The Heroes of The Dark Who Give Our City Light
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46 feet in the air, this Tallahassee lineman replaces connectors to improve reliability and enhance the customer experience.
It’s 3 a.m., and the ink black sky is interrupted by a silver streak of lightning and the reverberating crash of thunder. I’m 7 years old, and I’m afraid. Not so much of the storm itself, but because I know that soon my dad will receive a call, and he does. In a matter of 10 minutes, his demeanor has changed from a sleepy stupor to an exhilarated determination. He kisses his family, but his mind is already on the task that awaits him. This story is for my father and those like him.
Mike Hatcher, a lineman supervisor for the City of Tallahassee, and I spot each other from across the field. I’m tottering along in heeled boots and he is sporting a sling from his recent shoulder surgery. An incapacitated pair we make. The sky is azure, but the sun isn’t too intense, making for the ideal view of the two men we are watching above us on the 40-foot pole.
They disembark from the pole and take a moment to breathe before greeting me, Padgett’s daughter. Our conversation takes place under the mid-afternoon sun between two bucket trucks to block out the wind. It is apparent that they are not accustomed to conversations focused on themselves, but soon they open up. They are five men talking about what they love, what they share a brotherhood in.
“If you’re a lineman, you love what you do,” said Hatcher, who is dubbed Hatch by all who know him. “That’s what sets our trade apart.You have to know that this is what you want to wake up every day and do. Honestly, most people aren’t cut out for this type of work.”
Nick Ellis, a line crew foreman and lineman for 26 years, grins and nods.
“When I started, people told me, ‘That’s a whole other breed right there,’” Ellis said. ‘You can’t handle it.’ That made me want to do it even more.”
Linemen are constantly improving upon power lines even when the sun is out. Here, they are unloading poles prior to replacing an older pole.
This breed ranges in ages, heights, sizes and backgrounds but share sun-weathered faces, farmer’s tans and hearts of service. Linemen are a species of tough skin, sudden adaptability and no sense of fear to be found. Weather seemingly has no effect on them. Their uniform consists of long sleeves, jeans and boots, even in temperatures soaring into the balmy Florida 90s. Those same garments endure hours of being rain-soaked and caked in mud. The existence of this species traces to a few factors.
“I decided I wanted to do this because it looked like a challenge,” said the youngest of the group, Blake Burns, who has six years of linework under his belt. “Every day is something different, and to me, that’s exciting.”
To most people, being 40 feet or higher in the air with 7,200 volts pulsating around you is the opposite of exciting. The challenges they face on a daily basis are not a stack of papers to tackle or emails awaiting replies. Their call could be anything from a squirrel that has tripped a line to a drunk driver who has hit a pole, or even a hurricane whose path is on track to devastate their city.