July 9, 2015

As told to me by an aging participant on his deathbed

It was in the early 1970s and Nixon had announced a general withdrawal from Vietnam. The Military Industrial Complex was in a general panic. After a decade of record profits, the slowing of the war machine was going to hurt business. Something had to be done.

The delegates met at Camp David, no public site could contain such a secret gathering. The President, leading politicians from both parties, mob bosses, CEOs from Rand and General Dynamics among others,, leaders from the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO, bankers, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs were all invited. The Hippies and Peaceniks were not on the guest list. For three days men bullied, browbeat, argued, and compromised. The end plan was brilliant. All fifty Governors of the States were brought in small groups to gain their support and agreement under the threat of strikes, funding cuts, base closures, and political ruin. Some claim it was Howard Hughes who developed the scheme, his last act of genius before paranoia and insanity crept in. In any case all in attendance agreed with the plan. No lawyers drew up contracts, no documents were signed. Everyone could see the benefits. Every one would profit, no one would suffer.

Four sites were chosen, discreet but near major transportation arteries. The best engineers at Cincinnati Milicron went to work designing the giant injection molding machines. Scientist at the oil companies collaborated on the plastic compound.  The trucking companies, the unions and the Mafia worked on logistics. The military handled security. Just 21 months later production began.

The big injection molding presses hummed and hissed. Molds spat out hundreds a shift. Robots applied reflective decals and vetted workers oversaw it all. Every week a shipment went to a given State in a rotating list based on the geographic size and miles of roadways of that State. The orange construction barrel was born.

The states tried storing them, selling them, grinding them up for playgrounds and asphalt base, but the shipments still came, year after year; thousands and tens of thousands until only one thing was left to do. No one knows which state DOT thought of the solution first, but soon all fifty states followed suit. Mile after mile of lanes would be closed on the interstates, orange barrels placed every ten feet, providing storage for the never ceasing supply. The solution was brilliant, it looked like progress on the highways, even though nothing is ever done, and each night a select few orange barrels would be destroyed by passing vehicles, demanding a replacement.

And that, my friends is how a secret cabal came together to ensure your trip is plagued by mind-numbing traffic delays and your lingering impression of America's highways is not the roadside attraction, the Teepee Hotels, the Giant Peach, the world's largest rubber band ball, but rather an unending succession of orange barrels. And the secret plants continue to produce the barrels. Sometimes, on a silent summer night you can hear the thump of hydraulics as the mold halves spit yet another orange barrel.


4 comments:

mts1 said...

Brilliant! Nice description of how the TRUE state flower in all 50 states, the one that springs forth from the ground as soon as the ground thaws, and stays in full color until nearly Christmas, came to being.

I do miss the old road construction horses. They made outstanding work bench easels, or so I've heard, ...

Now to find a way to describe how socks transform into hangers, which must be what happens, as I seem to lose socks one at a time as I gain hangers one at a time, in parallel succession.

Joe said...

Thank you, sir. I'm glad someone appreciated it

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I once drove 50 miles on the PA Turnpike (east of Breezewood) on a section that was barreled down to one lane and had a 40MPH construction zone speed limit enforced (yes, cops were out and they were ticketing)...and not a lick of work was being done on a single inch of it. The construction was actually finished but the contractor hadn't taken up any of the barrels or removed the construction zone signs.

A number of years before, I had encountered the same thing going south from Washington, PA, on I-79, all the way to the PA/WV state line.

And before that, I knew a guy who worked for INDOT who told me that part of his job was to drive construction zones every night to make sure that the contractors had actually removed the barrels from daylight repair sites. Apparently they were fined if they left them blocking traffic overnight...

Joe said...

I was once told that construction never ends on the PA Turnpike. Crews move W to E and E to W back and forth for ever. It is a big plum and contractors pay plenty to get the job.

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