Thursday, July 13, 2006

Public Works

When I was in elementary school at Nelson Place, a dude came in and talked with us about Union Station. Now, I'm not 100% sure where the guy was from - presumably one Worcester public works department or the other - but we sat in the library and listened to him talk about how it had been a total mess, even talking frankly about how bums lived in it and other things people don't usually mention to elementary school kids. He told us about how they had the old blueprints for those fantastic towers and the interior, and that they were making enormous molds to recreate all of it...and he told us that "around the time you guys are getting your drivers licenses, it will be finished."

Well hell if he wasn't right. Union Station reopened in July of 2000, the same year I got my license.

Admittedly, I got my license late, but the fact remains that for a public works project to remain within two years of its planned completion date is not to damn bad. I've been thinking a lot about the Union Station guy, whoever he was, in recent days with the Big Dig accident.

The thing with public works is that lots of crap is going to go wrong. There's nothing you can do about it, there's no special technique to make everything go right. The thing you have to do is keep an eye on HOW things are going wrong and do what you can to divert the quota of screwups into small, inconsequential things, i.e. manage things so that the workers can't install the wrong cabling system, but they can screw up by having random backhoes arrive in the wrong locations. To do that you have to have someone - the bigger the project, the more someones - on the ground, constantly, whenever work is going on, just so they KNOW when something happens. When a huge piece of concrete falls off the machine carrying it, they'll know. When people are finishing installations way to quickly, they'll know. And from knowing, they can inspect the situation and remedy it, and that's what keeps public works from being public humiliations.

I was in my sophomore year of college when I met a chick from North Dakota who knew about the Big Dig. Her Dad was really into stuff like that - big machines, building bridges, digging giant holes, constructin' stuff, all that jazz. Right now, her dad is probably cracking up over the discovery that the 90 West connector is even worse than the 90 East one, from which a panel fell out and killed someone. He's probably laughing even harder because of the political maneuvering going on. This goes back to political machines, and pulls in unions. The reason machines failed was that they stopped being about doing something and became more about the raw BEING of being in power. Machines came to power because they did something solid for the citizens they more or less owned - kept an eye on them, took care of them, pulled them up when they needed it. It wasn't always legal, but the exception was allowed to stand because there was a benefit to everyone in some way. When that benefit decreased in the interest of increased luxury for the elite, the system broke down and stopped working. The same thing happens with unions - they are fantastic when they assure you that you have hired or partnered with a skilled, bonded group of people, but fail when the work is slow, unfinished, shoddily done. This is the issue here - the "shit happens" aspect of the Big Dig was allowed to cover too many screwups, and the work was crap.

Now, again in the interest of the whole story - I do not like Matt Amorello. This has nothing to do with his job in his current position, but instead with what I saw of him in his run against Jim McGovern in 1998. Even in middle school, early in my political lifetime, I could feel that Amorello was running not for the chance to make a difference, not to have his thoughts heard, not to help people in the 3rd District, but because he wanted to be amidst the fraternity of it all. It's fine to want that, but you have to balance it with wanting to do something with your position, for my respect at least. He seemed slimy to me, seemed less than caring, seemed not quite into it for the right reasons. It made me dislike him pretty quickly, especially in comparison to McGovern.

Le sigh.

At least it's the weekend. I am having dissatisfaction with my Amazon Wish List - not because it's not awesome, because I love Amazon - but because I am thinking about how I can't afford all the books I want, and then I think "well, I'll just go to the library," but if I do THAT, then I won't HAVE the book, and once I read a book I feel like the people and places and stories in it are mine and I want to have them so I can go back and hang out with them whenever I want. I wish I could buy all the books in the world so I could read them whenever I wanted.


  1. Two comments:

    First, I like the west end of I-90. The only part worse than the Mass Pike end is the part that runs through Gary, Indiana. Nastiest smelling place EVER.

    Second, I am having the same problems with my Amazon/ Barnes & Noble lists. I couldn't have said it better. I need to own the books. Besides, I always forget to return them to the library if I borrow. The fees I pay are about equal to purchase price. Oy.

  2. Oh, and by west end I really mean the west end. Like the part in Seattle. Granted, the bridge TO Seattle sucks during rush hour, but damnit--it leads to another awesome baseball park. :)