An occasional survey of jobs both unusual and extraordinary, and the people who make them happen.
Although his business card describes him as merely an engineer, Hank Beck’s assistants and partners have more colorful terms for his area of expertise.
“Well,” he says, smiling under his dark, serious eyes, “Some of the interns took to calling it ‘rear-gineering,’ and that started to stick, although two of my immediate assistants have always called themselves ‘Derriere-gineers.’”
What Hank does is civic engineering, applying science and industry to public places to insure that there’s always plenty of room to move, to advertise, to sell, to ship, to store – and most specifically, to sit. Hank’s lifelong expertise has been in the field of engineering public spaces to accommodate the ever-expanding American backside.
“Some of it’s just better health, better nutrition, some of it is the current obesity epidemic, but the bottom line is that we’re all just a little bit larger than our grandparents and great-grandparents, and what was a comfortable seat for someone growing up in the Twenties or Thirties is going to be a tight fit for modern-day folks.”
The bottom line, did he say?
Hank sighs. “Yes, I suppose so.”
Beck’s firm has hired out to design, redesign or retrofit public seating areas in more than eight hundred local attractions and facilities, including the Industry Island Ferries, the Eighth Avenue Polo Grounds, the temporary seating outside the Edith Howldinger Opera Shell at Mabel Tripp Gardens, and in Mayor Cosgrove’s outer office. Beck has made a difference in the up-sizing of every public service, from the busses and bus-stops to the width of manhole covers all over town. But will the seat-resizing ever end?
“You’re asking me if there will ever be a time when we no longer need to enlarge seats to fit bigger rear-ends? Really? You’re asking if rear ends will ever stop getting bigger?”
He stares for a moment, considering the question with an icy professionalism. “Yeah, duh.”
- Jonathan Morris