The Flagger

They used to be so blonde - big hair, tight jeans. They would stand in the summer blaze turning browner with each flick of their cigarettes. Their signs gave you real direction - when to STOP, when to GO. But lately they've grown doughy - paler faces, wider hips, softer overall, like this one today who holds her sign uncertainly as she looks down the mountain road toward men with backhoes and jackhammers. She glances at her feet unable to meet my eyes, as if wondering why I'm here at the front of the line on this blue August day. Her bewilderment grows with the line of cars and every few moments she glances at the octagonal sign raised above her frowsy head as if to make sure its still there, still telling us all what we need to do.

In my mirror I see people spill out from their stymied cars, watch a pencil-legged man, Diet Pepsi in hand, saunter up to ask, how much longer? Her answer is absorbed by asphalt, by the hum of my engine. It occurs to me that being first in line carries a duty Iíve overlooked so I decide to leave my car, get some answers. She looks off down the road until Iím inches away from her, then issues a small smile, mumbles that it never takes this long. And at that moment, as if on cue, we hear the whistle, the signal to move, and she shoots me a look, shifts her head in the direction of my parked car. As I scurry back to take my place, she waves faintly toward the snaking line, and checks her sign to make sure it still reads "SLOW".