Sink or Swim in Construction

I had an idea about 1:00 a.m. this morning for a post prompted by something I had read. I chose not to post it at that moment or even start a draft as the subject was a bit dark and I didn’t want to go to bed with it running around in my head. I was sure I would remember it when I woke up and could write the post in the light of day when I would have time to absorb or get past any of the angst it caused before nighttime. However, try as I might, I can’t think of what the topic was even after looking over my browser history to see what site/sites I visited about that time. I feel like the old joke: of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most. *SIGH!*

Since my memory train has left the station and I don’t know when it will return I checked today’s Daily Prompt Sink or Swim. After a moment’s thought I realized I do have a story that would fit this prompt.

| “When you have to cope with a lot of problems, you’re either going to sink or you’re going to swim.”                — Tom Cruise |

In 1982, just about the time desktop computers were showing up in offices everywhere, Kelly Services sent me on assignment as the site secretary for CRSS Construction, a commercial construction firm. Their former secretary had left when the company announced a pending merger, which is neither here nor there. After two weeks, they hired me permanently. That particular project, the new City/County Jail and Administration Building, was well under way when I came aboard.

Boy, could I tell you some stories from that job! But most of those will have to wait for another time since they don’t fit the writing prompt.

When I started the job, about the only knowledge I had of the construction industry was that it required the use of hammers and nails. My desk was in a mobile home set up for use as offices. It was busy, noisy, cluttered, and very dusty, but I was in my element. Best of all, I didn’t have to wear a dress and heels to work after showing up in them on the first day. In fact, heels would have been a hazard for me on that job.

My first boss was the Vice-President, Paul C, and he had a very hands-on management style and lots of high energy. That meant he was rarely around when I needed answers to questions. More often than not I got the answers I needed from the site and crew supervisors. If I absolutely had to talk to Paul and he was out on the site but couldn’t be raised on the radio, I had to wear a hard hat when I left the office. One of the men on site, who was also an artist, decorated my hard hat specifically for me. I kept that hard hat for about 25 years.


BTW, when watching a movie or TV show and the cops show up at a construction site to talk to a supervisor, there is often someone in a hard hat standing in the open looking over blueprints. The writers, more often than not, miss a big point in that instance — nobody should enter a construction site without a hard hat. If you’ve ever been on a commercial construction site, in particular, and seen things falling off the building or had a falling object almost hit you, you don’t complain about wearing that bulky, slightly heavy lid, even in the worst heat of summer.

Oh, wait, I got off topic. Within the first three months, the company decided to move the offices inside the partly built jail on the basis of wanting to start on the landscaping (yet they were still 10 months away from completing the project). We had barely gotten settled in to the new space when, the merger having been completed, Paul C transferred to the corporate office in Colorado. I now had a new boss, Charlie D.

Unlike Paul, Charlie was calm, patient, never screamed at the workers, and was excellent at delegation. It’s a good thing he had those particular skills. With the move I had more responsibilities, one of which was managing the heavy equipment orders. The first time I called an equipment rental company to tell them the piece of equipment they had delivered that morning was not working, they said they wouldn’t be able to get a replacement to us for a couple of days. When I relayed that information to Charlie, he picked up the phone and told me to listen and learn.

I listened in awe as he called the rental equipment and told them, in a calm but firm voice, that if they couldn’t replace the equipment before the end of the same day, he would call another firm. To my surprise, the company “found” a working replacement and delivered it before I left the office that day. The next time we had a problem getting equipment on time, though it frightened me to no end, I had to make the phone call. Until then, I had never been good at standing up to people; but I did learn to diplomatically handle a variety of situations.

Then Charlie threw me to the wolves again. There came a point as we neared the end of the project, we needed some part-time office help. Because I would be responsible for supervising that person, I had to handle the hiring process. He  did agree to interview the woman I decided to hire, but I think he may have sensed I needed validation I had made the right choice.

Unfortunately, I was wrong about that young woman and I had to fire her within two weeks; she was much more invested in flirting with the workers than doing her job. No matter how much I begged him to handle the firing, Charlie said when it was my responsibility to hire, it was also my responsibility to fire. Reluctantly, I did. He later told me he hadn’t thought she would work out, but I needed the experience. (In hindsight, I suspect he didn’t have the foggiest notion of what qualities to look for in office staff.) I went through the hiring and firing process another time before I convinced Charlie that I would rather work overtime than go through that process again, largely because it took too much of my time to train and supervise. That probably explains why I was so adamant over the years about not taking a supervisory job anywhere.

Being thrown into three different sink or swim situations during my employment with CRSS, one would think I wouldn’t want to work in construction again. Instead, I fell in love with the construction industry. The only reason I didn’t stay in that industry was because I didn’t drive and there was no bus service near the next project.

However, because of that job, and particularly Charlie D, I learned I had skills and abilities I never dreamed I had. Because of Charlie, I gained a great deal of confidence in my working and people skills that served me well over the years.

So wherever you are Charlie D, thanks for being patient and persistent in teaching me how to handle different people and situations.

But I still say it’s too bad you had already met your wife.