Never mind the robins; one of the first signs of spring in Vermont is the orange-breasted flagman - or flagwoman – as is increasingly common.
A few days ago while waiting for the bus on busy Route Five in Hartford, I noticed that a pair of giant telephone poles was being replaced, and each time a utility worker needed to cross the highway, a small women with black curly hair tucked into an orange hard-hat sallied forth into whizzing traffic and held up her hand. For the five minutes I was there, cars did stop, but most were going way too fast, and there were a few close calls.
Between her efforts to make the roadway safe for her co-workers, we chatted.
She told me that on a big bridge job over Route Five two summers ago, she worked through the night and got in the newspaper. A lot of other transportation workers were flagging traffic on that bridge site, but she was the only one that got publicity. And the reason for that, she explained, is that she kind of flirts with people. That’s the word she used. Flirt. I was taken aback, aware that women in construction trades are sometimes accused of baiting men, who in turn are accused of harassment.
“Oh, not with the workers,” she clarified - but with the drivers she waves through. And she didn’t really mean “flirt.” She meant “greet.” She makes sure to greet every driver she sees. They don’t all say hi back, but many do - part of why she loves her job. She says her motto is “We all have to have fun.”
Brilliant, I thought. Greeting people probably makes them slow down a bit, too. And it makes her enjoy an otherwise tough job, on her feet all day, and sometimes all night, surrounded by clouds of exhaust fumes.
Later, as I got off the bus, I thanked the driver. Then, as I walked to my office, I nodded or said hi to people who, I suddenly realized, resembled cars in many ways, rushing ahead of me through a door, clumping up on a sidewalk and blocking access to the coffee shop, then, when inside, jumping line.
But that day, nothing bothered me. If that flagwoman ever wants to switch jobs, I think she’d make a great shrink. She's got life in the fast lane all figured out.