It sounds a bit like a tongue twister… "Connie Cross loved cotton candy as a kid." Can you say that quickly three times? But it is true. Connie and her sister loved cotton candy so much that their dad bought a cotton candy machine for them. When they took it to a fun fair at their grade school, he realized the money-making potential it had. That was over forty years ago! That single cotton candy machine purchase grew into a family business, called Pete's Concessions. They have travelled to NASCAR events, craft shows, and car shows in the middle Atlantic area.
Connie helped operate Pete's Concessions, mostly in the Western Maryland area and drove a tractor trailers for twenty years, mainly in New York City. She started working for PennDOT as a seasonal employee during the winter of 2015-16. Since the food concession business ran from April until October, it seemed like a perfect fit to work for PennDOT from October until March.
"Being with the Commonwealth gives me the opportunity to be close home instead of 'on-the-road'," said Connie. She was a seasonal employee for PennDOT for four years, mostly plowing snow, and was hired full-time in March 2019.
Connie's job title with PennDOT is TEOA, Transportation Equipment Operator A. And what she is learning now is how and when to set up various work zones, what is involved for the chipping crew, and she also does some flagging and operates a dump truck.
Connie likes the people she works with and feels they are knowledgeable and treat her well.
"As a team we all work together to get the job completed as safe and efficient as possible. You're not sent out without assistance and the equipment you need. The foremen are safety-minded and always ask if we need water or a break," Connie said.
During the summer, there are several projects she works on, but mostly, they are busy getting the roads ready for the chipping crew. Connie finds if fascinating to learn all the different components and the logistics involved in an operation. PennDOT has given her the opportunity to see how much planning must go into a project. There are several layers of planning that need to be in place before the first work sign is set out.
"It's not a fly-by-the-seat of your pants [system]. Most people think it's as simple as writing down an order and then filling it. There are safety issues, logistic issues, and employees to address before thinking about starting the actual work," Connie explained.
If someone is considering applying to PennDOT, Connie would encourage them to do it now and not wait. One thing she likes best about her job is the solidarity. "Everyone is part of the team and helps out. No one does a task alone. In all the places I've worked, PennDOT is the only place where multiple tasks are shared among the work crew as a group. Everyone knows their job and how it needs to be done safely. We all look out for each other and care about the outcome of our job," Connie said.
Since working for PennDOT, Connie has observed how her job has influenced her personally. She now has a lot more respect for people in the work zones while driving her personal vehicle. When travelling through other states, she notices how roads are graded or if signs need to be replaced. And when she isn't working for PennDOT, she still helps with Pete's Concessions on evenings and weekends.
Today, Connie said that Pete's Concessions now sells a variety of food products including hot Italian sausage, French fries, pizza, ice cream, milkshakes, popcorn, hamburgers, cheese steaks, chicken tenders, funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, and cotton candy. They have five trailers, four tents, and a permanent building located in Cumberland, MD… all because two little girls loved Cotton Candy!