Wednesday, July 17, 2013

safety is a cold shower

The sight was nothing new.

Four boys riding on the bumper of a pickup as it sped across the quasi-cobblestones of Melaque.  I see similar sights every day.  In fact, they are so common, I usually do not even take note.

I suppose this particular truck stuck in my mind because I was telling a pickup story the other day to some friends at dinner.

When I was 6 or so, my family had been visiting my grandmother who lived about a mile from our house in Powers.  On the trip home, I was riding on the running board, and a question popped into my boyish noggin.  I wondered how the garbage men in town were able to step off of the running board of their moving truck.  While balancing a huge can of their shoulders.

Being a scientific lad, I decided to do my own experiment.  Then and there.  What I proved was that a young boy stepping off of a pickup going 20 miles per hour can be reduced to a cliché about tea kettles.

My dad noticed my pummel horse dismount, backed up the truck, and chuckled: "Are you coming with us?"  I guess I was -- and did.

I particularly like telling that story to my Mexican neighbors and to my northern acquaintances -- because I tend to get two different reactions.  Laughter in Mexico.  And, especially from parents of young children up north, horror.

That is one thing I like about Mexico.  I have mentioned it before.  Melaque, at least, reminds me of Powers in the 1950s.  No one has much, but we all know how to enjoy life without the help of government and its courtier regulators.

Take, for instance, what looks like a ragged floral centerpiece.

It is a manhole -- and the cover has gone missing.  During our heavy rains, these tiger traps can be deadly -- especially to our local buses that tend to break axles when they are pulled into these black holes.

And who needs a sign?  Palm fronds sticking up through the surface of a giant puddle is warning enough that trouble -- and not Gilligan's Island -- awaits the unwary.

But both of those situations are minor compared to the joy the painters have provided me.  During our heavy rains, the painters wisely used their time in scraping.  The house, though, presents some challenges.

Meet Jose, one of Benja's assistants.  That ladder he is on is not on the ground.  It is on the slanted roof of the patio.  A roof that is so slippery with rain, mold, and leaves that standing is a chore.

Having ridden two ladders to the ground in Salem while doing similar tasks under less-challenging circumstances, I could only stand in awe and watch him make the odds work in his favor.

This is Jonathan, Benja's nephew.  The windows on the north side of the house do not have a roof for access.  Just a steep overhang.

That was not a problem for Jonathan.  He managed to strip the old paint from the grill work while balancing in the rain.  At least in this shot, he is wearing shoes.  Most of the time he was wearing only sandals.

And then there is the maestro himself.  Painting the covering on the roof of the second story with his ladder supported (once again) by a slanted roof.  No safety harness.  No ties for the ladder.

OSHA, of course, would have a fit.  And the EPA would most likely have been very suspicious of the chemical contents of the primer.

But we don't have any of that here.  People regulate their lives with a good deal of common sense and experience -- with the full knowledge that what needs to be done needs to be done.

And they do it a lot better than a 6 year old boy in Powers who spent the rest of the day picking gravel out of his hands.


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