February 23, 2004
Tift Country-- Most people hope to find the ideal job that matches their interest, background and work days. A team of painters have a job that -- if not ideal-- is just about as close to ideal as they can get. You may have seen them at work with a small entourage complete with a big, yellow truck and a guide, with only white and yellow paint to work with.
Then, again, not many painters have a canvas thousands of miles long, either. "I like being outside," says Jim Anderson of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
If there was ever an ideal job for him, then, he has it, as one of a handful of professional highway painters. "I've got a Bachelor's Degree in Geography. So, I do get to see the geography," says Jim who sees the state like few people will ever see it, with proud moments happening along the way.
"Painted in front of Jimmy Carter's home," says Jim. It was his first visit to Plains. He relies on his partner, Bobby Rowell, to keep him straight when they are on-the- road.
"A new job every day," says Bobby, a Georgia Department of Transportation driver. You could call the painting team snow birds since they spend a lot of time in south Georgia when it's too cold to paint up north, moving back northward during the summer to avoid as much of the intense heat as they can.
"Being out in the elements is the hardest part," says Jim on a cold morning. It would seem Bobby came out ahead in the working arrangement, spending 10 hours a day in a climate controlled truck cab watching a little tire roll on a faded white line. "Take your eye off that wheel and you are going to wobble," says Bobby, as he looks intensely at the small tire rolling almost directly in front of him.
Jim sits on the back of the truck operating the painting equipment. They have worked together for so long they rarely talk to each other, but use hand signals on a rare occasion. "I can take in the scenery," says Jim, occasionally looking around. "You get to see the state, that's for sure, at 10 to 12 miles per hour most of the time," says Jim who sits about 10 feet above the pavement with a clear view in every direction.
He braves the weather in exchange for that view. They leave stripes everywhere. "I painted in every county in the state at one time or another," says Bobby with a smile. In their line of work, the team spends a lot of time away from home. "Work three-and-a-half days, off three-and a-half days," says Jim who likes the work schedule.
But, don't ask Jim to paint in his off time. "I just don't like to paint," says Jim, except asphalt. And, they can't paint without help. It takes four extra people to help the team paint as much pavement as they can. A team that keeps them supplied with paint and glass beads that reflect a car's headlights at night. "I think we may save lives by doing this," says Jim, by making the roads safer by painting edge lines four inches wide to help keep drivers from running off the road.
The paint truck provides an opportunity few people ever get. "You learn something new every day out here. Isn't that what life is about?' Many people would like to give a job like that a try themselves.
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