Working in Houston

Working, working, always working, Mami.

I just paid eight bucks for two coffees. The lady called me “Mami” and gave me a free banana. “How are you?” I asked.

“Working, working,” she said. “Always working.”

Back up in our room on the fifth floor of this hotel, there’s an impressive scene out the window. About 75 construction workers in yellow hard hats and orange vests are building a hospital or something big next door.

The scene is laid out before us like a presentation. We’re far up enough to see the whole site, and can guess what each area looks like, the parking garage part and the part that’s maybe the building…but close enough to watch the details of what they’re doing. One guy measures spacing between the rebar sticks, which Dave surmises will then be moved up as a uniform grid to form the next floor. Another carries one of a million yellow scaffolding pieces with two other guys, swinging it into place. Another drops his tool belt right where he’s standing when the break bell rings.

“They all did that,” Dave reports from the window. I’m now in bed drinking my coffee and eating half a banana. “Just unbuckled them and let them fall to the ground.” What a clear and simple way to mark your place as you head to the food truck parked at the curb or grab your prepackaged bag and thermos.

I might be making up the thermos part. But we’re close enough that Dave can marvel at how many hot dogs are being ordered at 9 AM. He describes the men leaning against a mammoth dumpster and sitting on the curb, eating or opening whatever they’ve brought along. I’m too lazy to get up and check on the thermoses… Fine, hold on.

Too late. In the time it took to scribble the above, they ate and drank and are already heading back to work. I see one guy shake hands with another. Then they hug and walk arm over shoulder back through the chain-link fence and into the area we’re calling the parking lot.

I watch another guy return to his tool belt. He stands above it and first wraps a bandanna around his head. Over that goes his hard hat. Then he grabs the belt and buckles it on. Dave is watching the building area. “Those guys can NOT get the concrete saw going,” he says. “I bet they flooded the engine.”

What’s also amazing to observe from up here is how they all seem to be moving at the same speed. No one’s in a hurry. They each seem to know what they’re doing, from the guy pushing a broom to the crane operator, who Dave says must have climbed 16 or 17 ladders to get up there—there’s no little car that carries you up on this one. They all know how to pace themselves in the Houston heat. “Now they’re tying together the rebar,” he reports. It will get raised up and another floor will be laid, and the monstrous building will “go up,” as we say, like it happens by machine.

The day after a reading is always a letdown. I was very happy with how the play sounded and the response to it after, but in the pause after one phase of work on a script feels done and I’m not sure what the next phase will be, I find myself unsure what to do with the day and overly sensitive to imagined slights like an empty coffee basket. The plan is to drive to Denton to see Dave’s home town, stopping in Tyler to visit cousin Lois. Yes. That’s a good plan and it will all start once I can get myself off the bed and into the shower.

“They finally got the concrete saw going,” Dave reports. “Phew.”

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