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  • Boulder
  • Paul Smith (bio)

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One day it wasn’t there.The next day it was. One day wewere busy working the whole lengthof our section of road, south of 63rd Street, northof 63rd Street past Jackson and Maple and the slowclimb up to Hitchcock. To the south, Brown &Lambrecht was doing the same as us, but just over thehill past where our jobs met. We heard them butcouldn’t see them. We knew they were there.But the next day we came to work andthere it was, on that slight risebetween us and them we calleda hill—a boulder the sizeof a house. [End Page 81]

We were all hustling, so no one really had time to go look at it. I did layout with a hand level. Lopat did sewers. Junior Palumbo did everything else, mostly pushing Lopat and Ryan to finish their work so he could take over with the paving spread. We supposed that Brown & Lambrecht was in the same spot we were—watching October slip away and with it the good roadbuilding weather, eager to pave, sign and stripe, backfill the roadside, and finish. But Junior Palumbo’s eyes fixed on that big blur due south of us, and his voice came over the radio, “Thirty-one, what are you doing?”

I responded that I was laying out noise wall.

“What’s that thing?” he said. There was no need to describe it. I knew what he meant. We all knew. He meant the boulder. We could all see it from far off. “A rock,” I replied.

“Where are you? Come here.”

I found him by Voukon’s old driveway, where 63rd and Hobson used to cross each other, where the 63rd Street bridge stood now, and the triple box culvert where Prentiss Creek flowed after O’Malley and I put it though the box last November on one of those early mornings when you see your breath in your truck’s headlights trying to get the equipment started.

Junior Palumbo drove a Crown Vic dirtier than a manhole. Paving hadn’t even started, and it was already full of mud from him walking the grade whatever the weather was, checking string lines where they could be put up, slogging through the mess at the batch plant Johnny I had helped him put up just north of Maple on a vacant piece of land the Toll-way said we could use because they owned it and nobody else wanted it.

“Let’s go for a ride,” he told me.

The subgrade here was firm and smooth between the pair of string lines set up for the trimmer and paving rig on the northbound lanes. Junior drove fast, not just to get there quickly but probably to satisfy himself that the trimmer had done a good job getting the clay ready for base course and eventually the concrete pavement. We got out of Junior’s car to study the boulder, looking south past where it sat to see if the other contractor, Brown & Lambrecht, had anything going on nearby. The new subgrade for I-355 was in a trough between rows of houses sitting up high where their backyards could watch the progress of the new roadway. Right now, the only thing they could see was us. The roadway was rough graded, sewers and utilities installed, waiting for the contractor’s fine-grade crew to come get it ready. [End Page 82]

Just us and a big rock. Junior went up to it and put his hands on it. He was small compared to it. It was probably the result of some glacier coming through during the Ice Age we’d read about in our geology courses. I had seen gravel deposits and cobbles before, but nothing this big. Glacial till was sometimes left behind when the glacier finally melted. This rock was biblical in dimensions, primordial and dense, not something I would have suspected nature had deposited there. A bigger force than that had caused this thing to appear on our subgrade.



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