I like big cities. Having grown up in New York City, I enjoy walking around discovering things I've never noticed before, or observing amusing vignettes of urban life. As a lifelong mason, I can't resist stopping at construction sites to study how things are organized, or not.
I am walking down 42nd street near Grand Central where a huge skyscraper is nearing completion. Most of the sidewalk has been fenced off to allow a crew to set large granite paving stones at the entrance to this monolith. I pause at the barricade to record the scene. A burly man with kneepads and gray hair like mine is laying the large format tile in a mud base, professional term for the same cement and sand mixture that the Romans used to build roads throughout the empire. His three helpers are easily thirty years younger and look like football linemen. They mix the mortar and shovel it in front of him, hand him the pavers, and try to keep up with his need for tools and water. Eighty pound pieces are carefully laid to a taught nylon string line, and adjusted with a rubber mallet not to mar the surface. Despite the cold wind they are cheerful, chattering away with heavy Irish accents reminiscent of the population of Sunnyside, Queens, where I grew up. As I linger observing their installation method, he becomes aware of my presence. Who is this guy, he wonders. He's not from the developer or he'd be wearing a suit. Doesn't matter, he keeps going.
At the end of a row he repositions himself and looks me right in the eye. Thousands of pedestrians have scurried past behind me in the time I've been there, but I haven't moved. 'You're doing that all wrong, you know', I offer. He smiles broadly, and replies 'I know, my boys tell me that all the time'.