When The Rubber (cone) Meets The Road


January 12, 1991|By Rob Kasper

I want some cones. The big rubber cones, in bright fluorescent colors. The kind workmen put down on the street or the sidewalk.

I used to think that these cones were a definite signal that some repair work was actually under way. But lately I've come to believe that when the cones go down it simply means "work being contemplated."

I came to this conclusion after noticing that while I may see the cones on a job site, I often don't see anybody working. Nonetheless, if the cones are on the ground, I still get the impression that things are under control.

I learned this a few months ago when cones appeared at the Guilford Avenue exit of the Jones Falls Expressway. I dodged those cones for several days and never once saw workmen or any sign of construction. Then one morning the cones were gone. The "work" had been completed.

I know this drop-a-cone-on-it technique could come in handy for my home repair jobs. When the second-floor commode starts "singing," for example, rather than immediately going through the trouble of working on the ballcock, I'll just put a cone out. The cone would be a sign to the family that "something is wrong and I'm thinking about fixing it."

This cone-carrying message of "I'll get to it eventually" would work for the leak in the laundry room sink, as well. Instead of crawling underneath the sink and replacing a cracked slip nut, I'll just put a cone out.

Moreover, I've noticed that if real live workmen are sighted in the vicinity of cones, it is a signal to slow down. Any approaching traffic slows down, and so does the pace of work being done by the crew.

I learned this from watching the outfit that worked on the bridge on I-83 near Ruxton Road. They were big fans of rubber cones and deliberate work. It took them longer to repair the bridge than it took other crews to repave the entire Jones Falls Expressway.

But real masters of cone technique are the guys that have been ripping up the street in front of my house. They didn't put any cones out to herald their arrival. They simply parked a vehicle about the size the size of Tyrannosaurus rex on the street and left it there, along with a mound of sand.

It was a warning that they were taking over the street.

They did.

They began their day by having all the cars parked on the street towed away. Then their giant shovel would dig up the street and in the process snap big limbs off the trees that had been struggling, as city trees do, to grow over 10 feet tall. The guys' apparent goal was to put concrete pads in the section of the street where the buses, from the No. 28 line, rumble to a stop.

The guys put cones out at the end of the day. They put them out as a warning. They signaled that there was a ditch between the curb andstreet. And the cones warned that the crew and their accompanying tow trucks could return at any time.

Whether or not the workmen and the tow trucks actually came back seemed to depend on the weather. Winter is generally a lousy time to try to pave. So the progress of the paving job has been slow. The ditch between the curb and the street has been filled in. And the cones have come down.

The disappearence of the cones worried me because the street had still not been repaved.

I thought the cones, like the swallows from Capistrano, had disappeared for the winter, leaving the street looking like the bottom of a bird cage.

But yesterday as I was out shoveling snow off the front walk I saw a hopeful sign. A section of the street had collapsed.

And there in the snow, surrounding the hole, were some rubber cones.

The cones are a harbinger of spring. That, I figure, is when the work will finally be finished.

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