Thursday, March 10, 2016

Construction equipment

When I was a very little boy I was immensely fond of construction equipment. The garbage men with their great turnover trucks were an epic weekly event to me, or was it bi-weekly? I feel garbage pick up came more often in the old days. But all things with mighty treads and scoops and joints and plows were a primal satisfaction to me.

When I was six or seven that love faded away and I haven't much thought of it since.

On my morning walks I usually cross the Mississippi River on a four lane road bridge. It might be two lanes instead of four. I can't remember because they have been doing construction on this bridge for so long I've forgotten how it's supposed to go. While I have painstakingly developed a part of me that can say "They must be doing a good job at something very important I do not understand, and it explains all this endless bridge work." there is still another part of me that looks at a bridge that has been half-closed for years, swarmed on by workers and machinery, and yet seems not a whit different from when they started, and is simply irritated. The worst part of the construction is not so much all the closed lanes and rerouting on top of it, but the fact that all passage on the wonderful National Park paths underneath it have been closed and unusable for years now. While I appreciate their caution- after all, two or three bridges upstream from this one the Highway 35 Bridge famously collapsed into the river far below, killing thirteen- I really think if they wanted to they could have left some kind of walking paths open below. After all, these are safely on the shore, usually out of the way from where they are working.

But no, they are closed. So over the bridge I go, day after day. Irritated, but holding it together.

Until, from out of nowhere, some primal child in me stirred. Something sleeping in me for 45 years awoke! And, whoa, look at all this stuff! The bridge is besieged by fabulous machinery, great landworks operations are underway. I walk high over the bridge and giant cranes tower above me, all sitting on platforms floating in the river. Darling, industrious tug boats putt about on the Mississippi ready to move the platforms around, or hold them safely in place. One barge carries some strange bird of a treaded vehicle, with an agile neck surely 20 feet long, dipping deep into the river to scoop up muddy riverbed on some mysterious mission. Perhaps it's to build one of the jettys that extend into the river where more cranes and equipment work from. And the workers are everywhere too on their glamorous jobs, usually yelling work strategy or sports news or literary theory to each other across the railings of the bridge, one standing on the sidewalk where I pass them, the other in a bucket held by some 60 foot tall crane, but sometimes simply strapped to a makeshift wooden structure tacked to the side of the bridge and hanging high and exposed over the water below. And besides all the things working off of floating platforms below there are specialized contraptions plying their trade from the top of the bridge too. One side of the bridge is always closed to all traffic so that large pieces of machinery can crouch over the sidewalk while their ungainly, multi-elbowed arms can bend out over the side of the bridge and do unseen things down below.

It's really quite a gaudy display of strange and oversized, weighty, and powerful implements, and though even the five year old in me wouldn't mind knowing what all they are actually doing, we are nevertheless mightily impressed.

But all good things must one day come to an end. And so when this bridge project ends in 2021 I am prepared. I will go back to looking at the birds and the trees and the quiet river. So soon! I hope I'm ready.

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