Excavate This

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I will never pass a construction site the same way again. I will never pass by without a little nod of gratitude for the skilled folks on the job.

To say I helped build a waste management site might be a bit of a stretch. To say I provided the site crew with some entertainment during their workday would probably be more accurate!

My buddy Calvin owns a construction company and recently invited me for a ‘ride along’. “We’ll get you up in one of the extra machines and give you a pile of dirt you can move around.” He said. How could that not be fun? I was totally in!

But then I thought more about it and I did a little research. I’d seen pictures of those big CATS up-side-down in pits, I knew they were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and most importantly, I knew my skill set. Gulp.

“You look nervous.” Calvin said to me the day of. I was.

We drove to the site together and Calvin showed me the blueprints, explained what the crew had already done, what they were doing that day and what the site would be like upon completion. He explained the back end and although the level of detail was waaaay over my head, it was so interesting being in a site rather than just driving by wondering what was going on. Everything was purposeful, intentional and deliberate.

And then along came Steph. Oh man. And an excavator. A back hoe. A huge machine that, in the wrong hands, could do a lot of damage. And then there was Patrick – give the man a medal – he was my trainer. My very, very, very patient trainer.
First he demonstrated.

The task was to move this clean rock into the rock truck. It seemed simple enough as Patrick expertly maneuvered his machine. His feet, hands, eyes moving simultaneously in perfect sync with the machine – like it was an extension of him. One bucket of clean rock into said rock truck. Done, done and done.

Time for me to get into the operators seat as he explained every lever and button. Right hand forward and out, left hand back and in. Back up, side, tilt, front, back, around, lift, dump – make it stop! I was stressed before I even began and the only instrument I knew for sure how to make work was the radio!

Before he hopped out of the cab Patrick told me that not only was the equipment very expensive but that the rock was also very expensive and so not to waste it (that’s when you don’t get all the rock in the truck and some spills over) and also not to scrape the ground because you don’t want to get the clean rock dirty with soil (because you can’t get dirt in the landfill – go figure?).

“Now move that rock.” He said and then he was gone from my side.

That’s it? I was trained? Ummm. Isn’t there a manual to read or something? A video to watch? A course I should take? I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be left alone with this very huge, very expensive piece of equipment.

Oh but I wasn’t really alone because despite what my good buddy Calvin told me, I wasn’t in the back of the site playing in the dirt by myself with some left over machine. Oh no, I was in the middle of the site with all the men standing around with their arms crossed watching me, probably hedging bets on what would happen next. As I tried to fill up that huge rock truck (what I would have called a dump truck) that’s when their day’s entertainment began.

To say I found it hard would be an understatement. Stressful, confusing, embarrassing, frustrating – those are some words that come to mind as being accurate.

I can see how being proficient in video gaming might have helped with this task or having a natural aptitude – neither of which I had. At one point I was so mixed up I wanted to scream. Patrick appeared and said, “Stop. Take your hands off the controls. Breathe. Now, start again.”

It was a long morning but let me tell you when I got that bucket filled and dumped that clean rock into the big truck it was a magical feeling. Watching the rocks rain down like a waterfall, listening to the sound of them hitting the metal sides of the truck – it was the most surprisingly beautiful sound I had ever heard. I will never forget those musical rocks.

After the men had their laughs and I had enough humiliation, I hopped out of the cab – these guys had some real work to do and they could do more in a hour than I could do all day!

Besides a new and healthy respect for those trades my biggest take away was Patrick’s last piece of advice. “Stop. Take your hands off the controls. Breathe. Now, start again.”

Whether it’s operating heavy equipment, completing a professional project, dealing with a tricky relationship or one of the many multitudinous tasks during our week; stopping, taking our hands off the metaphorical controls and taking a breath before reengaging is probably some of the best advise you can get.

And when will I be going back for my next construction experience you ask? Pretty sure that will be never!

Stop. Take your hands off the controls. Breathe. Now, start again – it’s just one more way to live Your Life, Unlimited!

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