Big Loud Trucks and Backup Beeps, nina lovel

Have you ever been in a 1% minority? If you have, and if it was the top 1% of your class, congratulations! If instead you were the one out of one hundred people in the room with your own political stripe, condolences!

I was recently judged to be in a 1% minority of Romans who are not complaining about the noise from the nighttime pipeline construction in town. Complain? I am fascinated by this thing! I’ve been spotted late at night, sitting in a lawn chair at the end of my blocked-off road, just watching the ballet of the huge loud trucks and the precision of the workers preparing the trench where the pipeline will rest. I may or may not have taken more videos of excavators and Hydro-X trucks in one week than I did of my baby grandson.

If there’s proof that I’m easy to entertain, this is it. I have been fascinated with this enterprise ever since last year’s arrival of my letter from Atlanta Gas Light (AGL) that described the project and showed its route as going right by my house. Called the Rome Expansion Project, AGL is building it because the Northwest Georgia area is about to outgrow the capacity of existing high-pressure pipeline systems, and this is a good time to invest in new infrastructure. International Paper in Coosa will be among the first industries to benefit from the new supply line.

Most of you might know what an environmentalist I am; one friend even asked me why I’m not out there protesting the pipeline. I see nothing to protest; this is a well-planned investment in progress that will help shore up our regional tax base, and while I’m no inspector, I do recognize that standard environmental protection practices are in place. Gravel bags have been placed around the construction-area storm drains on Kingston Road, filtering the runoff that goes straight into the Etowah. I see silt-fencing where needed, and hay layers and thick beds of gravel on soft ground, and asphalt-edged steel plates notwithstanding, the highway excavation zones I travel every day are all tidied up when the crews leave in the morning.

They work at night to minimize traffic disruption and yes, they make a lot of noise. Hundreds of workers are out around town six nights a week, burying a twelve-inch high-pressure natural gas pipeline under our streets, railroad tracks, trails and waterways. It takes big dump trucks and excavators and flatbed trucks to haul the excavators on, and every last one of these machines has a loud motor and goes beep-beep-beep when it backs up. Actually, I think they all beep whenever they move at all. You’d think the safety-effect of the beeping would wear off with everything beeping all the time, but I guess the beeps add a level of awareness to all the motor noise.

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My fascination was sealed the first time I encountered a night crew at work. Returning from a friend’s house around 9:30 pm in early April, I turned left from the bypass onto Kingston Road inbound and ..whoa! Suddenly I was in two-way traffic in the inbound lane because the outbound lane was closed. And it wasn’t just closed; it was packed with a single-file fleet of the biggest trucks I had ever seen in one place. 

There were huge dump trucks, and huge-er, big black hydro excavation trucks with the green and white “Hydro-X” logo. I counted at least ten trucks before remembering to focus on driving in my narrow lane; there were multiple law enforcement vehicles with bright blue lights all along the gauntlet to make sure we paid attention, and huge poles of floodlights made the scene as bright as day.

Their progress was slow but steady. Before long I could hear the noise approaching my house, and then the blue lights appeared outside my window all night long.

I had noticed that porta-potties and lengths of the pipeline were placed along the right of way where the crews were working, and when I arrived home one day to see that I had pipeline and a porta-potty on my own right of way, I knew it was showtime! I enjoyed night after night of watching and hearing the parade of big trucks, excavators, guide cars, and the dozens of men and women that were there to make it happen.

After sharing my excitement on social media I quickly realized that not all my neighbors found the project as thrilling as I did. My enthusiasm probably annoyed them to no end, because the noise really was keeping them awake and here I was, Miss Pollyanna talking all about how much fun it was. Now, I did hear the noise, but after the first night it became background sound in the same way that people who live near train tracks say that the sounds become fondly hypnotic. And with apologies to my crew that I fell short of this standard, my friend Kristie who lives on Charlton Road (where the work was even closer to the homes that it was to mine) told me that she and her neighbors had delivered home-baked cookies to their crew. Charlton Road neighbors, welcome to the 1%!

When daughter Jess and grand Maddie visited for Mother’s Day, I dragged their reluctant butts down the hill to show them the trucks and the workers and the work. I had watched the excavator with fascination for days. As I waxed poetic about the skills it must take to operate an excavator with such precision, Jessica opined (and she was not wrong): “He’s probably awesome at video games!” Of course, that’s it; he was born playing video games, and then got better. And even though he does have a grueling 6 night a week job going on right now, and probably a family that misses him terribly, he is a hard-working, talented young man who is making a very good living for himself and those he loves.

I weathered the teasing from family and friends who were probably whispering behind my back that I must have finally gotten lonely and bored (they *are* wrong), then I tried to figure out why this project intrigued me so. And I realized it wasn’t the trucks, it was the people. Every one of those big huge trucks had a driver who could back it up as easily as driving it forward. The workers who curated the trench where the pipeline would lay knew what they were looking for and what they were there to do, and they did it with 100% of their presence. And that fascinating excavator! 

Sometimes it would scoop dirt out of the trench, then swing and deposit it into one of the big waiting dump trucks, and other times the big waiting dump truck would be full of gravel that the excavator scooped out of the truck and spread ever-so-carefully into the bottom of the trench. The excavator (in my opinion) was the star of the night because it could do so many different things, and the driver was its hero. It was the strength behind moving the steel plates off the trench at the start of the night’s work, and then it slid them back into place in the morning, just in time for us to drive over them going to work and school.

My fascination came from watching people do what they did well. I couldn’t get my head around how they each knew what to do, but they worked as a symphony, blending their skills into a well-built masterpiece of progress.

What are the things that you do well? Are you a mechanic? I’ve watched a mechanic focusing his whole attention on the sound of a motor at various speeds. He could envision the engine parts as they moved and knowing how they were supposed to sound he could diagnose the issue at hand. Are you a doctor, nurse, or paramedic who knows why you’re hearing what you hear through your stethoscope? I love to watch caregivers care.

Are you a chef, understanding the chemistry of meat as it cooks and of eggs, butter, flour and sugar as they form into a pound cake? Your work is worth watching too! I’ve been told (by someone who definitely knows) of a cook at Troy’s named Stacy who makes the best biscuits in the world, from scratch. Wouldn’t you just enjoy watching her add all the pinches-of-this and little-of-that, the way that expert biscuit-makers do?

Every single one of us has things that we do well, that we maybe take for granted. Whether they are for work or for pleasure, they bring us reward and they light up our corners of the world. This time last year, my friend Lori was mentoring a small group of high school senior girls at church. When I asked how she encouraged these girls who had lost half of their senior years’ memories, she said she shared the importance of focusing first on their own little corner of the world. With overwhelming worries, they needed the reminder that their own little corner is the center of their world, and they need for the center to hold. This has become my own encouragement as well.

So, from my own little corner of the world, I leave you with this quote from Leo Tolstoy.

“The world is not a joke but rather a place for a trial, a way station to a better, eternal world. Our purpose is to make it a better and more joyous place to live, for those who live with us and those who come after us.”

We make the world a better and more joyous place to live by doing the things we do well and guarding our corners.

As the pipeline workers continue their nighttime journey through our town, I wonder if they realize all the ways they are teaching, inspiring and entertaining us as they go. Even though they have finished the section in front of my house, I can still hear distant beeps marching towards town. I do miss the noise and am on the hunt for a white-noise machine that has a setting called “Big Loud Trucks and Backup Beeps”. Let me know if you see one.

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