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“Just a little more—Easy—Just a little more—There! That’s it,” barked the seasoned supervisor, wearing hardhat and DayGlo vest, as he waved to the driver seated in the cab of the concrete mixer. As the drum ground to a halt, another workman power-hosed the trough before the next pour.     

The ten-member crew from the woman-owned Sweetens Concrete Services had been working on our court for two weeks, the final phase of replacing a malfunctioning storm sewer. This afternoon’s work brought them to the front of my bungalow, and I had to watch.

The guys, also wearing rubber boots and other protective gear, knew exactly what to do. Some smoothed the wet concrete to the edges of long boards secured in the ground by spikes; some, with rakes, filled out the designated area; some moved long-handled placers, appearing like wide maintenance brooms, for further smoothing; some knelt by the curb and, with trowels, edgers, and groovers continued the smoothing.

After perhaps five minutes, the supervisor turned on the vibratory plate compactor and slowly swept it over the new concrete, giving it the appearance of the street next to it. More tweaking with long-handled brushes left striations on the surface to prevent falls when rain-soaked.

Significant lessons surfaced as I went indoors. More than evident were the crew’s precision, their practiced eye, and their hardened bodies; their camaraderie added brightness and color to the afternoon. But painfully as well was how I’d taken concrete streets and sidewalks for granted for my convenience, with no thought of the intensive labor involved to construct them.

The green pickup truck with the yellow logo—Fred M. Luth – Family Owned Contractors Since 1920—parked in our neighborhood, the harbinger of the long awaited replacement of our storm sewer. For a month, preparations had been underway: Surveyor crews with hard hats had spray-painted red and orange numbers on our streets, utilities had flagged underground lines, and teams of workers drilled holes in the street, spray-painted another set of measurements, before filling the holes with asphalt.

Next came flatbed trucks delivering greenish plastic pipes stacked, pyramid-style, along sides of the streets, then, parts of four concrete sewers along the sidewalks, then, a huge rectangular steel frame upon the street. Next, dump trucks deposited a mountain of rocks on an adjoining street. The site seemed ready.

Last Monday, the green pickup truck with the yellow logo returned. It was time.  Licensed engineers and drain layers began operating the CAT backhoe and the crawler crane, and with them, ripping, pounding, crunching, and rasping noises: Always an issue with me, I wondered how I would manage, being housebound.

The drilling began next to my house. More significant than the noise, however, was the crawling crane slicing foot-length concrete like a pasta cutter, doughy ribbons. After the drill bit had been changed for the bucket, the crawling crane scooped up the broken concrete and dirt into waiting dump trucks and hauled them away.  

I could go on and on about the week’s experience, ending with the installation of one of the storm sewers. Yes, the noise was significant, but the camaraderie, the laughter, the expertise of the crew absorbed me more. Many tense moments, repetition of measurements, and reworking adhesive materials evidenced critical teamwork, in hold-your-breath procedures.

The crew will return, weather permitting, but their necessary noise will be further down the street. As an aside, I did pray for their protection.

Goats from Bob’s Mobile Petting Zoo munch the begonias along the front walk of the brownstone. On the front stoop, kids bottle-feed spring lambs and pet others. Nearby, a saddled pony tosses her blonde mane and waits with her handler for the next rider. Ducks squawk as a neighbor, broom in hand, shoos them from her roses. Rock music and squeals of laughter pour through opened windows, their lace curtains frisked by winds within the froth of play.

It’s Chris’s surprise party for his twelfth birthday.

Inside, multi-colored streamers festoon the walls and fixtures, helium balloons smooch the ceilings, paper plates drip with remains of pizza and ice cream. Upon the dining room table dances the father who organized this after-school party; Chris and his buddies gyrate in tandem with him. In all the rooms more kids wearing party hats jump on sofa cushions and dance.

A sense of concerted play makes complete sense of this apparent mayhem until abruptly ended by the return of the irate mother, an interior design executive. “The party’s over,” says the father, and their shared camaraderie fizzles.

So the 1994 movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, begins.

Had not the mother axed this party, it would have continued into the evening; its momentum, open-ended and spiced with joy, fired imaginations of the participants and blessed them.

Imagine if Mrs. Doubtfire (the father’s later disguise) would throw a similar party on Capitol Hill—It would have to be a surprise.

 

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