The enormous flatbed semi-trailer was pulled along the side of a quiet, tree-lined street in our neighborhood. The bed of the trailer, which I later learned was 45 feet long, was loaded with 14 concrete pipe sections, each of which looked to be about 3 feet in diameter and 4 feet long.
The driver got out of the cab, walked the length of his rig and released a fork-lift device at the back of the bed. This allowed the nearest pipe to be rolled off the bed, supported by the fork, and gently lowered to the ground. The driver then rolled the pipe a few feet before blocking it with a 2 x 4 chock. He casually rolled off the next two sections of pipe in the same manner, climbed back into the cab of the rig, moved it forward about fifteen feet, and repeated the entire process with the next three pipe sections.
I watched, fascinated by the control this man had over such large chunks of concrete. By the time he got to pipe number four, he had added a new step to the dance: another length of 2 x 4 was placed before the penultimate section of pipe to ensure that only one section rolled off the bed at a time. By section number seven, yet another step was necessary. The driver had to place a 2 x 4 across the width of the flatbed about half-way down its length so that the remaining sections of pipe wouldn't pick up too much speed as they rolled along the bed. He knew exactly where to place this barrier so that the momentum of the rolling pipe was slowed. A couple of times, one of the pipes would take off at a slight angle or look perilously close to steamrolling its way to freedom, but the driver had yet another 2 x 4 in his hand, which he used much like an elephant hook to correct the wayward object.
Finally, my curiosity overcame me. From the safety of the opposite side of the road, I opened conversation by yelling, "There's quite an art to this, isn't there?"
"Yeah, and today's my first day on the job," the driver replied.
Stunned, it took me longer than it should have to see his mischievous grin. "Nah," he admitted, "I've been doing this for a long time."
Indeed, his hair was gray and his skin leathery, but he moved with the grace of a man half his age.
"So what does one of those things weigh?" I asked.
"Twenty-five hundred pounds or so," he replied, casually correcting a pipe that had started rolling off-center.
I watched for a few more minutes, not wanting to be a nuisance or a distraction. Visions of runaway 2-ton pipes careening down Sheridan Road kept me quiet, and eventually, I resumed my walk. Later, when Woki and I were on our second stroll of the day, I noticed that another load of pipe had been deposited, bringing the total number of concrete sections to 28. This time, I ventured closer. I went up to a section, which on its side stood as high as my waist. I pushed just a little. Nothing. I pushed it a bit harder. Still not even the merest sense that it might move. I probably could have pushed with all my might (not that I would have dared) and never have budged any of those babies one inch. They sat inert. The magic was gone. It had only been the skill of that man whose name I never asked that made 2500 pound ballerinas out of concrete pipe.