Vroom. What Boys Like.

December 6th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

A funny confluence today was a YouTube share on FB of the Waitresses’ I Know What Boys Like. That, of course, was sexual innuendo, but there’s something else boys and men like. That came in news short about Dig This in Las Vegas.

Boys and men, and some women, like or love construction equipment.

The new big-boy playground in Nevada likely appeals even more to guys than driving fast cars does. Pretty much anyone with a credit card can do that. However, watch boys and men as they stare and gape at track mounted motorized tractors (bulldozers to you) and hydraulic excavators. They’re likely to make engine noises while looking too.

At a couple points in the early 1970s when I moved to NYC, I verified that love of huge machines two ways. First, I was along-term temp at MOMA, including working with then Curator of Design Emilio Ambasz. I also got a full-time job later writing for Construction Equipment magazine.

While at MOMA, my main job was as a lackey while he brought the Italian design show (Italy: The New Domestic Landscape) to life. That was great fun getting to work with the brilliant designer and the steady flow of Italian creatives. Beyond that though, I got excited enough to pitch him an idea for making an extensions-of-man exhibit, perhaps in Central Park. I saw everything from prostheses to earth movers. People would be able to be fitted with or use these, anything that amplified or corrected human bodies.

Ambasz professed to like the concept and we spoke of it repeatedly. In the end though, he didn’t want to own it, suggested I strike out on my own and make it happen, and negotiate with manufacturers and bureaucrats to handle theĀ logistics, particularly the huge insurance issues inherent in letting plain folk handle gigantic machinery.

While my only experience in construction had been two summers on a house-building carpentry crew during college, great writer and swell guy John Rehfield hired me for the magazine. When I asked him bluntly why he’d take someone without a civil engineering degree or heavy equipment expertise, he laughed and waved his arm toward the writers and editors. He said sagely, “I can teach you anything you need to know about construction. You’re a good writer. I can’t teach an engineer how to write.”

As the new kid, I had to handle the complex nationwide directory of equipment, bringing it from index cards to computer. I got to apply my journalism studies and newspaper experience to investigative pieces that that the engineers were not comfortable doing. Yet, John was also true to his word and taught me construction as well as sending me on job sites.

In was on the stories of dam projects and the like that I learned that heavy equipment brought out the boys in even the most experienced men. The guys who run those tower cranes, excavators, earth movers far too big to fit in the bulldozer category and more make the noises. Put them in the cabs of the most powerful machines and they are boys again, playing with construction toys, except those aren’t toys anymore.

Actually it was endearing to see and hear the tough and tanned heavy equipment operators having so much fun even after years doing it. They talked about their rigs the way kids do their toys.

As for the extensions-of-man show, John too was intrigued. He also ran through all the complexities to get it done, but thought it possible. Unfortunately, I was in my early 20s and did not have the experience or entrepreneurial bent to go after it. Then Construction Equipment moved to Chicago from across from the Daily News and I had little interest in going with it, leaving Manhattan. Shortly after, John, only in his 40s, got virulent cancer and died.

It was a good idea. Even in its very lesser form in Las Vegas, that subset is also a good idea. Next time I’m out that way, I’ll Dig This.


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