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Paving where ‘you never know what you’re going to get’

A Weekly Conversation with Jacob Gouveia, a foreman that deals with hot temperatures and traffic.
Jacob Gouveia, 33, of Spring Hill, is a project foreman with Ajax Paving. He is a foreman for the company and supervises workers, in background, who are laying a lane of asphalt at a two-mile long road reconstruction project on Thursday, May 21, 2020, on Keene Road in Clearwater.
Jacob Gouveia, 33, of Spring Hill, is a project foreman with Ajax Paving. He is a foreman for the company and supervises workers, in background, who are laying a lane of asphalt at a two-mile long road reconstruction project on Thursday, May 21, 2020, on Keene Road in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 28, 2020

Times Correspondent

Jacob Gouveia and his crew from Ajax Paving Industries of Florida have been able to work with a little less madness around them of late. The shutdown brought on by the coronavirus has greatly reduced the traffic. Gouveia, 33, a foreman who has worked on streets, highways and interstates for nearly 15 years, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about traffic worries, angry motorists, accolades and staying healthy under the Florida sun.

Has the lighter traffic eased your mind?

Absolutely. Anytime we can get lighter traffic, it’s better for us.

Do you normally worry about a motorist losing control and hitting you and your crew?

It always plays a factor in your mind when we’re out doing what we do. It definitely plays a role in that ... We (put) our trust in our MOT (Maintenance of Traffic) personnel. They are the front line for us ... if you’ve seen the cones going down the roadway, the MOT devices, arrow board … that’s what they deal with. We kind of look at it like an NFL team. They would be like our offensive line, and we’d be like the quarterback.

Have you had any close calls on the roadside?

Of course, you encounter some near misses, but not as frequently as you think. I mean, it’s lit up, we usually have state troopers ... People usually slow down.

I imagine you see some impatient drivers. Do you ever get people hollering at you?

Oh yes...There’s always one each shift, I can tell you that… (They) yell, curse. At times they throw things out the window.

What’s your reaction to that?

Well, we think, obviously, the world we’re living in today – like old Forrest Gump used to say, you never know what you’re going to get … We just kind of just look at each other and shake our heads … We don’t feed into it. We try to stay positive out there, so we tend to shy away from negative behavior.

And you say you get praise, too?

We also get rewarded. We have people who stop and thank us … I’ve been given a hug. It’s crazy. They stop and (say), “Great job! Thank you, guys.’’ We’ve had people stop and give us bottled water.

That happens pretty often. Not as often as the road rage, but it happens a lot more than you’d think it does.

How do you protect yourself from heat exhaustion or worse on a Florida summer day?

We just stay hydrated. That’s the biggest thing when I talk to my crew daily, is just hydrate ... Watch what you eat, that’s a big factor. (Avoid) a lot of greasy food … Just replenish your body, try to get your rainbow in there – your fruits, vegetables when you can, and just try to stay away from the junk. And stay hydrated – Gatorade, water, it’s all supplied there on the paver.

You say the asphalt is between 315 to 320 degrees F when it’s put down. Combined with the heat from the sun, is it hard to get close to it?

When it’s a real hot day and you’re out there in the mix of it mid-day, there are sometimes you’ve got to step back a little bit … And sometimes that paver gets up there about 120 degrees or so, the metal, so it’s hot to touch, too … Some of us like to wear gloves when it gets that hot.

Jacob Gouveia, 33, of Spring Hill, right, a project foreman with Ajax Paving, operates a paving machine while laying a lane of asphalt at a two-mile long road reconstruction project on Thursday, May 21, 2020, on Keene Road in Clearwater.
Jacob Gouveia, 33, of Spring Hill, right, a project foreman with Ajax Paving, operates a paving machine while laying a lane of asphalt at a two-mile long road reconstruction project on Thursday, May 21, 2020, on Keene Road in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Do you prefer working at night or during the day?

I would say, obviously, it’s a little hotter during the day. There’s a lot more traveling public during the day. But we do like the visibility in the day. So it’s really a toss-up … because you’re dealing with less traffic at night, but less visibility.

What interested you about this work?

Obviously growing up as kids, you play with the Tonka trucks and stuff like that. It was really a quick out. I had a child at a young age, too, so I had to provide pretty quick…Driving around, I’m watching the (big dump trucks) and the graders, that kind of drew my interest to it. I wanted to kind of make an impact …

When you start out with a paving company and you’re fresh to the business and know close to nothing, you start out on a shovel ... working around the machine, paying attention to the mat (of asphalt), filling in holes ... I’ve been a foreman for about five years. I carry a 10-man crew. We have, on average, four or five operators, including the tack truck (with bonding liquid). Then you have your two street operators, which (ride) on the back of the paver (and) control the depth of the asphalt, the ride-ability. And the other three are usually on your rollers.

When you see a road or section you and your crew paved, do you feel a sense of ownership?

Oh, yeah. I don’t how many times me and my family rode through projects that I’ve done, and, you know, you could put your name on that … So there’s always a reward at the end of each project.