You can usually tell by their hands. Gnarled and rough, dry and cracked, bearing scars from years of twisting metal, pounding concrete, ripping lumber, stripping plastic and pushing and shoving all kinds of rough material into awkward shapes and tight places.
I've always had a thing for blue-collar workers, especially the guys who work in construction.
No, I'm not trolling for catcalls or wolf whistles. But whenever I see a bunch of men by the side of the road, or on top of a building, or leaning out of a bucket truck, my heart softens.
I was driving home the other night and ran into some terrible traffic. It was construction on the freeway and four lanes of cars were being funneled into one skinny strip of asphalt bordered by concrete barricades on both sides. After 45 minutes of stop and go frustration, I finally worked my way up to the actual construction site.
And there they were.
At 9 o'clock on a cold Saturday night, working dangerously close to the oncoming traffic, was a crew of guys (or at least they appeared to be guys) with their jack hammers, shovels, pick axes, and all the assorted trucks and diggers required to turn raw materials into a road.
I'm not quite sure what they were doing. But it didn't look fun.
Some of them were furiously shoveling gravel, the others were using their hands to guide an impossibly large piece of concrete hanging from a crane, into a very small space, pushing and shoving it with all their might.
As I watched them from my 5 mph crawl, I was struck yet again by what dangerous work they do.
Here they are on a Saturday night, literally risking their lives, or at least a finger or two, so we can have an extra lane on our highway.
Yes, I know they're getting paid. But how much would someone have to pay you to stick your hand between two huge pieces of concrete while one of them was dangling from a wire? In the wind. Next to oncoming traffic.
I don't want to be melodramatic here, but I often think that blue-collar workers are the unsung heroes of the American way of life. Not just the construction workers, but all the other people out there who fix and build stuff so that we don't have to worry about it. The thousands of real live human beings whose backbreaking labor makes America hum.
Doing work that is not only physically demanding, but also takes more brains than most people realize. You try figuring out how to level three tons of concrete on an even surface. As for the women who don hard hats, my little writer's cap is off to you. You're tough ladies, and yes, you are still ladies.
So the next time you see somebody with banged up hands, you might want to thank them. They very likely may have built something you use every day.
And if you're passing a crew on the highway, smile and wave. Sure they might whistle and hoot if you're a woman, but those guys work hard for their money, and the least you can do is show them a little love.
- Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. She can be reached at www.ForgetPerfect.com