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.