Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Lights flash to keep cars out of the roadwork zone. Police cruisers are parked on either side. Great, growling machines with shining hydraulic tubes and flashing lights slam and scratch and bully rock and sand into piles as tall as houses, metal teeth raking against the condemned asphalt.

One of Hine's famous Empire State photos
The air is a chaos of sounds thrown from machines capable of feats mankind once only dreamed of. The traffic is disturbed and re-routed. People curse; impatient officers wave them on. The machines press around them all. Other machines stop and start, alive with the impatience of their driver-brains.

But at the very edge, two men in yellow work helmets, jeans and luminescent vests stand at the edge of the project, where the dismantled road meets the active road. There, with gloved hands, they handle small, work-battered shovels with surgical precision, carefully scraping dirt and rubble away from what will soon be the seam between the roads. One after another, small shovels full are deposited into a wheelbarrow that has two wooden handles whose ends are worn smooth from contact with human hands; at its front, greyed by dust, a tiny wheel that is the ancestor of all this mechanical might waits humbly to make the impossible possible.