Line Work

Morning on an American interstate. A caravan of large bucket trucks travels southward. There must be a hundred of them. Maybe more. These are utility workers.

Hurricane Ida plowed into Louisiana like a Peterbilt semi yesterday. These trucks are heading to ground zero to join the 25,000 other utility workers who are already in the Bayou State restoring power.

The trucks’ running lights are on. Their hydraulic lift buckets wobble from highway speed.

The men and women behind the wheels are preparing for weeks of sleepless nights, mechanical failures, possible accidents, wet weather, convenience-store suppers, cheap hotels, and video calls home—provided there is cell service.

A little boy in the backseat of a passing minivan with Florida tags waves at one of the truck drivers. The lineman waves back.

The boy’s mother cranes forward. She mouths the words “Thank you” in hopes that the utility worker can read her lips.

He can. He replies with a thumbs up.

And the convoy of trucks never stops coming. One by one they come. And one by one they should be thanked.

I live on the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes are part of our life. When Opal hit, for instance, it crippled us. And yet, amazingly, it only took 24 hours for hordes of electrical workers to arrive in our town and restore our power so we could all get back to watching daytime television.

The workers came from far-off places like Maryland, Texas, Ohio, or Pennsylvania.

My aunt was so grateful to the linemen working on her street that she brought them sandwiches each morning. Other neighborhood ladies made cookies and deviled eggs. Elderly Miss Elaine made her infamous Green Jello Salad of Death. I would have warned the lineworkers not to eat the stuff, but it was too late.

And I’ll never forget when Hurricane Ivan smashed into our area a decade later. I was a newlywed, living in a one-bedroom apartment. Our building had no storm shutters, we were in a flood zone, emergency vehicle sirens blared, people screamed out for help, and I ran out of beer.

All anyone could do was cover their windows in duct tape and hide. Friends lost homes, cars, animals, trees. Ivan pommeled us like we’d insulted his mother.

Once again, the next morning, our little world was flooded not only with water, but with bucket trucks.

So yeah, whenever I see a parade of utility vehicles I get a little emotional. Namely, because these workers don’t have to be doing what they’re doing.

Utility crews have some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Out of every 100,000 workers, 30 to 50 die. Some are victims of explosions. Others lose limbs or get burned. Electrical work is not for wimps. This type of labor is not a job, it’s a calling.

My friend Chad’s father is a retired lineman. Chad said he grew up going to too many funerals. His mother was always wondering if the next memorial service would be for his father.

“Whenever my dad would leave for storms, there was always that question of whether he’d come back to us in alive or in a box,” Chad recalls.

When Hurricane Michael hit a few years ago, I was out of town. One afternoon my hotel TV showed the eye of the storm making landfall 33 miles from my front door. The next morning, the national news showed images of a decimated Panama City, which is located in the county adjacent to mine.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my screen. This was our Panama City. The same Panama City where we went shopping. The same Panama City where I once took Mary Herrington to ride roller coasters at Miracle Strip Amusement Park when she got food poisoning from a hot dog and ruined the interior of my ‘86 Ford.

Anyway, I left my hotel that morning and sped home. The only problem was, everyone else did, too. So I was stuck in a traffic jam stretching from the Panhandle to Seskatchewan. I sat in a cloud of exhaust for over six hours.

I will never forget when, at about midday, I saw orange flashing lights in my rear view mirror. A long line of bucket trucks was on their way to my Gulf Coast home. Diesels roaring. Earth rumbling. Cars pulled to the shoulder to let them pass.

It nearly made me cry.

I remember passing one particular truck in traffic later that afternoon. The driver was young, his window was rolled down. He was sunburned and as lean as a two-by-four. Music blared on his stereo. He spit into a Mountain Dew bottle.

At a red light, I rolled down my window and asked where he was from.

But he couldn’t hear me, his diesel engine was rumbling too loud. The young man just tapped his ear to indicate that I wasn’t getting through. So I shouted two familiar words of gratitude as loud as I could.

And it’s funny, even after all these years I find myself hoping this nameless young man could somehow read my lips.

But more importantly, I hope all utility workers in this country know how sincerely I am saying those same two words right now.

