I worked for a contractor who hated whiners. He would snarl viciously when a worker complained about the job: “This work ain’t easy. It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, they’d just bring a big old school bus filled with little bitty kindy-garten students to do it!”
There are times when this construction work is fun and rewarding. It’s fun to get a bid andhave very little difference in price between your (WINNING!!) bid and the next ( LOSING!!!) bid. There’s a wonderful sense of satisfaction when we complete the part of the job I worried about during the bid process and it’s within budget. I’ve found after doing this kind of work for more than 30 years that it is rarely the part of the job that I agonized over that bites me in the bum. Fits in with that old saying about “99% of what you worry about never happens.”
My dad told me that when I was a little kid so I made it a point to tick off all areas of my life every night as I lay in bed and worry about each one. It was a nightly ritual like night prayers. Weird little kid. No wonder I became an alcoholic. Not because of anything my dad said or my parents did or because I was a worry wart insomniac, but because I actually thought I had some control on something. Took me 45 years to get into AA and find out that I have no control over people, places, or things. That’s a no exception rule no matter how much I want to control people, places, and things. And the kicker is that if I get upset with another person, place, or thing, then the upset is all on me. Not them. Why? I have to say this several times a day: I have no control over them. Just me.
Back in the Days of Drunk, I lived stressed because there were a multitude of people who did not do what I thought best and there were a myriad of consequences for those actions. Not all of them were pleasant consequences. Most of them weren’t. I stayed sick and stressed while I bid a job and wasn’t happy if I got the job (“Oh, no. What if I missed something?”) or if I didn’t (“Oh, no. What if we run out of work?”) Project managing was a control freak’s nightmare; so many aspects for free wills to collide left me gut sick most of the day. I appreciate free will but only if yours runs in tandem with mine.
Max and Manuel seize the work that I bid and get; they aggressively pursue projects to completion. They don’t have a choice. We are working short handed which means that Manuel is grading limestone base, getting off the maintainer, checking the concrete crew, moving his roller operator to the water truck, signing delivery tickets, getting on his maintainer, grading for awhile. The process goes on all day like that. It was worse last week when Max started a pipe job and had to take Manuel’s roller/water truck operator so Manuel became his own dirt crew.
A couple of weeks ago, we were pouring curb and gutter. Our concrete sub-contractor was moving along pretty well and the work looked great. We were down to our last 900 LF out of 4,000 on May 9 and were already talking about when we would schedule hot mix for the job. Had a little snag when the concrete company couldn’t deliver until the next day, but the sub decided to just form ahead. There was a chance of thunderstorms, but it looked like they wouldn’t hit until late in the day.
We dithered a bit, re-assuring ourselves that we had plenty of plastic to cover the work if it rained. The concrete made it to the job about 1 p.m. on the 10th. Storm clouds swirled around the job all morning, but there was little rain. I compulsively checked the radar and chances of rain, but we looked safe.
About 3:30, we got the great grandmother of all thunderstorms. We got 4.3″ of rain in less than 30 minutes. We not only couldn’t protect the curb; we couldn’t see it. It was under 4″ of water. Our workers had to wait to drive away since the adjacent streets were flooded. Heck. They couldn’t even drive their cars out without major stuckage. They were parked on what had been hard packed clay and which was now muck.
When the rain stopped, we looked at the curb and it was a mess. The City inspector showed up when the water receded and took pictures of our curby mess. Verdict from his boss: “Tear it out and repour it!”
All the wet concrete and sand had washed off and left cemented together gravel. It wasn’t loose gravel. It was hard and ugly. We didn’t want to break out the curb. 300 LF lost-$4,000. 300 LF to be broken out and hauled off-$2,000. And then we’d need to pour it again. The City guys repeated like a mantra: You shouldn’t have tried to pour. EVERYBODY knew that it was going to rain. (4 inches in 30 minutes? Really. Really? EVERYBODY knew that was going to happen.)
On Monday, we cleaned off the rock, blasting the rocky mess with an air compressor and removing any loose rock. It didn’t look good, but it was hard. The problem was that we would need to use 2-4″ of grout to cover the mess. Would that be structurally sound? We talked to our inspector’s boss who came back out and said it didn’t look that bad but he wanted our design engineer to look at it. In fact, we had a whole string of people who thought it looked fine, but they all wanted the design engineer to agree that the mess could remain after it was covered with grout.
Engineers are a cagey lot. Ours kicked the curb, growled a little, dithered a little, and then said for us to take it out. In truth, we love both the design engineer and the project developer since they were willing to take a chance on us before we’d ever done a project. If there was a chance that we’d be leaving a mess then, darn it, we’d take it out.
And we did. It felt horrible.
I’d have liked to have been a little bitty old kindy-garten kid. You’d have been able to land a chicken on my lower lip.