Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Landscapers’ reveille makes mockery of the real one

It’s a military tradition that being awakened, especially in basic training, has to be a momentous affair. The traditional bugle-blown notes have symbolized the need to get out of bed and get to the work of the military day.

Once that first note sounded, you weren’t even supposed to think hard about “the rack” where you laid your body down until 16 hours later.

Well, forget the bugle, because there’s another way to be awakened in the morning: the roar of landscapers’ equipment.

I still remember the first wake-up at Parris Island in August 1978. We had been picked up as a platoon that morning and were shouted through the rest of a day that seemed to get worse instead of better. Finally, we were allowed to put our tired 17-year-old and 18-year-old bodies into the beautiful sheets and lay our pounding heads onto the government issued pillows.

We were acclimated enough to the Marines to know that the next morning we’d be awakened by reveille. The senior drill instructor, who wasn’t yelling this time, informed us as we stood “on line” (toes on the two lines that ran down the squadbay) that the next morning, when reveille sounded, we were to leap from the rack, put on our flip-flops and stand on line and await instructions. By this time, that was all we could process in our brains.

I lay in bed that night and thought, “What have I gotten myself into,” and then fell asleep.

In the book “Battle Cry” by Leon Uris, he described that critical first awakening as being accompanied by the sound of a large metal trashcan being thrown down the squadbay. My version was a sudden explosion of white light over my closed eyelids, followed nearly instantaneously by one of the drill instructors shouting, “GET OUT OF THE RACK!”

Until we became accustomed to the short sleep, reveille often was a surprise and dragged us from dreamland to waking reality so quickly, my head hurt. One time, I was having a dream that I was back on the block and was listening to the soft guitar rhythms of the Led Zeppelin song “Ramble On” when reveille sounded and I was back in the world. That hurt.

In the Fleet, reveille still was relevant but for the most part the thing a Marine needed was an alarm clock because you might be getting up before reveille, or working the night shift and getting off after. Discipline regarding the rack was lighter in the air wing, and the need to have wide-awake night-side maintenance people meant you needed to let them sleep during the day, ordinarily in the military a sin almost beyond redemption.

On the USS Tarawa, reveille sounded with the bosun’s pipes, followed by “Reveille, reveille, heave out and trice up. Smoking lamp is lighted in all authorized spaces. Now, reveille.”

But when you’re in the civilian world, it’s almost inevitable that what’s going to awaken you in the morning is “landscapers’ reveille.” The roar of mowers, trimmers and blowers (especially the latter) can penetrate the deepest sleep and leave you trying to remember that dream you were having and enjoying before the space shuttle was launched next to your house.

In the business, the service is called “mow, blow and go” and the goal seems to be to blow dirt and grass clippings on all parked vehicles, and make sure no one sleeps in.

I cannot believe that with all our technological advancement we cannot create effective lawn equipment that doesn’t wake the dead. Yet we endure it. I dread seeing the inevitable crew-cab pickup truck, the Latino workers, the trailer with the lawn gear and blowers, and hearing the coughing rumble as the equipment’s two-cycle engines start up and the workers fan out.

On my walks near the university in Gainesville, I especially dread the blowers. These small, handheld, gas-powered dervishes pack a lot of noise in a small package, and can turn a quiet morning into a cacophony of sound that can make you long to live far, far away.

On a recent Sunday morning, a worker was given the assignment of “blowing” a nearby multi-story parking garage. Basically, the job was to move the dirt around, and he had a small handheld blower. I could hear him blowing the dirt from three blocks away, in bed, with the pillow over my head.

I got up, got dressed, donned my iPhone and listened to NPR, and saw him walking around the outside of the building, again blowing dirt around.

We are helpless before our lawn-care overlords, but one of the loudest pieces of equipment I ever heard was a leaf sucker at a local high school. I stopped there to cover a story one morning when I worked for The Bradenton Times, and it was deafeningly loud. Even worse, there was a surrounding residential neighborhood.

At 7 a.m. on a weekday, an ear-muffed maintenance worker ran the device up and down the sidewalk of the school, leaving a trail of people screaming in each others’ ears or holding their hands over their ears. This is when folks dream of finding the spark plug wire and yanking it out and enjoying a quiet morning with tall grass, verdant bushes and blessed silence.


September 29, 2011 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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