52 comments

  1. Chris Spencer - August 31, 2021 7:27 am

    Here in my area of west Alabama, northwest Tuscaloosa County, linemen are out trying to get power restored to some of us, me included.
    We didn’t get high winds from Ida but soaking rains. The kind that causes trees to just fall over because the ground is so saturated that tree roots just let go.
    The linemen here have been at it all night and still going at it.
    May God bless and protect them all.
    Chris

    Reply
  2. Eva Lantrip - August 31, 2021 7:33 am

    I was driving south on I 55 just north of Memphis Saturday night when I saw a small convoy of bucket trucks. I couldn’t see the license plates or the truck logo. (My 91-year-old mother was in the passenger seat and I didn’t want to scare her by snaking closer to the trucks.) I didn’t matter, though. I just said a big thank you to each and every one of those workers and went on down the road to my home about 30 minutes into Mississippi. I hope they know how deeply we appreciate their work and sacrifice.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Andrews - August 31, 2021 2:22 pm

      Yes, these people are true heroes! Thank you, Sean, for this great article and thank you linemen and linewomen for all you do!

      Reply
  3. Leigh R Amiot - August 31, 2021 7:34 am

    I recall the dread my late mother would express when my late brother would head to Atlanta after an ice storm. He always came home safe, and now they are safely in heaven together. He was so proud of working for Georgia Power, we buried him wearing a power company polo and holding a power company hat. His slab has the Reddy Kilowatt mascot on it; Georgia Power was his identity in life. Late in his career, he transported tools out to the men who were working to restore power after Hurricane Katrina. He tried to describe the devastation–for miles–but words eluded him. This much I know, the utility workers care deeply.

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  4. Jan Fincher - August 31, 2021 7:52 am

    Amen!

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  5. Michael Reese - August 31, 2021 9:09 am

    Sean? You should be, or could be, our Hemingway, Twain, Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald! Please PLEASE WRITE YOUR NOVEL!!!

    Reply
  6. Ellouise Pennington - August 31, 2021 9:20 am

    After Frederick hit Mobile, we learned how to say “Asplundh” pretty quickly. I sure hope some kind soul will get your article to these guys. It’s everything we wish we could say to our new best friends

    Reply
  7. Michael Reese - August 31, 2021 9:26 am

    Sean? You HAVE TO WRITE YOUR NOVEL! “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?”

    Reply
    • Steve Winfield (Lifer) - August 31, 2021 9:31 am

      He’s written several & they’re all great!
      Amazon or any book store.

      Reply
  8. Michael Reese - August 31, 2021 9:30 am

    SEAN!!! DAMN IT!!! “THE GRAPES OF WRATH!”. YOU HAVE TO WRITE YOUR NOVEL!!!

    Reply
  9. Cynthia - August 31, 2021 10:17 am

    After Katrina hit, I went to pick up my daughter from college in MS. A line of utility trucks was headed that way as well. I chocked up at the sight of them. 3 yrs later half of Ala was out of power from monster tornadoes. Once again utility trucks from all over were on the job. Last Sunday I saw about 20 trucks parked at a hotel near my house. They headed out the next morning. Whenever I see these guys I pray for them and the communities they are going to help. Thank God for these men.

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  10. Bryan - August 31, 2021 10:18 am

    This sounds familiar. After Rita we saw scores of utility trucks streaming their way into SE Texas to restore the juice and they came from all over. I particularly recall seeing plates from Michigan and…Mt. Airy, NC. Sound at all familiar?

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  11. Te - August 31, 2021 10:24 am

    God bless them All! In South Georgia, we don’t get too much from hurricanes –although Michael blew a tree down in my back yard that took me a year to find someone with a chain saw to cut up — but we have ice storms about every 5 years that leave us in the dark, and our local cooperative would take till the 2nd Coming to get electricity restored. So we were all thankful to the linemen who came to help out. Whenever I passed a crew, I’d shout out a thank you. God bless and keep them all safe in the Big Easy.

    Reply
  12. Ronny Martin - August 31, 2021 10:40 am

    Thanks for the reminder of how thankful, we all should be for our fellow men who help us in our times of need.

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  13. Debbie g - August 31, 2021 10:44 am

    Thank you Sean for helping us thank all the utility works we truly appreciate All of them. Thank you and love to all and may y’all return home safely!!!

    Reply
  14. jan - August 31, 2021 10:49 am

    I live in Panama City and can’t say enough about the linemen who restored our power. I remember so well the day I saw them in our neighborhood. I wanted to go out and hug every one of them. They are our heroes for sure.

