Saturday, October 23, 2010

La Bandera Roja

Or "The Red Flag", in English. I got to carry the red flag today! Always a sign of good luck and fortune. At least, that's what I think. Red flags usually conjure negative connotations. But in this case, it's just the opposite. You actually want a red flag. Here's the deal...

The road construction workers here have a pretty cool method for getting around having to communicate with walkie-talkies when they shut down a one lane segment of 2-lane road and, subsequently, have to funnel 2-way traffic through a single lane, with traffic in each direction taking its turn. When the traffic from one direction subsides or is cut off by a flagman, traffic that is stopped in the other direction is mobilized. Sounds easy enough.

But sometimes the segment being repaired straddles the top of a hill, or wraps around a curve winding up/down a hillside or mountain. This makes it impossible for the guys at each end of the segment that is closed to make a visual connection with one another. Walkie-talkies solve this problem allowing them to communicate over the hill or around the bend. But what do you do when you don't have radio communication and have to rely on your eyes?

THAT'S WHERE THE RED FLAG COMES IN!! A guy at each end of the segment stops traffic in one lane while repair work progresses in the other. A flagman at one end of the segment has a red flag. Once the segment is clear of traffic, the flagman with the flag waves traffic through (e.g. downhill) while traffic is stopped and waiting at the other end to come the opposite direction (e.g. uphill). After enough (downhill) vehicles have passed, the flagman stops oncoming traffic, but gives the flag to the driver of the last vehicle proceeding in that direction (e.g. downhill). When the driver of the last vehicle reaches the other end of the segment, he hands the red flag off to the other flagman, thus signalling that the lane is clear and ready to flow in the opposite direction (e.g. uphill). The process begins again in the other direction, with the last (uphill) vehicle handing off the flag to the flagman at the other end. This goes on until the segment is repaired - which is, like, usually, a really long time.

Freakin' ingenious! I always feel very important when I am the privileged driver mantled with the weighty responsibility of carrying the red flag to its destination, passing it into the hands of the flagman at the other end with the athletic grace of a Jamaican Olympic relay runner!

¡Pura vida!

1 comment:

  1. I got the red flag once. I also got a condescending and patronizing look when the purpose of the flag had to be explained to me for the first time.

    From now on I will consider it good luck!!!