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Orange Barrels, Orange Barrels, Everywhere I See

Every summer, I'm reminded of the Todd Yohn song, "Orange Barrels," as I navigate the maze of construction around the city. And every summer, I'm reminded that there are some careers where common sense is not one of the job requirements. Nor do they provide on-the-job training for it.

Whenever I come to a one-lane construction zone, there's always some Gomer whose job it is to turn the SLOW/STOP sign. He's on the radio with the Gomer on the other end of the lane, and they're telling each other when to turn the sign so the other lane of traffic can proceed.

As they make the switch, and my lane of traffic proceeds to move, my Gomer will wave the cars around him into the open lane of traffic. If it's a particularly long line, the rest will realize what's going on, and move into the lane of traffic.

And Gomer will continue to wave.

I could be the 20th car in that line, and we all got into the other lane seconds earlier, and Gomer will wave me through, as if I somehow failed to notice the 19 in front of me driving around the giant yellow backhoe and big hole in the ground.

At times like this, I like to make eye contact with Gomer, point at the lane, and mouth the words "This way?"

Oftentimes they'll nod seriously, as if they've provided some service beyond spinning a sign 180 degrees every 5 minutes.

One time, when I was driving around southern Indiana, I was the last in line on a particularly long stretch of one-lane road dotted with orange cones. I had been let through by one of the brighter Gomers I had ever seen, in that he did not wave me around, but assumed I was smart enough to figure it out.

His older, dumber brother was a little further down the line, however. As I was making my way down the obviously-marked single lane of traffic, he was at the halfway point, waving us through some more, like we might get lost if he weren't there, providing valuable guidance.

Since traffic was light, and I was last in line, I slammed on the brakes and rolled down my window.

"You're doing that like we have a choice," I hollered to the guy. "Where exactly do you think we would go?"

The guy looked nervously up and down the lane of traffic. He had never been presented with this puzzle before. I drove off before his head exploded, like the computers on Star Trek that have been smacked around by Captain Kirk's circular logic.

I looked in my mirror to see he had shoved his hands in his pockets, still looking nervously at my disappearing car.

Photo: Brick1083

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  1. Have you ever seen how they do this in Europe? They install portable solar-powered stoplights on either end -- instead of Gomers -- cheaper AND green.


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