    Reply
  15. Gayle - August 31, 2021 10:56 am

    Sean, I’m in PC, been here all 62 yrs of my life. Seeing those trucks will make you cry, and, thank them, if you can. Those linemen work miracles. They practically re-built our grid after Michael in about three weeks, like I said, a miracle. No one that’s left here in PC are the same, some are still trying to repair or rebuild but are fighting with insurance companies, mortgage companies, or contractors. Some lost every cent they paid to a contractor that didn’t do the work! Our babies are traumatized (their parents too), but the babies! I’m not the same since Michael, not sure anyone here is, this is my home and so many of my family and people I’ve known all my life suffered, some still are. It breaks my heart. And, yes, Thank Goodness, for the Linemen!!

    Reply
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  17. Tim - August 31, 2021 11:26 am

    Usually reading about utility trucks doesn’t bring tears, yet here I am… Those people were a blessing for us here in SW FL after Irma so I get it too

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  18. Joann - August 31, 2021 12:11 pm

    My daddy never had to go to hurricane struck areas, but as the local lineman, he was called out every time there was a storm outage in our county. I never realized how dangerous it was. He was gone for 36 hours once during a rare snow storm in West Alabama.

    Reply
  19. Paul McCutchen - August 31, 2021 12:28 pm

    I grew up in Arkansas ten miles from the nearest town. We had the occasional ice storm that would knock out power along with poles. We were so grateful when power crews from other counties and states would come in and restore power.

    Reply
  20. dqualls54 - August 31, 2021 1:13 pm

    I live in Indianapolis. Our linemen rallied and headed south the day before Ida hit to be there and ready to work when the storm passed through. I am not there but I am so very grateful to these amazing men and women who represent my state in assisting those in dire need. God bless them every one!

    Reply
  21. Arelene Mack - August 31, 2021 1:21 pm

    My husband retired from Alabama Power Company in 2017 after over 28 years there, most of them as a Lineman. During disaster response events, the women and children waiting at home are thrilled when their deployed Lineman finally gets a message back home that they are okay. Being among the first responders into a destroyed area is always dangerous. I am proud of the many years of hard work in the daily grind and the occasional catastrophic disasters endured by my favorite Lineman. And I’m so glad he’s now retired, although he still volunteers with church disaster crews. God bless the Utility Crews and all first responders!!!

    Reply
    • HT - September 1, 2021 1:29 pm

      Glad you have your lineman home-Thank you and him for years of restoring power to all of us!

      Reply
  22. Gayle Wilson - August 31, 2021 1:24 pm

    There are so many beyond those that live in the storm that risk their lives to restore a semblance of life as it was before the storm. Bless and prayers for each of them.

    Reply
  23. Teresa - August 31, 2021 1:26 pm

    Both of my sons are linemen who work these types of storms often. They are heroes to me, now I see they are heroes to others. Thanks for the recognition!

    Reply
  24. Karen Snyder - August 31, 2021 1:33 pm

    Prayers for the safety of every last one of them, and prayers that their work will progress quickly.

    Reply
  25. Robyn - August 31, 2021 1:43 pm

    So grateful for these folks. They saved us after the ice storm in TX this year and many other times. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

    Reply
  26. bubbastubbs - August 31, 2021 1:46 pm

    Amen, Sean! These linemen are often the unsung heroes, giving so much of themselves to perform a MOST appreciated service to us during our times of extreme need!

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  27. Ruth Mitchell - August 31, 2021 1:48 pm

    Thank you so much for saying what we all feel. These unsung heroes have earned our undying respect and admiration.

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  28. Nancy Crews - August 31, 2021 2:14 pm

    ❤your writing. Thank you to all the lineman everywhere.

    Reply
  29. Al Cato - August 31, 2021 2:30 pm

    Never think that angels don’t walk this earth! These guys and gals are reminders when disasters strike.

    Too bad we cannot get these utility angels, once finished in Louisiana and Ms., to turn their convoys towards Washington DC where disasters are perpetual. Bet they could fix it!!!

    Reply
  30. Cynthia - August 31, 2021 2:36 pm

    Mr. Rogers always said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The linemen are modern day heroes, but the people baking cookies and thanking them are helpers, too. Please be patient with the workers while waiting for power to be restored. They are working as fast as they can and getting little rest. Sean, THANK YOU for bringing us a positive message during these dreadful days.

