By Mordechai Schmutter

 

It’s finally summer. Time to get out and hit the open road — and find out that the open road is closed.

Because unfortunately, road crews also hit the road in the summer. That’s the easiest time get those potholes fixed. Also, I guess the heat helps them work. They don’t have to turn on the steam roller as high.

We all want them to get rid of the potholes, but we don’t want to see them working.

Though actually, we don’t see them working. Mostly we see them taking breaks. We just come across a huge sign that says something like, “Lane closed for no reason,” and we see machines everywhere and guys in hard hats drinking coffee.

And cones. If there are cones, we’ll use other lanes. We always believe the cones, even if we don’t see the workers. We never call them on it. Sometimes, we will also trust detour signs that take us onto various side streets that we don’t recognize and hope that whoever put them up didn’t get sidetracked before bringing them back to the original road. Or didn’t just decide, “Who cares if they make it back to the original road? We want them off it anyway.”

At most, we see that guy who drives super-slow, with a blinking arrow on the back of his truck, pointing left, like a senior citizen with a large-print blinker that he forgot to turn off since he left the house. And maybe two guys using bulldozers to play tic-tac-toe in the dirt. Of course the guy with the signs telling us to go around.

I recently passed some road construction, by which I mean one person standing next to a bunch of construction equipment, and he was holding a huge sign that said “SLOW.” And my son asked me, “Is that his whole job?” And I was like, “Yeah, maybe.”

(I don’t know. But as a parent, I get to make things up.)

So my son asked, “How come he has to do the boring job?”

And I said, “Because he didn’t pay attention in school.” In construction class. Because I don’t actually know if the sign means that we should drive slow or that the guy is slow and that we should be aware of that and not make any sudden moves to confuse him. Maybe he’s one of those slow children the schools are always advertising about. Why are they so proud of this? I bet in Japan there are no signs that say “Slow children.” They just teach them how to cross streets. It’s a school.

Anyway, to be honest, I spend more time nervously monitoring my speedometer in school zones than I do watching for children.

And it’s not like they have to fix the roads. There’s a cheaper option. Instead of doing construction, they could just label all the potholed roads “historic routes.”

“Why are you late?”

“We took the historic route. Then we got ambushed by Native Americans, somebody claimed us in the name of Spain, and our horse died of chicken pox.”

We have lots of historic roads in Passaic; it’s a very historic community. But, baruch Hashem, they’ve been fixing some of the roads lately, which leads to a lot of detours, but it’s a nice change from how they’d been fixing the potholes before. Case in point: One Sunday, a few months back, I noticed on the way to taking my kids to yeshiva that there was a pothole about a block from the school. Now, in general, it happens to be that having potholes near a school is great, because people will drive slowly on their own, and you don’t have to advertise your lousy educational system. But this was under a train bridge, in the dark, so it was hard to see in the first place. I only noticed it myself when the car in front of me suddenly swerved, and I saw, at the very last second, the top half of a traffic cone sticking out of a pothole. There were also a few hubcaps lying around that should have given it away.

It wasn’t very visible. I know this because my wife mentioned that she barely saw it later when she was taking our younger son to school, and that the car behind her actually hit it and got a flat tire.

So I said, “What about the traffic cone?”

And she said, “What traffic cone?”

The cone had mysteriously disappeared. Well, not mysteriously. It was down the road, in pieces.

So my wife called the police, who were like, “But it’s a Sunday!”

OK, they didn’t say that. But they didn’t immediately turn on their sirens either.

So my wife said, “Yeah, but it’s a pothole. People are getting flats. At least put up some kind of warning that people can see.” Like maybe at least a traffic cone big enough to sit on top of the pothole. Or a sign hanging overhead that pointed down and said “Pothole.”

So the dispatch officer said, “OK, maybe we’ll send someone out there to see if he can do some kind of temporary fix.”

When my wife and I came by later, on the way to parent–teacher conferences, we saw that someone had indeed been by. There was a new cone! Halfway in the hole. And lest you say that a second orange cone would be just as invisible as the first, to this one someone had tied a bouquet of balloons. Like “Surprise! It’s a pothole!”

They were just regular balloons, I think. They didn’t say like, “It’s a boy!” or “Mazal Tov!” or “Get well soon!” I don’t remember what the balloons said. I think they were stolen off someone’s “Open House” sign.

My thought was that someone from the school probably did it. My wife thought it was definitely some police officer who came by and said, “These should hold until tomorrow!”

Actually, my first reaction was, “Those balloons are going to end up in someone’s fender.”

When we came by again after conferences, this cone was gone as well, and the balloons were 50 feet up the block.

Point is, tying up roads and pretending to work is 100 percent better than balloons, because if we’re not using that road for the six or seven weeks it’s blocked off, that’s six or seven weeks we’re not hitting that pothole.

And the truth is that most of the time, we’re not really upset at the road crews; we’re upset at the other drivers. The road crews are working. This is their job. No one is ever upset to see people showing up to do their job, except for students. And we can’t really be upset when the crews aren’t working either. You know how it is when you’re working and you stop for a second to do something, and just then someone important happens to walk by? Well, road crews are the same way—just as people drive by, they’re not working. It just happens to be that people are driving by all day. It’s not their fault, it’s just Murphy’s Law: “A body at rest remains at rest whenever someone drives by.” (Murphy’s second law is, “I can’t write my second law with you guys standing over me.”)

In fact, the workers are annoyed by us. Their whole life is about trying to work where people want to drive. Imagine you were at your desk, trying to pretend to work, and people kept coming by to slow down and look over your shoulder to make comments, like, “You can put the 6 on the 7.” I’m thinking of putting up traffic cones in my living room.

Because everyone slows down. Everyone in front of you, at least. They’re fully stopped, they have their lunch out … like they got front-row seats and everyone behind them should have gotten there earlier if they wanted to see so badly. You can go when they’re done looking. It’s like they’re at the zoo, where they want to see the animals, but the animals are not that easy to see.

“Where are the construction workers? Oh, they’re in the back, sleeping in a large concrete pipe.”

“Where?”

“Follow my finger.”

I personally think they should never bring a highway down to one lane. It should be two lanes: the “I want to see” lane and the “I just want to go, because I’ve seen construction workers before” lane. And if you stop to look in the “I just want to go” lane, you should be forced to get out of the car and help. Perhaps by holding up the sign that says “SLOW.”

We judge the workers, but it’s a hard job. They have to lift heavy things all day. Ever lift heavy things at a gym? You need a spotter to just stand there and pretend to be about to grab it. And one other guy behind him, in case he has to grab that guy by the back of his belt. For every guy working, you need at least 2–3 other guys just standing there.

We can’t really complain about how long roadwork takes. I doubt any of us can do it faster. I can’t even be one of those guys. Two days in, I’d be driving one of those arrow trucks in the left lane and sending people into traffic.

You know what might make their jobs easier, maybe cheer them up? Balloons!

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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