The Hole that Nobody Owned

Memoir Mondays

It’s a strange and foolish trait of human nature that we will often find ourselves doing an extraordinary amount of work in order to avoid doing a very small amount of a different kind of work. My father always referred to this phenomenon as the “lazy-man’s load”, in reference to many people’s habit of struggling to carry half their body weight in grocery bags all at once rather than making multiple trips with less weight.

I’ve seen quite a lot of variations of this type of idiosyncrasy¬† over the years, and today I’m going to tell you about one that still has me shaking my head over two years later.

I was working a job at a construction site that my coworkers and I were commissioning, and I was working on the control system end of things, which meant that I spent my days hanging out in the control room. This control room – which was, in actuality, a full building – is where the plant operators spend their entire shift, and as such it was designed for continuous human occupancy (full kitchen, washrooms, etc.). At the time of this story, however, the water treatment plant had not yet been started up, so we couldn’t actually¬† use the permanent washrooms. Instead, a temporary wash trailer had been set up off to one side of the building. That was all find and good, but because of the grading of the land around the building (mostly steep inclines) and the fact that safety is a very big deal on this particular site, there was only one approved access path between the building and the wash trailer.

And this is where the story begins to get silly, because one day a hole appeared in that path.

It was no small hole, either, like something the local wildlife could have burrowed overnight. No, this hole was a good four or five feet deep, and wide enough around for a slim person to fit right in.

Understandably, this became an issue very quickly, because our designated pathway was hardly twice the width of the hole, and we didn’t want anyone to accidentally fall in on the way to or from the toilet. One of our safety people was therefore called immediately, and we were told that it would be taken care of.

And it was…in the form of someone putting¬† a couple of pylons and some caution tape around the hole.

Immediately we began to complain. For one thing, the pylons only made what was left of our path smaller and more difficult to traverse, and it wasn’t as though the plastic, yellow caution tape was going to stop anyone falling if they happened to slip. We spent a good week asking our safety people what on Earth they were playing at while we had to shimmy by the hole and it’s decorative tape every time we needed to relieve ourselves. Surely this wasn’t the kind of “safety” that the site was known for. Surely someone had to be yanking our chains.

Finally, when we’d just begun to wonder if anything was every going to be done, it was… Someone removed the pylons and caution tape and replaced them with a sheet of plywood on top of the hole.

For the twenty-some people who were working in the control room at the time, that piece of plywood was a little like a slap in the face – they’d replaced a fall hazard with a tripping one, and since the plywood wasn’t even affixed a trip could easily enough domino into a fall. As far as we were concerned they’d actually made the problem worse, so we complained again, and it was at this point when we started to ask the questions that were seemingly being ignored:

Who the hell dug the hole anyway?
What was it there for?
Was there any reason that it couldn’t be filled in?
Who was going to take responsibility?

The hole had first arrived before my shift. I’d come into the shift a day or two before the caution tape was replaced with the plywood, and by the time my 14-day shift was over the plywood was still there. Despite the fact that we brought the hole up every single morning, no one could answer any of our questions. No one seemed to have the slightest clue why the hole had been dug, what the reason for it was, or when it was going to be filled back in. No one wanted to claim it, and no one wanted to take responsibility for it.

Approximately five weeks after the hole first appeared, when I had come back for another shift, I got off the bus, looked over toward the hole, and nearly cried from a mixture of laughter and disbelief. While I’d been away on my time off they had built a little wooden bridge with handrails over the hole. They didn’t fill it; they built a bridge over it.

Not a single person in the control room could believe the ridiculousness of it. We were surrounded by miles upon miles of dirt in every direction, but rather than taking responsibility for the hole, declaring that it was unnecessary, and filling it, someone had decided to tape it off, and then cover it with a board, and then task a carpenter to build a goddamn bridge over it.

Weeks of complaints, unreasonable “solutions”, and finally several hours work for a carpenter to avoid accepting responsibility and letting someone with a shovel take half an hour to fill the hole in. My coworkers and I didn’t stop laughing about it for weeks.

No one is exempt from this odd human trait of avoiding the easiest possible path – least of all, me – but this is one example that always comes back to mind because of just how absurd it seemed at the time. So, to whomever really did dig that hole: thanks. Thanks for the entertainment.:P