THE 440 LINE (2000)

Geist - - Photoessay -

I met Howard Rude when he was de­mol­ish­ing a small build­ing with no tools other than a crow­bar, a ham­mer, and a shovel. He said his son had left him there in the morn­ing to do the job. He re­peated him­self fre­quently, lost his thoughts and some­times drifted away for a few mo­ments un­til he found what sounded like an of­ten-told story. He told me about a Spring­field city of­fi­cial in the 1920s who had mur­dered a lover but who had enough po­lit­i­cal pull to es­cape pros­e­cu­tion. He re­mem­bered Spring­field as a wealthy, un­ruly town where one’s life could change in an in­stant. One of his own life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ences had oc­curred when he worked as an elec­tri­cian: “I was up in the rafters at a plant run­ning a 440 line,” he said. “There was this big black woman work­ing on an ar­ma­ture, wear­ing a leather apron, just be­low me. When I fell, she heard me yell and stretched out her apron to catch me. A big, fat woman. I landed in her lap. I woulda been dead. I was a racist be­fore that, but never again.”

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