In the back seat of a 4X4 black pick-up truck, country music blasting on the radio, I chuckle at the jokes I’ve heard a million times before coming from the two short stalky country boys in the front seat. We are carpooling home from work.
Our driver, Ross, whom is also our foreman, says:
‘This radio host sounds so hot right? Yeah, but I looked her up online and found a picture of her, and she looks like my Mom!’
A good chuckle came out of us all for that one. There is a slight pause, as we’re unsure where to take this juicy conversation piece. I wait the natural few seconds to see if anyone else will start talking first, and after those three seconds of silence, ask:
‘Have you guys ever heard of Sigmund Freud?’
In a contemplative mood, and feeling confident, I decided to let my inner monologue roll. Our camaraderie had me feeling comfortable enough to take a risk, and shed a layer of my protective wall of silence.
‘No…..’ They both sassily respond. They are both staring straight ahead waiting to see if I will continue.
‘He had some interesting psychological theories. One of them was how every man wants to kill their Dad and fuck their Mom’.
I say this purely for its shock value, awaiting the entertainment I predict will unfold. Ross was not impressed by this little piece of anecdotal knowledge. After a long pause, he said;
‘I hope that guy was shot’.
This made me laugh out loud for a good couple seconds. Howl. Delighted at his vehemence. He was defending himself against my having offered the notion. He looked over at Larry in the passenger seat.
‘I hope that guy was tortured to death! What a fuck nut!’
Says Larry, the other electrical apprentice on our site, and our carpooling third whom claimed shotgun every day, unrivaled. His chubby cheeks got all red. Was he blushing at the thought of fucking his mom? Or was he really angry that he was being accused of ever considering this? Ross then turned the radio volume up to sing along to the song that has just come on, and also to change the subject. I was happy to let them stew on the idea while falling back into my silent smiling shell in the back seat vortex.
They both suddenly break out singing:
‘What’s a girl like that doing with a guy like me? I’ll tell you boys, I drive a four wheel driiivvvviveeeeeeeee…………’
I must have heard them sing this 10 times today on site. Sometimes in person, sometimes over the radios we carry. The radios are so we can communicate across the site when we are too far away to yell, so as to improve site efficiency.
Normal radio banter sounds like:
‘So and so, come in’
‘So and so here’
‘Can you bring over some more ground rod’
‘Sure, be right there’
But all too often I hear over the radio:
“Just out for a rip are ya bud? Ya just out for a rip?”
“Is that a four wheel drive, over”
“It hit me like a wrecking ball!”
It never seems to get old. I tend to just stand back and chuckle, like a babysitter would. On this site I find myself falling back into a the role of trying to catch the accidents before they happen, telling them to please not stand under the load, in case it should fall, and why don’t we just load up the truck to carry over these heavy tools, pump and generator instead of carrying them by hand, risking the slips, trips, falls, and back strain.
Sometimes I wonder if these two fellas would bounce off the walls and break their necks if I weren’t there. They are both almost ten years younger than I am, even though we all look around the same age. It’s just us three and a few other trades on site, and I am the first aid. And so far my only first aid treatment on site has been washing a scrape our foreman Ross received, when he was goofing around with the other apprentice Larry, and somehow slipped into a ditch.
‘Doods, just because we have an ETV on site, does not mean we need to use it, amirite?’ Is all I can really say when I see the silly taken up to the wild notch.
‘You’re a father now Larry, so you’re gonna have to make sure you get home to your daughter tonight.’
They usually just laugh and sass me, but it gets us back on focus to working, instead of rock climbing and wrestling, which they always get embarrassed about when I catch them. It’s a funny power dynamic on this site.
I am also one of two people on site qualified and trained to drive the Zoom Boom forklift and find this a very useful skill in moving around and unloading the heavy steel we are receiving on flatbed trucks. Sometimes the trucks are driven all the way from Quebec by a French speaking driver. This is fine by me as I speak French, and am often translating for everyone else on site.
