The Operator


If my foulies could talk, I’m sure they’d have expressed mixed feelings. Sure, they were grateful for finally breathing fresh air again after being packed away since sailing across the north Atlantic, but this was fresh water running off of them. “What is up with this?” I’m sure they’d ask if they could, “Where’s the salt water? Where’s the rolling swell? Where’s the ocean? Aren’t we supposed to be circumnavigating?”
I don’t know how I would have broken it to them, probably slowly and gently. I would have started with how good they looked, clean and bright and yellow tastefully accented with dark blue set off by strategically placed reflective markers shining as bright as the headlights stopped along the remote gravel road. They looked good, very good, even if trapped on terra firma instead of their native endless seas.
With my day-glow yellow hood in place and my headlight strapped across my forehead shining out beneath it, I created a confident and commanding presence as I walked through the driving rain down the line of vehicles towards the deafening roar that lie ahead. So commanding, in fact, driver after driver rolled down their window and asked me, in a variety of equally incomprehensible Spanish language ways, what the heck was going on and exactly how long would it be before my crew had the bridge cleared and the road open again.
In reply, I repeated, in a variety of ways equally incomprehensible to them, in grotesquely butchered Spanish, that I was not in charge, did not command the Chilean highway system, and had absolutely no idea when the bridge would re-open. Based on their horrified expressions I was probably actually speaking the Spanish words meaning a cow’s entrails would be spread across their car’s interior, but, I took it as my mission to distribute confidence and positive thoughts through the dozen cars and trucks impatiently idling in line.
After each brief conversation I smiled confidently, nodded, and moved on towards what once had been a bridge over a minor creek on Chile’s famed Carretera Austral, deep in the southern reaches of Chilean Patagonia. In my wake, car after car and truck after truck executed a three point turn and headed back through the black night, pounding rain, and washed out road punctuated with landslides the 160 kilometers (100 miles) back to the nearest town. I had no idea what could cause them to flee with such urgency.

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