Larry D. Peden


I'm never certain whether the hollow feeling in my gut is relief or regret each time I pull into work. The sign on the gate reads, "State Highway Administration, Maryland Department of Transportation." The hesitant manner in which I approach it is less assured. I can hear the muffled conversation of shoppers at the mall behind me, and radios blasting as patrons race back and forth on the pavement. Honestly, I can't remember when I first began this job, and seldom have I seen Plum Orchard Drive quiet before midnight.

Inserting my key into the gray metal box, I turn it to the right for "on," and push the large green button that slowly opens the gate. Darting through, I hope out of my truck and rush back to push the red button to close the large, black bars behind me. It's 5:30 p.m., and for the next twelve hours my life will not be my own, so I get back into my truck with the resignation that only someone used to long confinements can know.

My post is an abnormally large lot, sealed in with a high barbed-wire fence, like a huge rectangular cage. On one side is the Post Office, to the rear and opposite side is dense, green forest. I've never seen all the wildlife that roams freely about me, but at night, it's easy to mistake the many foxes, deer and raccoons for intruders. Four buildings decorate this post: two near the Post Office, one along the opposite fence, and the main office which greets you at the entrance. Its huge, brick structure is actually six oversized garages, with three small offices at one end. It is behind this building I park and begin my shift, while unseen audiences examine me from afar.

Security work has been my crutch and nemesis throughout the years. I heard on the television that, "opportunities for negroes have never been better," so in the late 70's I joined the army and decided to be all I could be. In the cold, wet hills of Germany and Texas, I learned the mind numbing skills of guard duty. The water filled foxholes and relentless bouts with athletes foot convinced me I needed to go to college. In the mid 80's, when I was forced to leave college in my junior year because I was broke, I used my training again to deaden my bitterness. In the early 90's, after I lost my job with the D.C. Government, I was on duty again and missed my only daughter's birth. So now, here I am again, wondering if the republican appointee who abolished my cozy job with the federal government last year feels any remorse.

Between my truck and the main office is a small filling station. To my left are about 80 parking spaces, filled with dump trucks, cranes, bobcats, and numerous other vehicles I can't name. The whole lot seems littered with vehicles, vehicle parts, and stacks of lumber and steel rods. I can't imagine what purpose the stacks of huge, yellow drawers to my right serve, but a small family of cats usually plays energetically around them. Like me, they seem imprisoned in this environment, even though freedom is less than a hundred yards away. It's a few minutes past midnight, and I give the cats a little food to keep them from scavenging about. Thirty lampposts, strategically planted around the lot, help me to spy the felines devouring the small meal from a distance.

My portable television sits securely upon my steering wheel, and I welcome the distraction from the silence and long hours. I don't feel much like reading or listening to the radio right now. Across the street, a well dressed man exits the mall and settles into a brand new Mercedes, then drives off. I can hear the sounds of resident, teenage girls giggling as they walk to McDonalds. Customers hurdle in and out of the market complex oblivious to my existence. I wonder what their lives are like. I hate that I have to spend endless, sleepless nights watching other peoples' property. Security work gives you plenty of time to reflect and regret. I've yet to realize the bright future I envisioned for myself twenty years ago.

Like me, most of the guards who work here are black. They all have the tired, worn eyes that come from dwelling long upon disillusionment. It's hard to be optimistic, surrounded by expensive suburbs and high salaried business districts, while I'm trying to stay awake and warm in the front seat of my truck. It's 3:00 in the morning and overhead the ravens are circling unsuccessfully in search of crumbs. Unlike the blue jays and robins, they'll still be beating their beaks into the pavement when I come back this evening. Soon, I'll be free to go and return also, but not yet. A senator over the radio is emphatically denouncing affirmative action as unfair and outdated. Now my future seems even less certain. Democrats, reconstruction, Jim Crow, LBJ, republicans: the unrelenting flow of American morality is so circular in nature.

Larry D. Peden is currently enrolled at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, MD. 'Reconstruction' was originially submitted as a Comp 101 essay. Mr. Peden has kindly given FlashPoint permission to reprint it here. 2003 by Larry D. Peden.