The signs made it known in July that the men would come to work on the road in August. There was a sign taped to the door of this office, and one taped to the door of the office next door. The town new this was going to happen, because of the signs. Weeks before the men would arrive with their trucks and their diggers and their flags, but a week or two after the signs were taped to so many doors, the orange and white barrier markers were shipped in. They came from the last town where the men put down the asphalt, back in that town somewhere else where they put the signs up that told everyone they’d be coming, long before they did. The orange barriers are wide and tall, substantial, portly. They have the look of something you don’t want to hit with your car, though no fewer than two times I saw one hit by a car and very little happened to the car. The barriers aren’t that heavy, but they’re heavy enough to withstand the wind and the rain. They did their job in the last town and now they came to do their job in this town. The signs made us ready.
The barriers were to mark off a section of road, to tell those who didn’t read the signs that this thing was indeed happening. There were barriers dropped, each pushed off the back of a long trailer, every 30 feet or so. The men drove up one side of the road for most of the morning, spacing out the orange and white barrels. Then, after lunch, they drove down the other side of the road, back to where they started, dropping the barriers in the same pattern. The men who they trust with the plastic barrier pillars are not the same men that they trust with the earth movers. How could they be? There’s no way someone would move a barrier on a Tuesday and scrape up the road on a Wednesday. These are different men, different unions. They went to different training schools, in different parts of the country.
Once the markers were set, it was a scene. No signage could have prepared us for this. So many barriers, so much distraction. In the afternoon when the sun sets low on the western horizon, it’s a trick to drive in that direction on this road. The road bends, but not enough. It just points towards the sun in a slightly uphill trajectory, making late afternoon driving a blinding event. How many barriers were hit into these late afternoons I cannot know. The crossing guard probably knows, no one else could. The barrels were moved, as needed, from the margins of the road and into the road, to make two lanes one, every driver obeying the women with the flags and the portable stop signs, especially the leathery one with the tattoos. Often, cars with plates from other states would disobey the signs and the flag waiving and they’d whip right around the barriers. The flag ladies would flap and waive, but those rogue drivers had already made the decision to ignore the signs and the barriers, no matter how many barriers there were.
The barriers were moved from the road and to the margins, then to the road from the margins. Back and forth as one lane was dug up, then the other. Then one lane was replaced with fresh asphalt, and the barrels were moved. When the project was done, the road was smooth. So smooth and so likable, except for the areas where the old manhole covers were too low for the new high grade. There are bumps there, but after some time we learned where they were and how to avoid them. We didn’t even need the barriers, though the barriers stayed. Once the torn up margins of the road were filled with new soil and fresh sod was laid on top, the barriers stayed. The barriers stayed right on top of the new sod, and when the truck came to spray water on the new sod, the barriers didn’t move. The road crew packed their diggers and their asphalt, they collected their signs and their portable flags. They had to get to the next town, because the signs had been circulated weeks ago, and the next town was wondering why everything was taking so long to begin. The last man on the last truck out of town grabbed the few remaining rolls of sod, and with that, they were gone.
The road was nice. Smooth and wide, striped and pretty. Bike lanes were labeled. The sod grew, the sidewalks were walked on. Everyone was in a pretty good mood about this new road. Visitors who hadn’t been to town for some time drove over the new road and commented, what a fine road this is. The school children walked down the new sidewalks, past the new sod, paying little attention to the stationary decorations of orange and white, with those large rubber bases. The barriers were still there, and for those first few weeks it was obvious to everyone that the road crew would be back, soon, to get their belongings. But the fall came and the fall grew old. Halloween was over. The barriers remained. Old men in town walked down the roads, shaking their heads. Stopping, thinking, wondering who would leave such a large amount of barriers behind. Drivers driving up the road in the late afternoon squinted beneath their low-pulled ball caps to see if they could tell the different between the stationary barrels and a child running towards the street. Traffic crawled. Tempers flared. I’m not one to get too angry over barrels, but I took offense to the ones in front of my view and I dragged them down the road a ways. No one noticed.
Yesterday, the men came back. They drove a truck, with a trailer, and they drove West up the road in the morning, picking up each barrel and stacking it neatly. After lunch, they drove back East, picking up the remainder. By evening, they were all gone. This morning, not a single barrier could be found, and I can barely contain my excitement. The road is finally finished, and what a road it is.