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(UPDATE: as of 2016 we upgraded to a sweet new (used) minivan). 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

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  1. I high centered a 2000 Ford Escort (a PoS car if ever there was one!) in a Kansas field at 4am in January many years ago. I was at an astronomy meetup and it was the end of the night. Several people pushing and careful gas application didn’t move it an inch!

    Waited until morning and got assistance from a neighbor with a tractor. Did not get coffee, weak or otherwise, at the end of the ordeal 🙂

    Fond memories from previous jobs? I had a job in college where I photographed pieces of art for the art museum’s digital collection. My boss was awesome, and we’d spend all day shooting and discussing the random art. He’s the original inspiration for the Frugalwoods Homestead. He does photography for the museum a couple of days a week and the rest of the time he’s on his hobby farm.

    He’s not so great about financial stuff, but he sure has the enjoying the simple life part of the equation down!

    He taught me a lot about patience, hard work, and the importance of having a sense of humor.

  2. While I am still a long ways off from leaving my job..I have a beautiful third floor view of the sun rise every morning, happening over the river and beyond the downtown buildings. If the sky is nice (not overcast or rainy) I will try to take 5 or 10 minutes standing at the window (and getting weird looks from everyone who passes by) watching the sky and clouds turn colors, the jets that go by, the birds..(plus the floor’s heat vents are right under these big windows so I also warm up a bit in this frigid place.) I rarely have had such a great view of the morning sky. It makes the day less horrific.

    1. The view! I had an awesome view from my sixth floor “penthouse suite” office that looked out north over the green landscape of the City of Oaks (Raleigh NC). I could even see my neighborhood (or the trees above it anyway). And all of the downtown state capitol buildings. I do miss that view.

  3. Of all the things I miss about my previous job it was the banter from my co-workers about who won or lost at the foosball table. Luckily, we have each other on IM all day long even in our new jobs, but it’s not quite the same thing! I’m probably going to miss the college campus “vibe” from this one, but I’ll have a college kid sometime in the future, so I can live vicariously through her.

    1. I never had a “cool” workplace (sorry, coworkers if you’re reading this!). There are a few guys I keep in touch with, but otherwise didn’t really bring the workplace relationships home with me once I left the job.

  4. I can’t wait until its reminisce mode for me, but that is another 7 years or so away. I think what I am most fond of from prior positions is the wide range of industries I have had the chance to work in including casinos, corporate loan servicing, manufacturing/construction, and now healthcare.

    Most of the memories will be from when I was able to travel to places like Hawaii, Orlando, Boston, etc for work trips! They were good opportunities to get semi-vacations for almost free.

  5. I miss going to the gym at lunch the most. I could workout and take some steam off. The yoga class was great too. Other than that, not much really. Sad, but true.

    1. I miss the walks around our downtown area where I worked (not exactly gym-like exercise, but still gets blood moving!). The office is next to the State Capitol, State Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and the Legislative building, so lots to see right outside the door. And my window view looked out over a 200 year old church with an even older oak tree in the side yard. Which sits next to a 200 year old bank. Taking walks around downtown to grab a cup of coffee or lunch with friends was cool, like sightseeing.

  6. I’ve moved around a lot in the last 7 years, but my current office is by far my favorite. Each time I went away, I appreciated it more when I got back. For one, it’s on a campus with some really interesting folks inhabiting the other office towers – the people watching is good, and I’m quite an expert. I’m up on the 12th floor, so the view is nice in the morning and when a storm rolls in. The free coffee is good, and the cafeteria serves a very convincing Starbucks when I want to treat myself. I have fresh salads for lunch every day. I can get my car work done while I’m at work, but I just bought a new Honda Fit to replace my money-pit 2003 MiniCooper…. So basically, I’m thinking I’ll quit if they move me out of here again to a crappy project office, but otherwise it’s a pretty sweet deal. Looking forward to the time off coming up too, don’t get me wrong! I have about 5 books half-finished books that I need to buckle down and finish off (two Stephen Kings, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Clash of Generations, and The Disappearing Spoon). I’ve given up on ‘A Fine Balance’, that book took way too much work! Hope you have a nice holiday season RoG’s.

    1. Those little perks sounds pretty cool! Mrs. RoG has something similar where she works. Cheap real starbucks coffee ($1.29 for a cup I think??) and an awesome fresh salad bar that runs about $5 (or other good dishes like a huge plate of pulled pork bbq for $6).

      I bet with that Honda Fit you won’t need much car work done! 😉 If it’s anything like my civic, that is.

      Thanks for the well wishes and I hope you and yours enjoy the holidays this year too. Time off is always awesome. That list of books you have sounds like it might take a while. I’m in the middle of “The Grapes of Wrath” right now and it’s just one pretty thick book.

  7. It’s funny that you mention free coffee in your post. My work not only offers free coffee, but we have a cool machine that makes hot chocolate, vanilla flavored coffee, half caff, and many other blends…..all for FREE!

    I have done my best over the years to not only stay away from Starbucks, but keep my wife away as well (she is a coffee nut). Anyway much to my dismay I came home last Saturday from work to find a Keurig in the kitchen. Not only that my wife decided to purchase about a year’s worth of individual coffee packets for it. Of course I bite my tongue as I do the math in my head….I think the Keuring costs about $.50 per cup while a large Folgers canister costs about $.10 per cup. Ouch!

    However, I have learned to pick my battles over the last 17 years of marriage so each day I let my wife know how wonderful the coffee tastes (and it does).


    1. My second to last job had one of those fancy coffee/hot chocolate/latte machines. Unfortunately my office at my last job didn’t (state government = bring your own everything). Free coffee is a nice perk (no pun intended).

      I’ve never been a fan of the k cup coffee that I have tried. I’ll stick with the large folger’s can of coffee that is $6-8 for 2 lbs of ground coffee. The starbucks fresh brewed tastes almost burnt to me, but then again I’m no connoisseur of fine coffees.

      And yes, pick your battles 🙂

  8. As a civil engineer myself I understand exactly what this post is about. Last year I drove across some “big ass” rip rap at the vehicle tracking pad and almost didn’t make it. 😉

    We’ve designed a lot of schools over the last few years and I take some pride in having done so. I’ll probably miss going out to a site after it is fully built out and knowing that my design worked as planned.

    1. Ha ha, yeah. There’s that moment where all you’re driving on is “hope”. 🙂

      I know what you mean about pride in work. Being civil engineers, you can look at something huge you worked on and see it physically built (unless you’re a subterranean utility engineer 😉 ). In fact, Mrs. Root of Good gets to enjoy the road I built for her every day (and she gets to enjoy paying the toll just like everyone else!).

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