Editor’s Comments: Jorge and the Tooty-Fruities

May 1, 2000
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My neighbor Jorge owns a small earth-moving company-a dozer, two loaders, a grader, an excavator, two trucks, a yard full of attachments, and an open account with a nearby rental yard. He does a variety of one-off jobs around the area mostly for local contractors, except when it rains enough to cause cave-ins and mudslides and there’s a lot of clean-up work for various county and state agencies. Since anything over 2 in. in three days constitutes a catastrophe in our semidesert environment, the 14 in. we received in the same number of days this past February put enough money into Jorge’s bank account to set him on the path to some new equipment.

You have to understand that Jorge was born on a tractor or, if not literally so, at least close enough for his heart rate and other automatic functions to be synched to sounds of laboring diesels and clanking crawler tracks. In the military, he was assigned to operate heavy equipment instead of a typewriter. While he was clearing mine fields during the Gulf War, the family farm turned into a residential community and strip mall, giving him enough money to buy some equipment and go into business for himself when his tour of duty was up.

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The first time I became aware of Jorge was just after he had managed to bust loose a frozen nut from his dozer’s blade assembly, taking out several knuckles in the process. I was taking an evening walk and responded to what I thought must be a life-threatening event. It wasn’t-a fair amount of blood and some stripped threads were the extent of the damage-but I stayed to help him finish the operation. I told him I found his expletives about as colorful as any I had ever heard, but since then I’ve learned that Jorge has a storehouse of invective for almost any occasion, one of them being when I mentioned the subject of ergonomics.

“Ur-go-nomics!” he spat. “It’s a *%#!! plot by a bunch of lily-livered wimps who’ve played too many computer games!” Jorge held firm to his belief that such things as air-suspension seats, joystick controls, and hydraulically assisted steering mechanisms were the devil’s spawn.right up to the time last fall when his beloved 18th-century excavator went down for repairs in the middle of a job and the only rental available was loaded with all those same bells and whistles he loved to yell about. His immediate reaction was one of derision. “You ought to see this cute little toothpick for controlling the bucket,” he minced, nearly choking with laughter. “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks it breaks off before I’m done.” But by the next day his tune had changed. “The silly thing’s not too bad,” he temporized, and after another day he became downright effusive in his praise. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s all right,” he proclaimed, “but that seat’s still for wimps!”

Then with all the work from the rains this year, Jorge hired three extra helpers and rented an excavator and a loader/backhoe to meet the demand. This time, instead of grumbling about “wimpy stuff,” he selected the most feature-laden machines available, giving himself first choice on their use. “This is just to make sure they’re OK,” he explained to his crew, but by week’s end, he had parked his own machines and rented another pair of the “tooty-fruities,” as his troops had taken to calling the air-conditioned cream puffs. Jorge was not one to ignore the productivity advantages of the rental machine…”about 20% faster than what I had bid,” he admitted. And he has set aside the next two weeks for trying out replacements for his fleet.

“Ur-go-nomics,” he spat when I poked my head in his garage this last Sunday. “I still don’t hold with all that foo-foo stuff.” But what he means this time is the color-coordinated interior, CD player, and heated seat. Somehow I think that his feelings about the latter amenity would be different if the tailbone-to-cushion interface took place in North Dakota rather than southern California.