Confessions of a Flagging Diva

This morning as I drove to Canyon Park, I saw a construction crew ahead. Fortunately I noticed in time to safely turn around when I saw the “Expect Delays” sign.

Seconds later, the screen of my mind pushed the rewind button. I almost smelled the fresh asphalt as I reflected on the “ghosts” of Christmas – I mean Summers – past.

I saw myself at nineteen through twenty-two. I received some scholarships for college, the main course of my college money – every last piece of gravel of it – I earned from flagging. My sister and I were the first ones to receive an education on either side of the family tree, and we worked for each penny.

Visions of hot Summer days danced in my mind as I reflected on the seasons I worked as a flagger. The sun warmed the asphalt to a temperature almost hot enough to fry an egg. We frequently worked twelve or fourteen hour days. My ankles swelled like little watermelons. I didn’t have a walkie talkie, and the boredom sometimes expanded like a beach ball in my heart.

At times, few cars passed. Maybe just a handful on some days, depending on the location. Flaggers seldom received potty breaks either. So yes, we chose the biggest bush around. Sagebrush and trees, sometimes with rattlesnakes lurked nearby. But – no pun intended – as soon as I decided to go, the mailman came.

No technology, as in phones, was available. Just me, myself and I.

So what – you’re asking – did I do to pass the time? Okay, I hate to admit this – I practiced the phrase, “ET phone home.” The ET movie came out, and I needed something to push my watch hand faster. I enjoyed the solitude, listened to the birds, and waited. That’s if the traffic load was light.

Photo by Cherrie Herrin-Michehl (c)

When the traffic was heavy – on Blewett  pass, I watched people sit in their air conditioned cars, sipping water while they drove to Lake Chelan. Sweat dripped down my forehead, layered with fine dust, and my tee shirt soaked up the drenching sweat. I envied the people who complained they would have to wait – sometimes up to almost twenty minutes – who were driving to Chelan.

“What the hell is takin so long?” a middle-aged man asked. He turned off the car and stomped up to my face, glaring in my eyes. He sipped his ice tea and I ached to have even one ice cube in my water. “I’m on my way to Chelan, and I was supposed to be there an hour ago.”

Well, jerk, it’s not my problem you left late,” I thought.  Yet I kindly smiled and explained the road crew was resurfacing the road to fill pot holes. The expansion and contraction of the ice, snow, heat, combined with semi-trucks constantly beating them up chips and cracks them. They feel like you do after a rocky day.

Why so many trucks on the road? To bring you coffee, computers, deodorant, and food. (I know, you’re having a seizure because you just realized the connection between trucks and coffee.)

Many people expressed great kindness to me as well as the other flaggers. They brought me water, pop, fruit, and fun, interesting conversation as they waited. My orthodontist noticed me, and offered me several baskets of fruit. I gladly took him up on it and smiled in glee as he probably noticed his workmanship.

The girl at the other end was gorgeous. She received donuts, more fruit and drinks. One day, a guy driving a shiny new fire engine red Coca Cola semi-truck pulled over to give her Coke and donuts. Pulling over a truck is quite an ordeal, but he managed.

IMG_1794

Another day, a woman didn’t see any of our signs, and was about to drive into a ten-foot deep hole about thirty feet long. “STOP! STOOOOPPPPP!” I yelled, but she didn’t hear me. So at the last moment, I threw my sign onto her hood, possibly saving injuries of her and her children.

Another guy begged me to let him go through. “My wife is gonna kill me when she realizes I was gone all night.” That’s ssooooo not my problem,” I thought. Somehow I navigated the conversation and kept him there.

A big burly biker dude dressed head-to-toe in black leather turned off his engine. He pulled a beer out of his saddlebag and started to guzzle, but I told him to pour it out. “A girl flagging a bridge was just killed last week by a drunk driver,” I said.

He poured the beer onto the hot pavement. I didn’t tell him I had desperately begged my dad for the job, but he wouldn’t let me have it. The job was a night position, and I would get paid much double due to the risk. “Cherrie, if a drunk driver comes along, where are you gonna go?” Like that’s ever gonna happen.

I can feel tears well up in my eyes now as I type this, thinking about the young woman who lost her life. That scene replays in my mind every now and then when I’m wondering why God won’t give me something I want.

Road construction is like The School of Life in many ways. Both offer lessons such as: Expect delays, detours, and not getting what we want. Yet sometimes this is a gift.

One morning a passenger of a car yelled and screamed uncontrollably at me while the other passengers held her down. “I’m late for my court date – and it’s all YOUR fault!” I notice she wasn’t wearing any jeans.

A guy sped through the new asphalt on another day, causing a layer of newly poured asphalt to spray his new lemon yellow Corvette. “Damned construction! What the hell?! You’ve ruined my car! What are you gonna do about this, bitch!”

He jumped out of his car and screamed about five inches from my face as I flipped my sign around to let the traffic safely drive around the construction zone. Fortunately a state inspector arrived a few minutes later and rescued me. If he would have slowed down as the sign said, the car wouldn’t have been damaged.

A woman brought me cookies and Jehovah’s Witness literature several times a week. I ate the cookies but always threw the pamphlets away, unbeknownst to her.

Many beautiful, glistening moments passed on those sweltering, sweaty, dust-covered days. The mountains, trees, and river sparkled God’s glorious landscape.  Pass is a jewel, and will forever glimmer in my heart.

Two years ago, I waited as the first car for about twenty minutes as I listened to a flagger. I could have turned around but decided to hang out with her till the pilot car arrived so I could help her digital clock move faster.

She flagged traffic year-round as a single mother and basically barely survived. I asked if I could come back with her favorite coffee, but she said no. She wanted to talk. I listened just about the whole time as she told her life story and told me how people swear at her for stopping them.

“And I’m doing this so they can drive on a road without potholes. People are so blessed to live in this country where the roads aren’t full of potholes and cracks. And besides – imagine how cranky they would be without their coffee? They see no relationship between the roads and the coffee.”

I agreed with her and smiled on the inside. She flags traffic regardless of the weather. The days I’m dry and warm, she shivers and attempts to stay dry as the Seattle rain blasts her from all directions. Then drives home to cook dinner for her family. Once again, on her feet.

Last year, driving home from work, I noticed some sweaty, dust-covered flaggers far ahead. I quickly checked traffic and did a safe U-turn. Then I drove to Target and bought two gigantic pops with extra ice. About a half hour later, I pulled far off the construction zone. I wonder what the guy thought as a professionally dressed woman in heels walked through the gravel to bring him the refreshment?

“Hey, I brought you a pop,” I said. His smile could have lit a football field. He thanked me, and I walked back across the gravel in my high heels. I realized the new pair of heels might chip and scratch, but many things in life are more important than heels.~

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