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Eugene Weekly : Living Out : 1.21.10




Barbie was Right

Flagging Desire, Part III

by Sally Sheklow

I enrolled in traffic flagger certification training. But could I learn a new job? Did I have the ovaries for this dangerous work? Would I pass the test? 

Doubts be damned, I drove to the training site. I’d dressed the part—Levis, lace-up boots, denim work shirt. I even deigned to wear a bra, lest the traffic I was learning to control be inadvertently diverted. (Wifey now calls that particular undergarment, despite its capacious cups, my training bra.)

I walked up the concrete driveway. Three middle-aged, rugged-faced men in safety vests leaned on an old pickup, talking and smoking — the good-ol’-boys club of traffic control. Could I hold my own working with these guys? I considered turning back, but to be a flagger I’d have to, er, woman up. 

Inside the converted-garage classroom a beer-bellied instructor took my fee and nodded toward the seats. Traffic control trainers have no mandate to be chatty. Or even friendly. 

Other flagger-hopefuls arrived —all guys. I chose an aisle seat and filled out my registration form (at least there was a box for Female.) The vested men from outside greeted the instructor with ye olde manly hand clasp and shoulder slap — experienced flaggers, in for their three-year recertification. Serious business.

I was the only woman, but women of power had preceded me. The instructor carefully referred to flaggers as “he OR SHE.” Thank you sisters!

I paid attention. Twenty feet between traffic cones. Warning signs in this order: “Road Work Ahead,” “Be Prepared to Stop,” “Flagger Ahead.” I learned the three —and only three —regulation hand signals to stop, slow, and redirect traffic (does not include middle-finger salute, even though the flagger I met last summer said she’d resorted to it.)

A whole section of the traffic control training addressed managing disgruntled motorists. Apparently not all traffic appreciates being controlled. Especially by a dyke

A film explained the dangers of the job (many!), annual statistics of road crew accidents (too many!), and ways to protect ourselves (not very many). Scary, but no way I’d chicken out now. 

Finally, the instructor handed out the test. A burly trainee across the aisle sighed, tapped his pencil against his clipboard, sighed louder. He was sweating it. 

Who knew so many calculations would be involved in flagging? Like the original talking Barbie observed, “Math is hard!” 

When it comes to protecting road crews and motorists — and yourself — Department of Transportation certified flaggers must work strictly by the book. I get that.

I double checked my answers, made sure I had at least my name and the date correct, and handed in my paper. Except for the sighing he-man pencil-tapper, I was the last trainee to finish.

Two piles of completed tests sat on the trainer’s desk. He put mine face down on the left pile. Had I failed? 

The instructor handed me a card. My rejection notice? 

No, it was my Temporary Flagger Certification. I’m in!

Mr. Trainer cracked an approving. smile. “Now get out there and get to work.” 

That is the plan.

Award-winning writer Sally Sheklow’s pursuit of happiness has been chronicled in Eugene Weekly since 1999.