It always seems to happen this way.
It’s the day when I wear a skirt, or heels, or forget my coat hanging on the coat tree by the front door; it’s the day when I check my calendar and find my day empty of outdoor activity and so dress up; it’s the day that the skies are gray and the wind is cold and, often as not, the rain is falling.
And it’s the day a sudden assignment finds me picking my way between puddles, trying to stop shivering while normally recalcitrant sheriff deputies look like they’re laughing, and slow-speaking tow-truck drivers bring down umbrellas and say “I thought you all might need another umbrella” but look only at me, in my knee-length skirt and goosebump-covered calves.
Yesterday was one of those days. The rain hadn’t stopped falling since I woke up (and it hardly stopped today, either, until it turned to snow mid-morning and is coming still). I dressed up, for fun, to spite the weather. But when we got a call about gates destined for the Rainbow Bridge and built in a local shop just where any semblance town life fades into woods and scattered trailers and over sized trucks, I was the one to take the call.
And a few hours later, riding in the passenger seat of the photographer jeep, I watched the rain pick up and the wind bend the treetops and I regretted my fashion choice.
Our directions didn’t give me much hope for our destination, either. Left at the stoplight – the only stoplight. Right at the road just at the end of the houses, over a bridge that crossed a swollen, churning creek, across railroad tracks (fast to beat the coal truck creeping slowly in sight but still half a mile off). The road bordered the tracks and the creek, coming to a dead end in a tow lot. We pulled off the road, watched the rain falling in sheets on the gray gates stacked and tied down on a long trailer.
Coal shined black in heaps in the dusty coal cars moving slowly down the tracks behind it.
They met us there, the men who built the gates, standing in the pouring rain, and I sheltered my notebook under my coat and felt my hair plaster cold against my scalp. Several photo attempts later, we gave up, loaded up again and headed to the shop where we could talk without losing my notes to the rain.
The road leading to the welding shop was dirt, rutted and muddy. Signs warned caution. “Drive slow for dust control,” they shouted in red letters. At the end of the road the building stood in a clearing, tall, naked branches raised high all around, swaying against the sky. The rain was cold and I ran for the door, opening it to feel heat and smoke hit my face.
The air was thick with the smell of melting iron and steel, and sparks rose from one corner. I picked my way around equipment, scrap metal, and cords to the back kitchen, and the man laughed.
“Where’s your work boots?” he asked me.
Where indeed, I thought.
We talked then in the back kitchen, the man happy to answer any questions but of few words. It stank of stale cigarette smoke and I hesitated before sitting on the hard chair, stained by countless spills. But it was warm, and dry. And when we ran again out of the shop into the gray end of November, I wished again for boots. Or jeans. Or anything warmer than a knee-length skirt and heels.
Maybe it’s time to leave an emergency outfit stored safe here under my desk.