat driving angry like a mindful meditation. It’s cathartic to yell into the void. By the time I pull up to the curb outside my house, I feel refreshed.
I bring this up because it is construction season. This means there are many stretches of road either blocked off completely or limited by fluorescent tape and orange cones. Two-lane roads are reduced to a single-file line, speed limits are scaled down and following distance evaporates. These are great conditions for the meditation style shared above.
Given my driving temperament, I thought this week’s Casper Notebook would be a good opportunity to practice some empathy and let some of the workers responsible for my seasonal angst explain themselves.
Dalton Stack and Tanner Czellecz are both employed by Cunningham Electric, the company the city has contracted to work on the electrical needs of the Midwest Avenue renovation.
The pair arrived at the corner of Midwest Avenue and David Street at about 7 Friday morning. Stack wore orange, Czellecz wore neon green. Both adorned themselves with hard hats and polarized sunglasses. Both were sweating and would continue to for the remainder of the 90-degree day. They spent the morning laying PVC pipes into short trenches dug into the once paved-over dirt of the street corner.
“I actually like being outside and doing this work,” Stack said while holding the shovel he had used to dig the trench Czellecz was, at that moment, elbow deep in.
Stack has been working for Cunningham for about six years. A family friend helped him get the job, and now it’s increasingly looking like it will be his career. Czellecz is not there quite yet. He started a few months ago and so far he sees it as a way to pay the bills. Still, he said it’s rewarding work.
Neither of them realized how complicated things could get. At the end of the Midwest Avenue reconstruction, street lights and electrical capability will be built into the pavement. Planters and other aesthetic improvements will also be added. To get that result, a lot of moving parts need to work together. Electricians need to work with excavators, there are multiple phases of concrete, and if anything gets done out of order, they need to go back and redo the work. Everybody needs to know what everybody else is doing at any given moment.
“That’s something I didn’t realize,” Stack said. “So I don’t think other people would get that either.”
The job has given Stack other new perspectives as well. The Midwest project is mostly insulated from angry motorists. The speed limit downtown is slow and there’s much less traffic coming through the area than if he were working on a busy road or highway. But he has worked those jobs before.
“I definitely never speed through construction zones now,” he said. “You just got to understand it’s real people working the job.”