Do you ever find the internet to be overwhelming, emotionally exhausting, even toxic? Not only is there far more than anyone can absorb, it seems everyone has become obsessed with broadcasting every thought that enters their head, everyone yelling “See me! See me!” It is as if the human race has been in the isolation ward for thousands of years and has just been released and the result is billions of voices trying to outshout each other for your and my attention. It is like a communications gold rush, an explosion of individual and corporate narcissism. Understatement is a thing of the past as everyone gushes how wonderful they are, how uber-successful they are, and how much they want to help us. Opening our Inbox is like attending a rock concert and the star of the show comes out to thunderous applause and tells us, his fans, how much he loves us. Each and every nameless one of us. Only the internet raises the bar because it remembers and auto-inserts our names so we can better feel the love.
Maybe this is why I have to tell you about a small band of strangers that invaded my neighborhood this week and left an indelible footprint on our small community. There was no announcement, no hype, no advance billing. No one wanted my email address. They did what they came to do, and left as stealthily as they had arrived.
Four days ago a low-boy truck arrived with several Bob-Cats on the back, and within another 24 hours a group of about a dozen workers descended on the front lawn of the apartment complex where I live and began the construction of a 10 foot wide sidewalk that will, when completed, circumnavigate a significant portion of the city. We didn’t know the sidewalk was coming to town, and these surprise intruders quietly fanned out with shovels, picks, and BobCats and began tearing up the lawn.
Their teamwork and coordination were worthy of the NBA playoffs. They were not only expert at what they did, they seemed to wordlessly anticipate each other’s moves and needs. Their handoffs were so smooth you almost didn’t notice. There was no one running around shouting orders, no slackers, no one waiting to be told what to do. There was no way for an outsider to even figure out who the boss was. I know. My wife and I watched them from our balcony and tried to single him out from the others. We couldn’t. Eventually I went down and asked. Quiet, unassuming, polite and clearly focused on the work at hand, Tom Farley had to go to his truck to find a business card to give me. He appeared to be slightly relieved when this minor interruption was over and he could get back on task. Wet concrete waits for no one.
I am a freelance writer and the sidewalk was being constructed directly underneath my balcony. I am accustomed to neighborhood noises, dogs barking, occasional yelling, even kids running in the hallway. Things like that don’t interrupt my workflow; I have learned to block them out. But for the next three days I found it difficult to concentrate, not because of the human noise below, but because of the lack of it. From those wielding picks and shovels to others directing the flow of concrete, everyone seemed to know exactly what to do and the precise time to do it, without getting in each other’s way. I’ve never thought of construction and construction workers as poetry in motion, but watching this team of deeply bronzed workers, from young bucks to late middle aged machinery operators, was mesmerizing. In three days they transformed lawn and mosquito pits into a beautiful sidewalk a quarter mile long, with the topsoil raked and restored to the edge of the new sidewalk as if it had always been there.
With almost no internet footprint, Ti-Zack Concrete out of the small town of LeCenter, MN is a study in understatement; a flawlessly orchestrated production without aggrandizement of the conductor. No one was bragging, no one was trying desperately to stand out in a crowd, to be seen. They were so ridiculously out of fashion. They paid attention to the smallest details as if they really mattered, when no one was watching (except me). They were so self-effacing I felt it incumbent upon me to tell somebody about them, because I think they would almost be embarrassed to talk about themselves. If you are in the center of the nation, from the Great Plains states south to the Mexican border, I hope you need a sidewalk because theirs is a show not to be missed. Tom’s card says you can reach them at 507-357-6463.
To use an internet metaphor, Tom’s sidewalks are his product, his content, if you will. The power of his message was in the people who delivered it, his team. No megaphone required.