Photo: David Zeigler, KP News

When was the last time you looked forward to slowing down for road construction? The straight scoop on the powerful phenomenon called smiling.

As bridge construction over Minter Creek continues on State Route 302 to replace aging culverts that interfere with salmon runs, a rising star amongst traffic flaggers has captured the hearts of enough Key Penners to become newsworthy. 

The bright eyes, broad smile, friendly waves and affirming thumbs-up from traffic flagger Ricky Brooks have delighted drivers –– to the point of slowing traffic. 

Brooks is a flagger apprentice in the Laborers’ Union Local 252. 

“I had a Christian-based upbringing and values that influenced me,” Brooks said. He was born and raised in Lacey after his parents relocated to Washington from Cleveland, Ohio, and credits his parents for his outlook on life.

When he started out on SR-302, he tried to remember the feeling of anxious frustration, being on your way somewhere when you’re late. He asked himself what he could do to make the frustration easier to take.

“For me, the main thing here is really simple: Treat thy neighbor as you want to be treated. That’s something anyone can do. A little good goes a long way.”

“Ricky has brought crew morale up. He is upbeat, happy and a real joy to work with. He’s doing a good job and getting better all the time,” said supervisor Jessie Rost, who works for BC Traffic LLC. She has been in the union for 17 years and said she loves her job and wouldn’t do anything else. 

Traveling through the construction zone is straightforward at this stage, Rost said, but as the project moves forward, flagging will become much more challenging and it’s crucial that Brooks’ fans don’t become distracted drivers and cause the problems flaggers are there to prevent. 

Rost said Brooks wasn’t flagging during the days when SR-302 was down to a single lane and the worst of the traffic delays were occurring. 

“Being a flagger during that period was difficult,” she said. “When drivers waiting in line became frustrated, they frequently became angry and often sped through the 25 mile-per-hour construction zone speed limits.” 

But hundreds of people on Facebook continue to post about the good feelings and positive affirmation that says, “I see you and you matter” from the friendly flagger they only know as “Ricky.” 

“When you put out positivity you don’t always get to see the results of how it continues to spread and flow through other people, but here — I’ve been so fortunate to see it flowing right back to me,” he said.

“Everybody — whether white, black, Asian or Hispanic — it’s a lot easier to hate people that you don’t know,” he said. “I’m at a loss for words here, but there is a wall of fear that blocks the love. Smiles break all that down. I feel the love surrounding me.”

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