Workplace Nostalgia For Construction Trailer Coffee
This morning I made my coffee a bit too weak. After adding my cream and a sprinkle of stevia sweetener, I took a quick sip of the thin brew and it brought me back to my working days. About once a week I would leave my cozy yet spartanly appointed downtown office and venture out to the edges of civilization to meet with other engineers and project managers at the contractor’s on-site construction trailer.
The journey to the construction trailer was always interesting and varied every few weeks. I’m not delving into magical realism here. The trailer never moved, but the roads did routinely change their configuration. You see, we were building a road. A major freeway to be more specific. When I first started attending meetings at the construction trailer, it was easy to get there. I swerved around the construction barriers and “ROAD CLOSED” signs. Then I proceeded down the exit ramp, over the temporary median crossing, and up the sloped driveway to the gravel parking lot. Quick and easy.
As the road construction progressed, the builders removed the temporary median crossing and put in the permanent drainage ditches and guard rail. My quick route to my morning meeting was now blocked! There was another, more circuitous route to the construction trailer that involved going a few miles further down the existing freeway, doing a right-hand U-turn into the closed entrance ramp (yes, traveling the wrong way), and then backtracking up the entrance ramp to reach the sloped driveway up to the trailer. This added a few minutes and required extra vigilance to dodge the oncoming construction traffic traveling the correct way down the entrance ramp.
Running late and taking a shortcut
I wasn’t always on time to these morning meetings. Traffic in the area would turn to molasses during the morning rush hour and make for a slow slog to the ramp leading to the construction trailer. One morning I decided to try the original path to the construction trailer since I figured I could cut across the dirt median crossover that hadn’t received it’s final sculpting by bulldozer into a ditch yet.
It’s important to note at this point that I drive a fourteen year old Honda Civic. The car saves me money and never got offended when I drove it off road on the construction site (the Civic being a two wheel drive car notwithstanding). Most of the guys* on the construction site probably wondered why I drove a Honda Civic on the construction site. And then they wondered why I would drive a Honda Civic at all given the ready availability of huge monster 4×4 V8 with towing package pick up trucks. A real man’s truck can be had for nothing more than a reasonable monthly payment of $500 or so. That’s nothing. Unless you actually want to reach financial independence one day.
To economize on time, I’ll leave the monster truck versus compact sedan debate for another day. I was in a hurry. I only had a few minutes until the meeting started, and I could see the construction trailer up the slope just across the small dip in the median between the two sections of unfinished roadway. As I approached the small dip, I realized it was a little bit more than a small dip, but not quite as big as a ditch. Or so I thought. My trusty Honda Civic had crossed plenty of larger dips before on the job site, so this one was nothing to worry about. Like I said, I was in a hurry, and I wanted to grab a cup of the construction trailer coffee before I settled in for what was usually a long progress meeting.
I gave the 4-cylinder engine a small taste of gas and edged forward over the lip of the dip. I realized it was quite a bit deeper than a dip right as I went over the edge. I didn’t travel far thanks to the low undercarriage of the Civic. The front wheels were dangling in mid-air while the mid-section of the car rested firmly on the rusty orange-red clay of the construction site.
At this point I hopped out of the car and realized I was stuck. Not panicking yet, I started wondering how to get unstuck. I also started wondering where all the laughing was coming from. Then I realized my trusty highly paid consultants were giggling like little school girls from the comfort of their 4×4 SUV behind me. “Time to call the tow truck” they snickered at me.
Git ‘Er Done
Being a DIY, take charge kind of person, I asked for a little help from my laughing colleagues. The two of them jumped out and said, in their expert opinion as engineers, it’s not possible to get the car dislodged from the edge of the ditch. The Civic was too far over the edge. There was no way two humans could push a car back over the edge onto level ground, they thought.
“Let’s give it a try at least. We’re gonna be late for the meeting”, I said. They pushed and lifted on the front bumper as I used my left foot (extended out the ajar driver’s door) to push and my right foot to give another sip of gasoline to my little 1.6 liter engine. I knew the whole car only weighed a touch over one ton (or a thousand kg’s for the non-Americans reading this), so it wouldn’t be that hard to push it back up the slope just enough to get the front wheels in contact with the dirt and get me unstuck. After a couple seconds of laboriously pushing outside coupled with surgically depressing the gas pedal in microscopic increments inside, I felt the car start to slowly roll backward away from the ditch as a big smile washed over my face.
Disaster averted. I gave the undercarriage a cursory glance and didn’t see any damage other than a few clods of dry, red clay clinging to the bottom of my vehicle. With the mission accomplished it was time for the Honda Civic to backtrack and take the long (but safe) route back down the freeway and up the entrance ramp (the wrong way) to get to the construction trailer.
I arrived a few minutes late, but still took my time to get a cup of that sweet free construction trailer coffee. This stuff wasn’t as bad as auto shop coffee or middle of the night eight hour old gas station coffee, but it was pretty bad. The negatives of construction trailer coffee include a very translucent appearance, weak or non-existent flavor, and a lack of real dairy creamers that originated from a cow at some point. On the plus side, well, there are no plus sides to construction trailer coffee other than the possibility of caffeine in the coffee. And it was usually hot.
On cold winter mornings on the construction site, it was still a nice treat to get some free hot coffee. At one point I pondered whether it was a violation of ethics rules to accept a free gift of a cup of coffee from our contractor, but then I realized most people would put a negative value on the coffee and require payment in order to drink this diluted brown-tinted coffee-ish water. After reaching the verdict that continued consumption of the coffee wasn’t a breach of ethics, I learned to enjoy it, and sometimes returned to the steaming carafe to top off my cup. It was no Starbucks Caffe Verona, but it got the job done. And sometimes that’s enough.
Fond memories of work
While working and planning for early retirement, I always wondered what I would miss about working. I’m tempted to say it was the little things like that weekly cup of watered down coffee. Now I have a bit of nostalgia whenever I’m faced with really crappy coffee.
I appreciate the things I learned on the job, like long term planning and budgeting for household repairs. I also learned a bit of self reliance like how to recover a Honda Civic that’s dangling over the edge of a ditch.
* One guy on the construction site never laughed at me for driving a fuel efficient compact sedan. He actually offered to buy my car from me. He was our maintenance engineer and knew a thing or two about long term reliability and durability and keeping operating costs low.
What memories will you take with you from your job? Any fond recollections from past jobs?
Photo of coffee courtesy of Zach Bulick at flickr