Building distractions

I was still on my first cup of coffee when I heard men shouting and the grumble of machinery outside.

I went to the front window, and found that the street was lined by trucks and other equipment. Not one, but two backhoes were being unloaded from trailers. Through sheer deductive reasoning (and the company logo on the nearest truck), I surmised that my neighbor across the way was getting a swimming pool.

Which meant my workday here in the old home office had just been shot to hell.

Neighborhood construction brings all work to a halt for office rats like me. It's not just the noise; we've got headphones and "ear buds" to block that out. It's the overall commotion. Things are happening out there, men are doing things and machines are growling and beeping. The very earth itself is being shoveled up and hauled away. How can I focus on my computer screen when real men are doing real work right over there? Shouldn't I go watch?

Yes, I should. And there go the next several hours.

A lot of us guys never got over the sandbox. Give us some Tonka toys and a pile of dirt and pretty soon we're crawling around, sputtering vroom-vroom noises. Show us a construction site, and we’re set for hours, just watching.

The construction process is the magic of something from nothing. A concrete result, so different from the ephemera that most of us generate all day. It's simply fascinating to guys, which is why they cut peepholes in fences around big-city building sites.

Most of the time, I can withstand the siren song of the Caterpillar. But when construction comes right to my own neighborhood, it's too compelling to ignore. Workmen swoop in like the team from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," bringing bulldozers and dump trucks and concrete pumps. Churning up dust and noise.

And I'm there at the window, staring at the bustle like it was ESPN.

There's the obvious allure of heavy machinery. But there's another dirty little truth at work here, too: Nothing is more satisfying than watching honest, hard, sweaty work being performed by someone else.

At the last house we owned, we paid some guys to build a large covered patio in our back yard. The floor of the patio was brick, and the bricklayers spent days on their knees, under a brutal sun. I felt sympathy for the poor devils, sure, maybe even a little guilt because I was indoors in the air-conditioning while they suffered. But I couldn’t tear myself away from that window.

Then there was the day I looked up from my desk to find a man dangling on ropes in my neighbor's towering elm trees. He swung like Tarzan from limb to limb, lopping off branches with a screaming half-sized chainsaw. Guys on the ground gathered up the fallen limbs and fed them into a big yellow -- grrrzzzzzt! -- shredder. Oh, my.

Grrrzzzzzt! There went my productivity.

Eventually, I was forced to ask: What kind of man was I, sitting all day at a keyboard, peck-peck-peck, while real men were out doing manly jobs like bricklaying and chainsaw trapeze?

What kind of man was I? The air-conditioned kind, that's what. The kind who'd rather remain seated indoors, thanks very much. I'll take cool and safe. Nobody ever cut his arm off, typing.

But I'm always happy to watch the Construction Channel when it happens by. Forget about lost man-hours. Make popcorn.

1 comment:

Patty said...

Somehow I always knew it was genetic. We had a water main break on campus and every guy who walked by had to stop and stare down into the hole, even when no one was working on it. Hands folded behind the back, semi circle of men, all starring at a dirt hole in the ground. Can't say I ever understood the fascination.