On Wednesday officials with the city of Chula Vista and the port of San Diego grabbed shovels and broke ground on the H Street Extension project. When complete, the extension will give people east of Interstate 5 direct access to the bayfront via H Street.
When it comes to shovelling dirt, I’ve done enough to know there’s not much to it.
Stab a shovel into the ground. Tilt it back, downward. Lift it out of the ground. Toss the dirt, manure or whatever other debris you’re trying to displace aside. Repeat if necessary.
That’s it. As an activity it’s about as exciting as watering grass. It’s a simple act that requires more brawn than brains or skill and it’s one reason why ditch digger is one of my fallback careers when this journalism thing finally ends.
So you can see why I’ve never been impressed by civic and private ground-breaking ceremonies. People in suits, dress shoes, high heels and loaner hard hats grab a shovel, poke it into soft sand and ceremoniously cast a shovelful of earth forward, marking the beginning of a major construction project.
Once that heavy lifting is finished onlookers applaud, the diggers chit chat for a moment, pose for a few photos and before long everyone disperses.
Well, everyone except the men and women who will stick around actually digging the ditches, moving the earth or bulldozing things in an effort to actually build the project. They hang around for weeks, months or years while the dignified diggers have moved onto the next ground-breaking spectacle. And really, that’s all it is.
We love our spectacles, don’t we? From ground breakings to ribbon cuttings, we love to engage in silly displays of action to demonstrate that we’re doing something—even it’s play acting.
When a new business opens chances are a big shiny ribbon will be cut by someone holding a giant pair of scissors.
When grocery stores open officials like to say a few words in front of a microphone, reminding the community what it means to have a place to buy food.
Or when a road is extended it’s not good enough to simply turn on a backhoe and start digging. No, we have to gather together, say a few words, share praise and talk about what this day means to future generations.
Everyone likes to feel important now and then. Like they are part of history and a project that might improve the place they call home.
But I don’t know that the ceremonies serve any purpose other than to stroke egos and feather the caps of the few who attend. I doubt they’d be missed. At least not by the people who the projects are supposed to benefit. My guess is they’re too busy living their lives to attend. But all that matters in this case is when the road opens. Maybe then it will be time to celebrate. Only then.