'Just Another Day at the Office' for the Human Bomb Shields Outside the DNC

A PennDOT worker in his idling truck full of sand outside the DNC
A PennDOT worker in his idling truck full of sand outside the DNC
Max Rivlin-Nadler

Hours before Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president last night, several men in bright green shirts were sitting in idling trucks, vigilantly watching the roads leading to the convention hall in South Philly. These are employees of the Philadelphia Department of Transportation, who, on a regular day, spend their time filling potholes or adding signage to the state’s highways, bridges, and tunnels.

But this isn’t a regular day, or even week — for the four days of the DNC, they’ve been pulling sixteen-hour shifts in their idling trucks to make sure that no unauthorized vehicles attempt to ram the convention center. If these guys get the signal, they’ll close the gap between them and the trucks they're facing.

"I think I’d try to ride it out in the cab," said one PennDOT employee who was idling at the corner of Hartranft Street and South Broad street (all PennDOT employees declined to give their names for the article).

Down on Broad and Pattison, a fellow PennDOT worker was less confident of his chances if he stayed put. "I’d move the truck and then get the hell out of dodge."

Each truck is capable of holding up to eight tons in its open-box bed, and for the DNC, each one has been loaded with at least five tons of sand for extra ballast.

"If something were to drive into this going full speed, our truck would definitely move, but I’ll tell you — that other car or truck ain’t going anywhere after that," one of the drivers told me. He explained that each truck needed to be kept idling at all times, in case something comes up. Sometimes they just need to move to let a motorcade through. But the last thing they’d want is to try to start a cold engine as danger approaches.

'Just Another Day at the Office' for the Human Bomb Shields Outside the DNC
Max Rivlin-Nadler

Over on Pattison and 20th, two garbage trucks sit facing each other at another roadblock. I ask if their trucks are also filled with some sort of cargo to weigh them down, like the PennDOT trucks.

"You mean garbage?"

I nod.

"Listen, man, it’s a free country. You can go and check for yourself." On closer inspection, yes, it appeared the trucks were filled with garbage.

The idea of sitting around all day in an idling truck in case of a terrorist attack might be terrifying for public employees who didn’t sign up for this kind of work (not to mention their unions, who might have opinions about whether this was in the contract). But one 18-year-veteran of PennDOT told the Voice that it’s all part of the job.

"Stopping a car bomb, honestly, is no more dangerous to me then filling potholes on I-76, with people chucking hoagies and water bottles at you for slowing them down," he said. "Really, it's just another day at the office."

And on that note, I turned toward the convention hall, reassured in the safety of the event, and my faith in the public servants of America. From his cab, the 18-year-veteran called out to me, "Make sure you enjoy Philly!"

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