    Reply
  31. Sandra Wolfe - August 31, 2021 3:18 pm

    As you do so often Sean, good job of describing how most of the country feels about those linemen/women. And it’s not just in the warm weather storms. It’s winter snow and ice storms as well. Thank you to All of them.

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  32. Stacey Wallace - August 31, 2021 3:42 pm

    Praying for people in the Gulf Coast and for utility workers. God bless you.

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  33. Dina Voutour - August 31, 2021 4:39 pm

    I love how you write and what you say! You are always right on target! From a born and raised here and always here Floridian.

    Reply
  34. Mary Coley - August 31, 2021 4:41 pm

    Great….I had to share on fb. What a job!

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  35. Linda Moon - August 31, 2021 5:12 pm

    Utility workers should be thanked and so should you for telling their stories. Read my lips: Thank You, Sean Dietrich and utility workers for restoring shelter from the storms.

    Reply
  36. Suellen - August 31, 2021 5:25 pm

    The worst I’ve ever lived through was 3 days without power and that damage was caused by straight line winds they said. Took out our trees, fence, and picnic table. I’ll never forget the feeling of coming home and seeing the electric trucks finally on our street. That’s when I decided I’d never have another electric can opener. That’s when I found out that our young babysitter from Kentucky didn’t know what “take cover” meant. I called home and found out that she literally had my 3 kids under a cover in the yard during a tornado warning.

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  37. Bill Harris - August 31, 2021 6:20 pm

    Thank you Sean and I thank these brave workers, also.

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  38. MAM - August 31, 2021 6:55 pm

    Thanks, Sean, for recognizing these often not recognized men and women who put their lives on the line, so you and I and everyone else can have electricity. May God bless them and keep them safe!

    Reply
  39. christina - August 31, 2021 6:55 pm

    The unsung heroes that make our lives so much better every day. Thank you!

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  40. Patricia Gibson - August 31, 2021 7:46 pm

    You are so right!! God bless them all❤️🙏

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  41. Martha - August 31, 2021 7:48 pm

    Living on the northeast coast of Florida myself I understand the need for utility trucks during power outage after a hurricane. Been there more than once. Love your stories.

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  42. joyce Daniels - August 31, 2021 9:20 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  43. Tammy S. - September 1, 2021 1:44 am

    Thank you to all who work to restore power, and offer hope! These brave men & women would say they are just doing their job, but we know them for the heros they truly are to so many people in need during a crisis like a hurricane, tornados, ice storms, and so many other disasters. Thank you all, for your hard work!!! And thank you, Sean, for thanking them so beautifully with your words!! I hope these men and women see your post!!

    Reply
  44. HT - September 1, 2021 1:26 pm

    This is the America I live in and love. Thank you each and everyone.

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  45. Dawnie B - September 1, 2021 6:01 pm

    Here in Mobile, AL, we have had hurricanes quite often, some really bad, some not. To me, Frederick was the worst here. It was like a war zone everywhere. We didn’t have power for 3 weeks, my brother had to wait 6 weeks; and that was with the help of many out-of-state utility workers here. Can’t imagine how long it would have taken our local company to have done it on their own. We are so very thankful to all of the first responders! My brother was a phone lineman & traveled often to other states to assist in crises. He was Always treated very gratiously!

    Reply
  46. Carmen Manning Robinson - September 2, 2021 4:17 pm

    And sadly Sean, we lost two linemen earlier this week, right outside of Birmingham, Al. Two, nineteen year old young men from Pike Co., came to help a community called Adger, Al. God bless their families and friends, especially their mama’s.

    Reply
  47. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 2, 2021 11:40 pm

    Yes, the linemen are truly heroes. One of the 2 who were electrocuted this week was from Calhoun County, Alabama where I live. He was young. It breaks my heart. Thank God for them doing this for us.

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  48. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 3, 2021 2:47 pm

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  49. Susan Patterson - September 8, 2021 2:40 am

    Panama City and I love y’all, Sean. But we’re back bigger and better and God willing, Ida will eventually fade into a scar. We’re still scarred but we’re alive and moving on. The linemen are the lifeline between the dark and the light and God bless them. You too.

    Reply

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