Essay: Traveling Through Milwaukee's "Channelizers"

Aug 29, 2014


Orange construction barrels, called "Channelizers," can be found almost everywhere around Milwaukee.
Credit Victoria Pickering, flickr


So, do you have plans to go anywhere this Labor Day Weekend?  Lake Effect essayist Joel Habush advises you to keep your eye out for construction on the Zoo Interchange, or the Hoan Bridge, or I-94 between here and Kenosha, or, well, just about everywhere.


ORANGE BARREL GUY(OBG): Hello, Orange Barrel Company. We’re always ready to drum up more business. Let’s roll out the barrels. Orange you glad you called?

CUSTOMER: Now I’m not so sure. You certainly seem happy.

OBG: Why not? This is our busiest year, EVER. You called to order some barrels, didn’t you?

CUSTOMER—JERRY: Why yes. I’m Deputy Sub Administrator of the Bureau of Roads, Bridges, and Other Sutff in the Greater Milwaukee area. This is Jerry Mander,

OBG: (SHOUTS) MILWAUKEE! Hey Ralph, tell the boss we gotta put on another shift—another order from Milwaukee! (NORMAL) Say, ah, Jer, we usually deal with your contractor, Louis?

JERRY: Yes, But he’s been hospitalized for overwork and stress. He left a note, saying, “Get more barrels.” Everybody in his company is already working overtime, so we’re stepping in to keep things moving.

OBG: Gotcha. Okay, I just called up the file on this here sitchiayshun in South Eastern Wiscomsin. You gotcher construction going on everywhere—massive Zoo Interchange project; auxiliary roads; feeder bridges; record-shattering and axle-shattering potholes. Plus a total surface redo on the Hoan Bridge. (About time, I’d say.)

JERRY: Er, that’s right. I think we need to order a bazillion orange barrels.

OBG: I don’t think that’s going to be enough, I’d suggest a gazillion. I see the county, city, suburbs, feds, and state aren’t sharing any planning, and since nobody wants to be outdone, everything’s happening at once. So, if a portion of the freeway is down to a half lane in each direction, the adjacent roads that would normally be available are also hopelessly torn up.

JERRY: You’re right.. You can’t get there from here...anywhere. I just saw my neighbor come out on his driveway, get in his car, check his GPS, then talk to OnStar, then turn off the motor, get out of his car, scratch this head, and slowly go back into the house.

OBG: Yeah, there’s a lot of that goin’ arounbd. Now, you know when you order in that larger quantity, you’ll save money, and...what the heck am I talking about? You’re a governmental entity; what do you care about saving money?

CALLER: Yes, well anyway, so the additional barrels that we buy, should be delivered....

OGB: WHOA! Hold on there, cowboy, you don’t buy these things. Ya rent ‘em. And since your contractor is otherwise can rent them direct from us. Just pennies a day. A whole lot of pennies! Now, how much tape can I put you down for?

JERRY: I’m sorry?

OBG: Tape. We got all the products to go along with barrels—warning tape, pylons and cones, barricades, and signs that read, “Slow down—this is a work zone, jerk.” The whole kit and caboodle.

JERRY: How much will all that rental cost?

OBG: Not much for the kit. The caboodle could run you some money. By da way, the industry term for the orange barrels is “Channelizers.”

JERRY: I see.

OBG: Or “Delineators, if you so prefer.

JERRY: Oh, and we’ll need, plenty of, uh....what do you call those sawhorse thingies with blinking reflectors?

OBG: The industry term is “Saw horse thingies with blinking reflectors.”

JERRY: I guess we can afford that rental for a year.

OBG: (SHOUTS) Ralph, you gotta hear this guy. He’s a gem.

JERRY: Sir..

OMG: The name is Algernon.

JERRY: Algernon?

OBG: You got a problem with that?

JERRY: No, no certainly not. No problem. But what did you mean by, “This guys a gem?"

OBG: I kid, I kid. No, that was precious, that bit about your returning some of the barrels. Like you won’t need to rent them again next year, and the years after that...

JERRY: Years?

OBG: You bet. All of Southeastern Wisconsin is in for it. I hate to spread gloom, but after all this, you can’t tell me, you don’t believe we’re on the Eve of Construction.

Lake Effect essayist Joel Habush is a freelance copywriter who lives in West Allis. He's past president of Working Writers of Wisconsin, and worked for years at ad agencies in Milwaukee and Chicago.