Today’s drive is a great drive home for us all. The sun is shining, the roads are clean but frosty. We pounded in with the jackhammer more copper ground rods than we’d set out to, and the work day flew by. There wasn’t too much traffic today so the drive is smooth, and our positive attitudes get us into a hush puppy mood.
‘Hey! Let’s stop for hush puppies!’
I yelled as we were approaching the gas station.
Says foreman Ross, as we sharply swerve into the lot. We’ve been working up a forestry service road, probably on native land. Typical industry, for the greater good, stepping on natures toes, all in the name of progress. We are helping build the site for a capacitor station, and have been laying the ground grid on the newly leveled dirt, which will within the next few weeks be covered with 6 inches of new dirt and then gravel. This site will give all the lines that head down to the USA and over to Alberta an extra oumph on their way down, and lessen the line volt drop. Considering the current boom in northern British Columbia’s industry, I’m sure some oomph is headed up there too.
As we get out of the truck Ross turns to me and says:
‘I can see you are 30 years old, by the way you hold back and watch. But you get more excited than a ten year old for these dang hush puppy drinks!’
He gives me a big grin and whoops a laugh. I smile back proudly, and open the door for him. This isn’t the first time we’ve stopped, making it a fun ‘we’ve had a good day’ celebration. I realize then that most people are not interested in making waves or causing trouble, and that sharing a laugh goes a long way. Humor and being genuine, I have discovered, are powerful tools for getting along with people. When I can clear my head, feel grounded, and turn everything into a joke, (especially the tough stuff no one wants to talk about), I feel empowered and strong.
Maybe I am figuring out how to adapt to the construction workers culture. I think back to something I read in an anthropology class once;
As stated in Malinowski’s text The Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays:
Culture is essentially an instrumental apparatus by which man is put in a position to better cope with the concrete, specific problems that face him in his environment in the course of the satisfaction of his needs. It is a system of objects, activities, and attitudes in which every part exists as a means to an end. It is an integral in which the various elements are interdependent. Such activities, attitudes and objects are organized around important and vital tasks into institutions such as family, the clan, the local community, the tribe, and the organized teams of economic cooperation, political, legal, and educational activity. From the dynamic point of view, that is, as regards the type of activity, culture can be analyzed into a number of aspects such as education, social control, economics, systems of knowledge, belief, and morality, and also modes of creative and artistic expression” (1944:150).
I am always on the hunt for the common ground. Of which there is always plenty between humans. Where you grew up, what you eat, what you believe the difference between right and wrong to be. The fact that I’m trudging through the same work day as everyone else on the site, pulling my own weight and making myself useful, seems to impact my acceptance in a positive way. There is finally a place I can be aggressive, stubborn, and crass, and these are all things that make me a good worker and good to be working with. The familiarity of having proven myself and gained respect from other workers already also helps, I guess.
Sometimes there will be guys I work with, whom ask me intuitive questions, which result in learning about myself. Hard questions that used to make me very angry and frustrated, outraged even, mostly at the fact that someone felt so entitled to ask such an interrogative question at all. I’m realizing now more and more, that I was masking my own fear, of delving into myself. The cover of what I thought was the only right and only wrong sheltered me from the awful colorful truth. I learnt I had been making assumptions about other people, was pleasantly surprised when I allowed myself to indulge, and was surprisingly not disappointed with the outcome of the conversation.
I was finding that most people like most people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. and most people like the world, clean air, good food, and to feel relatively safe. Getting used to calmly debating disagreements instead of jumping to conclusions about what the other person thinks, has broadened my horrible black and white view of right and wrong to the point where I have come to conclude that all viewpoints are beautiful in their own respect. Even the ugly ones I’m so fond of ridiculing. Perhaps I am discovering and unravelling the mark I would like to leave on the world. Perhaps also, I am finding life outside of my radical queer punk bubble to be not as bad as I had imagined, and no longer desire nor need to retreat there.