We have had several significant home renovation projects in the past year with different groups of workers. This post is about our deck guy. For those following this journey, he had been the music room guy and the kitchen window guy. He also was the broken-hearted guy when his wife dumped him for the local feed farmer (that was a story which required medications).
He does great work but has some idiosyncrasies that can make you stark raving mad when exposed to him for any length of time. We had other project crews that showed up early, worked hard and left late. His crews were not one of those.
The language was salty; the radio was loud; and the butts were flowing. That’s how they rolled.
He did three projects for us. The first two were small ones. Both took longer than expected (and that would be a theme with all his work). Each morning he would come with one or two guys. Most of these guys don’t have cars. Transportation is a big issue. When he had to pick up people he got here late.
Sometimes he would go to pick them up and they didn’t show. Fridays were a particularly bad day because there was a Thursday night bar activity that required the workers to get stinking drunk. You don’t want anyone like that working on your project anyway.
Some were chipper and eager to get started but would lose interest fast. Really fast, like by 10 a.m. on the first day. In one case he sent someone home because it was so obvious the guy didn’t want to be here. Redoing work done carelessly was also a recurrent theme.
No one in his worker pool wanted a “steady” job. No secure paycheck coming in. Several were on disability so working a day or two was “beer money” (possibly for Thursday nights). They only worked when they needed to. For perspective these were middle-aged white guys aged 40 to 60.
A few were supported by “the old lady.” In this case “old” could mean 30. It has nothing to do with age. It refers to the paramour du jour who is willing to support someone who prefers not to work. A current day gigolo. None of these guys were handsome. Not even in a rugged way. Some were missing teeth. Others had trouble articulating a sentence. There were no six-pack abs. If I were to have a gigolo, my standards would be much higher. They weren’t homely though. I would call them aging hippies, longish hair but balding with dew rags wrapped on their heads. As the horse folks would say, they were ridden hard and put away wet a few times too many.
One guy did not want to work more than 12 hours a week. That’s all he needed to sustain his lifestyle (because his old lady was carrying the burden of rent, utilities, food, etc.) He never worked more than three or four hours a day on my project. He showed up on his motorcycle in time for lunch and left by 2 p.m. and never more than two days a week.
Everyone smokes. Non-stop. This isn’t the 50s. People know the health hazards of smoking. (These guys do not have health insurance. That would require working more hours!) There is also the expense. (Maybe the old lady supports this habit too.) I found cigarette butts in planters and all around the deck site. Most were cleaned up at the end but not a day before.
My contractor did not believe in cleaning up day by day, wasting good time that could go toward the project itself. He also didn’t believe in working full days. He rarely worked five hours a day (which contributed to the time delay). He was doing drafting for an architect in the afternoons.
Even when he wasn’t doing that, he never stayed later than 2 p.m. It was as if a bell rang. They dropped everything and ran for the truck. Tools were left in place, scattered around. One day a full pack of cigarettes were left out to get rained on. On another, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich lay unfinished on the wood pile. My mice would have liked that. My eyeballs rolled so hard I wasn’t sure I could get them front again. It reminded me of school. That school bell rang, and everyone ran to the buses.
The deck project (which turned out great) was predicted to be a two-week job. It took eight weeks. That was partly because the contractor cannot judge work time; partly because he had trouble securing workers who would show up; and the short workdays. Many days he worked alone. When someone did show up, he spent considerable time coaching them on what to do. Sometimes he ripped out what they did and redid it.
I suspect that because of his short workdays he couldn’t get quality workers who would need a full day’s pay to support their families. His work style dictated who he could get. I want to say bottom feeders but the guys were nice enough, just not ambitious.
This did not reflect what I saw in the kitchen contractor, the landscaping crew or the painters but many of them were immigrants. My advice to the contractor (after one of his many rants about getting good help) was to drop the part-time white guys and find a crew of immigrants eager to work. He admitted that would be a better work crew but would require a lifestyle change on his part.
He tried to poach people from the landscapers, but they wouldn’t go. Let’s see, they have a steady full-time job with benefits. Leave that for a crazy contractor who would give them five hours a day max? Not a tough decision.
Our job is done. It’s beautiful and we are happy, but I need to recover. It was as if the circus came to town and parked on my front lawn for eight weeks! Total chaos!
*Author’s note: This is not indicative of all contractors. We’ve had several good experiences. Our deck guy is smart and talented and gave us a good product but he marches to the tune of a different drummer.