Mike Carrara dances with us and reminds us to pursue happiness
By Cayla Vidmar
If you’ve driven between Crested Butte and Gunnison this summer, you have probably seen him: The guy in the yellow vest controlling traffic flow, with the smile and the dance moves. Seeing him has made the construction traffic a little more enjoyable on a hot summer’s day.
I sat down with Mike Carrara, the dancing construction flagger who has made the roadwork in Almont more bearable this summer, to find out why he’s always so chipper despite long hours in the sun. Many of us have shoulder-danced with him as we drive by, and behind the energetic dance moves, Mike has a message for us all: People are beautiful and happiness is the only point.
Driving by the dusty construction workers, the ones flipping the sign from “stop” to “slow,” I always wonder what it’s like to stand in the elements all day, dealing with edgy drivers distracted by smart phones. So I asked.
Mike echoed everything I thought: “You’re out there sometimes 15 hours a day, sometimes you get a break, sometimes you don’t, so you have to be prepared and ready, especially for the unexpected.”
Hailing from Grand Junction, Mike stands out there on the hot pavement six days a week, dancing, waving and smiling at everyone who drives past him as he manages the flow of construction traffic through the canyon outside of Almont—all without music to dance to. He has to be able to listen to the two-way radio to communicate throughout the day, so he has no tunes to set his groove.
This is Mike’s first season on the CNC Enterprise crew, and the utility work along Highway 135 that started earlier this summer is his first job with the company. Mike has been busy the last eight years dedicating all his time to raising his son. “I wanted to be there every day for him, cook for him, take him to and from school, and support him with track and field.” As his son heads off for college, Mike says, “I like keeping busy—my son is going to college, I got all this energy, so I’m gonna use it.”
Which brought him to Almont, where he’s directed traffic while dancing, waving and smiling at passing cars all summer. He certainly doesn’t have to dance and smile at people while he works. However, Mike says, “I like to make people happy. It’s hard for some people to get out of their bubble. They’re more concerned about things when they should be happy and enjoy themselves, that’s what life is all about. People are beautiful.”
Mike told me he put drama out of his life a long time ago because “It’s distracting and unproductive.” Instead, he’s been living a life that reflects his personality on the job. “If you have fun in life, you’re gonna have fun things come to you, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” he says.
That mentality—and no doubt his dance moves—got him a gig directing traffic for a recent wedding in Crested Butte. Emmy Jervey and Michael Luna, Gunnison Valley locals, recently tied the knot in Crested Butte and were told it would be helpful to have someone direct traffic. Emmy said, “We were determined to get the happy dancing flagger guy at our wedding.” She wanted him to be a part of their special day because “Every time my now husband and I drove to and from Gunnison, Mike put a smile on our faces. Even on really crappy days he put things into perspective and made us realize that a smile and dance can go a long way.”
After Emmy told a friend how much they wanted Mike to direct traffic at their wedding, her friend surprised the couple by getting Mike there. “It was one of the best surprises of our wedding, for sure,” Emmy says.
While he’s out there dancing, working and making people’s day a little better, Mike just makes his own beat, not really humming a particular song. He says he recognizes a lot of the locals that pass him every day, and that people have even stopped to get out of their car and dance with him. “I had one guy jump out of the car and come up and start dancing with me on the road, it’s fun,” he reflects.
Every day, Mike contributes a bit of joy to those of us running through life stressed-out. The word “stop” on his sign is more like a life motto than a traffic directive. “Quit being so concerned about making money. Be more concerned about your family and friends and being happy,” he advises. “Life is easier when you do that instead of sacrificing your time and efforts in a way that seems productive in your mind, but when it comes to your family, you’re sacrificing your life and the things that are really important.”
And his last bit of advice? “Don’t get distracted in a construction zone—it can be really dangerous. Be patient and don’t text.” It really is the simple things that make life worth it.