YOU CAN TALK all you want about spotting the first robin or the crocuses blooming, but to me the official harbingers of spring are the colorful "Construction ahead" signs that dot every highway in the land.
Spring means the familiar smell of exhaust fumes as dump trucks, their suspension sagging under two tons of fill, wheeze into a construction site on the interstate that's causing a 10-mile backup.
Spring means the deafening roar of huge John Deere front-end loaders moving mountains of earth and narrowly missing the windshield of my car with their bucket. It means battalions of ruddy-faced men with hard hats leaning disinterestedly on their shovels and swapping the latest Roseanne Barr jokes while traffic slows to a crawl all around them.
It means a bored-looking college kid listlessly waving a red caution flag while counting the days until he returns to the more stimulating environment of Chaucer 101. It's an endless series of yellow "Merge left" arrows and roadside message boards flashing "Expect delays" until you scream.
Spring means a 45-minute trip on the interstate that now takes a maddening hour and a half because two lanes are closed for repairs and traffic has to squeeze over and then some jerk in a BMW (why is it always a BMW) decides to dart suddenly into the next lane and promptly gets rear-ended by a Buick which closes another lane as the owner of the Buick stops and gets out of his car waving a tire iron . . .
Spring. God, I love it.
This might be hard to believe, but I did not always take such an enlightened approach to highway construction delays.
Upon encountering such delays, my reaction was pretty much what you'd expect. First I'd bang my head repeatedly against the window, tear at my clothes in frustration and lapse into an uncontrollable weeping jag.
Then I'd check the urge to stomp on the accelerator, red-line the tach, pop the clutch and go hurtling through the construction site at 90 mph, scattering bodies like bowling pins until I was clear of the digging and could swerve back on the highway and resume normal travel.
My thinking was: Why are these people doing this to me? Why do they follow me from highway to highway with their freaking bulldozers and dump trucks and swarthy construction workers and traffic cones and "Merge" arrows?
All perfectly normal thought processes, I think you'd agree.
Then one day, someone (it might have been my wife) sat me down for a little chat. These highway construction projects represent your tax dollars at work, she said. Repairing or widening a major highway is complicated, exacting work. In order to do this, they must occasionally close lanes and inconvenience motorists. Try to be patient.
"You mean . . . they're not consciously trying to ruin my day?" I asked.
"They're consciously trying to ruin everyone's day," she said. "Don't personalize everything."
"Oh, this from a woman who can't even cook rice!" I said.
Well. You talk about a hothead. She threw a spoon at me and stomped out of the room. Incredible.
Still, I do have one lingering question: Why can't they do this highway construction at night when there's far less traffic and the only people they'd inconvenience would be (generally speaking) hookers, dope dealers and the odd Dunkin' Donuts baker or two?
Of course, when you put this to the highway construction people, they get this pained expression on their faces. Then they chew furiously on their wads of Red Man for several minutes before launching streams of tobacco juice to the sidewalk that invariably catch your shoes.
"Well, Kenny," they say finally, "it's like this . . ."
Uh, the name's Kevin.
"In order to work at night, we got to bring in these big ol' 'lectric generators and portable lights . . ."
"And we got to pay our workers night differential . . ."
"Trust me. It just wouldn't work."
Oh, I see. It would cost too much. It would be too inconvenient. But it's OK for me to keep banging my head against the window and tearing at my clothes and sobbing uncontrollably in these construction delays, is that it?
I'm really getting tired of this.