Roadworkers – A Cautionary Tale

©2001 Marion Pennell

©2001 Marion Pennell

“Oh no, you were right! There’s an actual chain gang over there, that field before the intersection by the hedge, see??”

“Yup, Brian said they’d be a lot more visible as you get to the border.  We’ll see the camps too.  Who knew Plattsburgh would ever be so well known?”

Natalie shifted lower in her seat but still peered out the window.  “They’re all so young.  What do you think they did? Can you see colour properly?  It’s so bright.  I can’t tell if it’s orange or red.”

“As a group, they’re too white to all be terrorist red. Reds aren’t working outside anywhere near towns even in chains. I’m guessing orange for Felon.”

“What does that even mean anymore?  Everything’s a felony.  And that orange is too close to red.”

“If they want you in chains you’re a felon.  Why do you think they’re in that field?  Where are they going? Aren’t the chain gangs usually actual roadcrews?  Or is that just the old movies?”

The field was now behind a long tall manicured hedge, out of sight, but not that far away.  A series of shots broke the pastoral ambience, a burst of shouting, and then nothing.  Natalie and Colin looked at each other in shock, then each of them affixed their eyes to the road straight ahead and sat in silence for awhile.

They continued their careful drive north, slowing as they approached the town’s center.  A series of traffic blocks could be seen ahead set up at the intersections.  

“How many colours are there now?” Natalie said solemnly.

“You mean hexydecimal?”

“Don’t be a smartass.  How many categories of work criminals are there now?”

Colin actually harrumphed.  “Work criminals.  It’s amazing how fast we get used to the new way of doing business, isn’t it?”

Then he turned to her. “How many do we know?”

She slumped again, “oh wow…  Jenna was in a camp for two years before they looked at her documents, and that was just because they thought she acted too Mexican when she came back from her year working at that hospice.”  

“What did they make her do? I mean for work?”

“She said the camp was supposed to run self sufficiently.  Young women were taking care of kids and makeshift nursing.  Old women were cooking and cleaning.  Jenna said she did a lot of repairs: shoes, beds, some plumbing, and makeshift gardening. There was a bit of a sewing shop too for some contracts the sheriff made with someone. The crews that went out on trucks were doing whatever labour the towns and businesses did.  Whatever they were doing, and she said they were really sex segregated, she said those men looked like they were being worked to death.”

“Who did they round up at that concert on Friday?  For being degenerates?  They’ll end up on some assembly line in a turquoise jumpsuit until the cool is bored right out of them.”

“That’s not that funny.  Brian’s little brother and his friends got scooped.  That guy, the one that will judge the whole show bangup?  Same judge that opened up the state abortion records last year.  Yeah, every married woman that had one got 9 months unplugging industrial sewage in the purple brigade.  The other women who had one got education camps – Stepford U, right?  But the ones had more than one, they were orange, Colin.  Just like …” she trailed off and looked back at the hedge in the distance.

“Brian’s little bro and his crew?  I don’t know, they might be in the shit then. I think they already classified the show as some high level threat to something.”

“A threat to our moral fabric!”

“And the Republic for which it stands!”

“A threat to domestic security!”

“A threat to the patriotism under which I pledge my flag!  One of them really said that!”

“What were those first slogans?  The ones that replaced ‘work for welfare’, ‘work for YOUR welfare’ was after that.”

“Yeah, yeah, it fit in with the threats, a threat to the flag, a threat to your way of life, a threat to your liberty… it was the liberty angle.  You’re not a real American if you’re not a capitalist.  You’re not a capitalist if you don’t work.  You can’t pursue the American dream if you don’t work.  You’re not a patriot if you don’t work.  Work is liberty- Hey! remember the first groups from the prisons that they tried this with?”

“The low level druggies, yeah, it’s not that funny.”

“Oh come on, it was.  The guy taking the leak set a massive domino-fall-slash-explosion in motion.”

“People died, Colin.”

“Nobody I know.”

“Those guys back there in the field.  At least some of them died too.”

“I don’t know them either.”

Colin slowed into the traffic block.  “Okay, serious face on.  Got the funeral papers for Aunt Sadie in Boston?  Only family down from Canada.  Ready?”


As Colin and Natalie waited for the officer to inspect their papers, a new orange-clad chain gang turned the corner.  It was a mixed group of males, mainly young.  Most had blank expressions, faces hanging down as they trotted by like teams of horses.  Except one at the end, head up, looking around, like a …

“BRIAN!!” Natalie screamed.

The officer smiled as he walked around to Natalie’s side of the car.

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