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   n i g h t w o r k

---   M I C H A E L   S C H W A R T Z  

It was ten-thirty, and by all appearances I was late. We had to shut down two lanes of traffic on the expressway that night in order to put in about 60 reflective markers, the kind that go between the white dashes on the road. The traffic control crew had already started to work, putting up barricades and closing down that first lane. Nighttime closures usually bring out a small work-crew, about three men, one behind the driver's wheel and two in the back on the flatbed. The truck rolled forward and stopped every fifty feet or so, allowing the two men to hop out. One carried an orange-striped barricade while the other pulled off a tan-colored sandbag. Both men moved quickly, placing the barricades within inches of moving traffic, then grabbing onto the side of truck as it moved them to the next station.

It was the first time I had ever seen a crew work a night closure. It was fairly quiet. I could almost hear the microscopic ions humming in the streetlights above. The guys worked with few words passing between them, seemingly oblivious to the adjacent threat of traffic. Sure they had put up those large, orange warning signs 1 mile, 1/2 mile in advance, but do people actually slow down as they pass construction workers? I'm a driver, and I'll admit it, before I took a job in construction I never thought twice about it.

It's different, though, once you're on the other side. I remember feeling like most drivers, going through a construction site and seeing equipment idle alongside the road, laborers just standing around talking it up with their buddies, and cursing in my car why the hell they shut down a lane or they wouldn't open up a newly poured stretch of road when it was there, perfect and begging to be driven upon.

But sometimes you can't let people drive on pavement because other pavement isn't ready, or guys aren't working because they're waiting for someone else to do another job; I try to tell my friends that it's just like working in an office. There are different steps to getting a job done, and sometimes you'll just put something off for a few days for no other reason than you don't feel like doing it right now. Most of my friends can understand this, but I don't think it makes driving any less stressful.

I could still hear the frustration blithely communicated through foul language and squashed horns, as drivers wondered why we shut down the expressway to one lane and all we could do is stand around with our hands in our pockets. Try as I might, I couldn't explain to them that our job was done, that we had to wait on a striping crew to get out here with the diamond-edged saw and the wedge-shaped markers, and put the damn things in.

But it wasn't such a big deal. The drivers came and went quickly, in just as much a hurry to get where they're going as when they started.

Most of the guys out here were used to this, but inwardly I was speechless. Imagine being able to lord over the road, a place which at any other time of the day would be the domain of the Subarus, the Fords, and Mercedes-Benz. It's a subtle thrill, something I can compare to playing catch in Wrigley Field. It's a place no one can ever really claim to know, and it's so wide and so expanse and of immense scale that it's impossible to imitate anywhere else.

But most importantly, it's a place in the daily of tread of things where I'm not allowed to stop and look around; like Wrigley Field, it's not normal to be out there, where no one ever really is. To be on the other side -- I relished the moment, the feeling of accomplishing something physical, because I know I'll never have that place ever again. But it's okay, because, for a time, I existed (there).

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