published Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Kennedy: ‘Road paver person’ in the making

My dad, a former U.S. Army master sergeant, might have been the least spontaneous person on earth, bless his heart.

Yet, I remember one day in 1969, he signed me out of elementary school to go to a state basketball tournament game in Nashville. Didn’t see that coming.

That vivid childhood memory came back to me the other day after I checked the messages on my work telephone and heard the high-pitched voice of my 7-year-old son.

“Daddy,” he said on the recording, “don’t forget to call that place so we can go see the road paver machines.”

Weeks ago, I mentioned in a column that he is already thinking about careers and has narrowed his choices to “wedding cake baker” and “road paver person.” Last summer, a paving crew was resurfacing the road in front of our house, and my wife and two sons brought them some cold drinks on a hot day.

Soon after the column was published, I got an email from the folks at Roadtec, a local paving machine company on Manufacturers Road; they were offering to give my son a tour.

“We were all particularly happy to read that your son is looking to become ‘a road-paver person,’” wrote Carmen Shaw, of Roadtec. “It’s never too early to start working towards a career.”

My sentiments exactly.

So on Monday, I arrived at my boy’s school and, for the first time ever, signed him out for something other than a doctor’s appointment.

While at lunch at Burger King, I took out my spiral reporter’s notebook and we came up with some questions to ask at the plant: How old do you have to be to drive a road paver machine? How much do they cost? How many miles can a machine pave in a day?

When we finished, he tore out the page, folded it four times and jammed it in his back pocket. Later, when we got to the Roadtec lobby, he pulled out the questions and practiced reading them to me.

Minutes later, when Roadtec Marketing Manager Eric Baker came out to meet us, I felt my son press against my left leg.

“He’s a little shy,” I explained. “But hopefully he will open up in a few minutes.”

I find it fascinating to watch a first-grader in the process of discovery. There is an innocent eagerness to their eyes that’s infectious and must be the reason school teachers do what they do.

As we walked through the plant where giant road-paving machines are made, welders sent out showers of sparks. I felt my son’s hand reach our for mine, but he was taking it all in from behind his plastic safety goggles.

Later, outside, they let him climb up on a road paving machine and sit in the driver’s chair.

A couple of times he pulled his questions out of his back pocket, but the words stuck in his throat. Being the center of attention in an adult world can be intimidating.

“As soon as we leave, he’ll become a little chatterbox,” I told the Roadtec folks. He did manage a timid “thank you” as we walked out the door.

As I predicted, the dam burst as soon as he was back in the car. Later that night, he told my wife the whole story, complete with details about how buyers in Australia prefer their paving machines to be painted powder blue, and how Roadtec’s machines have to be small enough to fit under freeway overpasses.

“Nice, an ear for detail,” I thought.

So he missed a few minutes in the library and a math lesson, I thought, but he gained confidence and got some positive feedback for his career-oriented mindset. Not a bad trade-off, I’d say.

A random afternoon in the first grade, he’d forget. I’m betting he remembers his field trip with Daddy forever.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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