A crane operator has by far the most scenic view of a construction site. From his vantage point, always at a higher altitude than the rest of his colleagues, he gets to watch the building going up. He communicates through a walkie-talkie and in sign language, picking up loads from places he may not see, heaving them up, lowering them down. Lifting stacks of cement block, steel rebar or scaffolding rods. Relying on a predetermined arc of rotation. Working his gears with precision and efficiency. It's not within his purview to ensure the load is safely hooked to the tip of his suspended cable. But once he's given the green light, it's his job to move the load from point A to point B. Dancing around with his arms extended. Rising and falling to the rhythm of the work below. Befriending the sun and heavy winds. Keeping a set of binoculars at hand to aid his sharp eyes. Feeling his load, through intuition and experience and training, as the battered seats shudders and jitters beneath him. Coordinating the movements of his eyes and hands and to make sure the load doesn't swing; a swinging load is his first enemy. A full bladder is a close second.
A tower crane grows in height as the building itself grows. A tower crane is the custodian of a new born structure. It's the proprietor of its skeletal growth. Its reassuring presence exudes confidence and inspires hard work. With its three different combinations of linear and radial movements, it's capable of reaching any point in the three-dimensional space of a building. Patting it, caressing it, and feeding it material with the tenderness and care of child rearing.
But for all its enormity and grandiose posture, a tower crane isn't always active. Indeed, the operator enjoys a lot of idle time up there. Hours of heavenly solitude. Vertigo is out of question. Fear of heights unheard of. Long hours. Punctuated by planned bathroom breaks and a quick lunch. The journey up and down the cat ladder isn't something that can be performed frequently, even by fit and eager men.
I wonder if his binoculars ever come to use during these uneventful times. Checking out the vicinity, keeping an eye on fellow cranes nearby. Observing the mundane activities around; laundry being pegged to clotheslines, curtains drawn, balconies washed, flower-beds watered, school buses inching through traffic made of toy cars. Watching the indifferent life of birds, invariably using his arms as a perch. It must be a different perspective from the commanding cabin. Could he ever grow bored? Could he ever long to the life of earthlings? Could he ever grow accustomed to the relentless swiveling of his giant machine, his eyes covering miles and miles of sky and sea and dusty air and bickering humanity at each turn?
After sunset, when natural light dims, it's time to switch off the engines and put the dynamics of this machine to rest. And the operator descends the ladder, his only access to normalcy, gripping the bars with hands used to the delicate handling of gears and levers. It must be nice to have your feet on the grounds again. To be spared the perils of soaring heights and fuzzy physics.
I've been to the cabin of a tower crane today. The view was magnificent. The air smelled different. The passage of time was drawn out, as if the world was standing still. The moment my feet hit the ground again, I had the crazy urge to run. To shout and sing and point out to frowning men how silly they looked like in the grand scheme of things.
And I realized, with a conviction I can't articulate, how it makes perfect sense to keep the lights lit at night, on the arms of a tower crane.