I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road Searchin’ in the sun for another overload I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
“Wichita Lineman” written by Jimmy Webb 1968, first performed by Glen Campbell
The common Man… the blue collar Hero. Billy Joel said ‘Wichita Lineman’ is “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.” You just can't assume that you know what's going on in somebody's mind. So how great was it when I got to talk to the linemen who were repairing Ocean Reef’s main power line; as they removed, replaced and reattached electric lines on the concrete poles lining Marina Drive, that had been broken, in some cases on both the top and bottom, by suspected tornado activity.
Meet Justin Farmer of Harlan County, KY, home to coal mine workers and country musicians. He operates the boom that lifts the massive poles into position. Seated at the controls, his beautiful and battered American flag ripples in the breeze. I listen carefully as he speaks in a heavy southern accent.
Me: Who do you work for?
Me: Lyman? That’s the company?
Justin: No, I’m a Lineman. It’s the Brotherhood of the Linemen. It’s a line of work. Our motto is “ I am my bother’s keeper.” It’s because we spend so much more time with each other than we do with our families.
Keeper, meaning protector or defender, and someone you respect enough to poke fun at.
For a lineman, It is hard to know what day it is. This particular crew works for Davis H. Elliot Co., Lexington, KY, and just came off Harvey damage in Tennessee, two nights on the road not knowing where they would be after Irma, traveling and sleeping in a Walmart, Jacksonville, FL parking lot. Laughing, Justin tells the story about how we pulled in and two guys went into the Walmart, bought themselves hammocks and strung them between utility trucks. In the morning Justin woke to find one guy had tied his hammock to his truck. At this point in telling the story (he could hardly contain his laughter), Justin said he took out his pocket knife and videoed a “pretend” cutting of the hammock rope as the guy slept.
I explained, I’m taking these photos, and I’d like you to see them in my photo journal. Justin pulls out his phone to write the web address, and it took a while to convey the letters, dots and slashes in the right order. Justin apologizes, “I can’t write real well, that’s why I do this job.”
I say, “I am sure you could do this job in your sleep.” He replies, “That’s when you die. A lot of things we know have been written in blood, by the people who have given their lives to keep us safe.” Rules written in blood. Holy global warming exhaust! I am being blown away by this guy’s sage wisdom.
In order to stand the utility poles upright, called “plumbing the poles”, two guys are positioned at 90 degrees, eyeballing the straightness. And when I say eyeballing, though one guy is holding a string stretched vertically in line with the pole, the other was just looking it it with his two eyes. I say, how can you do that? He replied that he has an astigmatism in both eyes, so he can plumb the poles without tools. So, “You were born for this job!” He replies: “No, ma’am I didn’t know about it until two years ago.”
Being without electricity, it’s a little thing, but it can really change your entire day. Heroes. Justin says they hear from the people they are helping that the linemen, who are out of town, far from loved ones and family, are their heroes. But no, he says. The real heroes are you, the displaced, you are the one’s not in your home.
Justin: “I’ve never been interviewed by a real journalist.”
Me: “I’m not. Or maybe I am.” I was trained as a journalist at the University of Florida, however like the hurricane, my career was blown off track by a family illness. I explained, I became my mother’s keeper until she passed, in the summer of 1979. Because of this storm, I rediscovered a part of myself that had gone dormant for 40 years.
Thanks Justin for coming into our community, patching us up. Making us whole again.
This photographic website provides me the opportunity for self-expression, for sharing