We all know other drivers can be morons. Margaret Wong-Thomas, a South King County utility worker who frequently flags traffic at road-repair sites...
We all know other drivers can be morons. Margaret Wong-Thomas, a South King County utility worker who frequently flags traffic at road-repair sites, can offer documentary proof.
The impatient. The rude. The profane. The insulting. The cell-phoners who blow past warning signs without noticing, then complain when they suddenly have to brake.
“Twice I’ve had to throw my sign paddle at their windshield to get them to notice and stop,” Wong-Thomas says. “It was either the paddle or me.”
And Wong-Thomas, a cheerful 43-year-old of Hawaiian-Chinese-Filipino descent, is hard to miss in hard hat and safety vest. On the worst days she’ll be armored with long underwear, rain gear and glove warmers, and still get cold.
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“Standing is hard.” It’s wet, dusty, dangerous, thankless work.
King County utility workers take turns flagging, which is one of 20 or so jobs they might be assigned on any particular day. Before being allowed to direct traffic, they undergo training in signage, hand signals, barricades and safety gear, renewing their knowledge every three years. Pay typically ranges from $17 to $22 an hour (it can be higher for private-industry flaggers) and the responsibility is to avoid serious accidents.
“If it’s a very busy road it’s very challenging,” she says. “You’ve got to be very alert.” The time — about two hours between breaks — goes fast. Bathroom breaks are snatched where they can: Honey Buckets, McDonald’s, fire stations.
Most drivers are polite and a few are solicitous. She’s been offered coffee by homeowners when working in residential areas, but isn’t allowed to take it.
“I also get a lot of flip-offs. You take a lot of verbal abuse.” If it gets too bad, “I’m really aggressive. You put your game face on.”
Everybody wants good roads and everybody hates road construction. And a frightening number of drivers just don’t pay attention.
Pay attention to Wong-Thomas. She slung luggage at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport before moving to the county job 10 years ago — and could snap you like a twig, Sports-car Boy.
She hasn’t been struck by a car yet. If she ever is, she says with a laugh, “They better hit me good and not let me come up!”