I see him nearly every day, wearing the same bright red hard hat, the only one on the crew to do so. My Upper West Side NYC avenue has been taken over for the past number of weeks by the sounds of jackhammering, construction vehicles, welding equipment. Our local utility company is replacing ancient gas and electric lines, underground transformers and switches. Dozens of workmen (and yes, they are all men) bustle about in their Carhartts, safety vests, work boots and neon yellow or orange hard hats. All except for him, easily visible in his distinctive headgear.
He wouldn’t know me from Eve, even though he made a strong impression on me several weeks back. It was mid-afternoon, windy, grey, maybe about to drizzle. Most of the crew had already packed up and left, but red hard hat guy was taking care of the last bit of cleanup. I was waiting to cross the avenue, holding at my chest my ginormous Land’s End insulated grocery bag. I had carried it home the six blocks from my market, the strap slung over my shoulder, my forearms cradling its bottom. Masked, wearing skinny jeans, red cowboy boots, a black pea coat and a pom pom hat, I was of an indeterminable vintage.
Perhaps it was the red boots, or maybe as bundled up as I was, I could have been mistaken for someone younger. Or, most likely, red hard hat guy is just a nice human being. Tall and lanky, he moved like a dancer, stopping traffic with the authority conferred by his safety vest. He waved me across the street and as I passed him, he slipped his mask down and gave me the most beautiful smile.
“I couldn’t let you wait any longer with that big bag,” he said.
And then he sprinted down the street.
I was smitten. Had I been decades younger, I might have followed up with some witty riposte in the hopes of striking up a conversation … or more. That smile. His gallantry. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And why did he have that red hard hat on when no one else did? Mr. Google told me: a red hard hat is worn on a construction site by a fireman or an emergency worker.
Just a few days later, all hell broke loose as insurrectionists broke into the Capitol Building. Those who weren’t wearing cosplay military gear had on those red MAGA hats. I don’t see many of those in my liberal enclave, but it is no secret that a great many of New York’s cops, firemen and utility workers are Trump supporters.
Walking down the avenue with my pooch Dev each mid-day, I look for red hard hat guy, and I usually find him working diligently while some of his colleagues stand around “supervising.” I can’t help but wonder about his politics. Does he even have any? When he isn’t wearing a red hard hat, is he wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat? Could he be the equivalent of the “insurrectionist next door?”
He seems too happy to be looking to exact revenge on the liberal establishment. I’d rather think of him as a better-looking and less troubled Pete Davidson type, Staten Island bred, raised in a firefighting family, quirky, irreverent. I’d hate to think of that smile wasted on a Trumpie. Then again, if more red hat wearers had his grin rather than the sneer of victimhood, the smirk of conspiratorial insider knowledge or the leer of vengefulness, we and our democracy would be so much better off!