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  • Early winter 1980. My lobster traps were stacked on the bank, buoys and bait bags bundled. Inshore fishing done for another year. Winter was too long a season to face alone, so, reluctantly, I left the island.

    First day, restless with life ashore, Jeff called. They had a job, down in Miami, if I could get to Lewiston that evening I could drive down with them.

    I’m on my way, I said. How long was it going to take to throw a few clothes in a bag, walk out the door, stick out my thumb?

    It’s a non-union job, he said.

    OK, said I, like I knew what this meant.

    I got there as they were loading the cars. Jeff and Craig had found work in the coal fields of Wyoming. Building the huge silos that stored the soft coal to fire up the lagging economy. The money and the stories were fabulous.

    Their cars were new and no one else was going to take the wheel so they drove. Drove like bats out of a northern hell towards the sunshine and blue skies of the Gulf. One wild ride the entire length of the eastern seaboard of the USA. One long, wild chase scene along the interstate. Them spitting Skoal into cans. Jazzed. Weaving through whatever local, mom and pop, traffic we were passing through. Skating cross lanes to get close enough at 100 miles an hour to pass joints back and forth from car to car.

    The job was to build 3 joined silos each more than 200 feet tall by the end of the 10 day job. I never saw them in the day light. They were always three giant tubes, floodlit, rearing into the industrial dark. Each set up off the ground so freight trains could drive through and fill up with dry cement. The first night we were at ground level, walked right on to the platform where we were to work round and round for the next week and a half. Later on we climbed the scaffold stairs up into the night to reach our floor.

    We were iron men. We tied the long framework of steel rebar together with twisty knots of wire. We carried spools of wire on our belts and number nine pliers in holsters on our hips. We wore leather palmed gloves, White Mules, and a pair didn't make it through a night. The palms tore to shreds from the rebar sliding through in the course of night.

    We worked 12 hour shifts, ours was the night shift, 6-6. All night we moved to the ticking of the huge hydraulic jacks as they raised the platform and us up and up into the velvet Miami night all spangled with the lights of parties and boats and high rises and us going round and round tying the lengths of steel.

    The foreman, a dark haired wild man, came around to check the tightness of the wire ties. He stood and jumped on the horizontal rods and if they shifted cursed us for assholes and pussies and worse. He checked for steel toes on our boots by stomping on our toes. The engineers and company men set the pace of the jacks and he rode us hard to keep up. Time was money for all of us.

    One of the guys who drove down with us was a college football player, the team captain, a quarterback, all broad shouldered and fit. I was awed by his physique and assurance. He left after the second night. Packed his stuff and hoofed her for home, never said a word.

    One night the word went round the site. Some crazy motherfucker had shot John Lennon. There in the dark and toil, I nodded, something had passed but it was more than I could do just then to wonder what.
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