Friday, July 4, 2008

Mr. Shan and the Lost Outlet

Tools. Yikes, what a mess.

Juan has rarely removed any of his tools from the job site since he started. Each new crew brings their own. I have my tools. They all get moved around, picked up, put down and mixed up. It is hard enough keeping track of my tools when I am working between the house and the garage, back and forth all day, but if other people are moving my tools around while I’m not looking the frustration is compounded. I lost my big T-square this past week for several days. There must be four on the site so I had others to borrow. My level was missing most of yesterday though I ultimately found it cast in a pile far from where I had left it. No one takes anything from my garage, but if I leave something laying around it is almost sure to be moved and, as a consequence, lost for some period of time. For one such as myself who takes an ordered, methodical approach to tasks this is perplexing and annoying.

Work crews are notoriously messy. They drop trash wherever they happen to be standing. Every couple of days I roam the site picking up soda cans, plastic water bottles, cookie wrappers, fast food debris, etc. and depositing it in the proper bins out back. To make matters worse, many of the cans, bottles and wrappers are only half-consumed. If Scout finds them before I do he is happy to finish the job, but as often it is the ants who move in to take charge. I’ve always made sure the workers have access to snacks, canned soda and bottled water since the job began. I figure it costs me maybe an extra twenty dollars a week, but earns me a lot of goodwill with the people who spend time here. I recycle the plastic and sell the empty cans back to the city when I get a couple of plastic bags full. But the mess…what a dismaying prospect.

Interruptions and delays are discouraging. Momentum is key to progress. Last Monday I was getting work done and able to see things moving ahead in spite of the drywall guys around me. My rhythm was deliberate and measured, I was already very dirty and I knew I was good for maybe three more hours before I’d have to quit for the day. Then I heard someone calling me, “Mr. Shan!”.

It was the electrician; he’s the only one who calls me Mr. Shan (rhymes with Chan). He wasn’t supposed to be there. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and he wasn’t due back until the drywall was finished. He told me he was nearby and thought he’d come in to check on progress. That was fine with me (as long as he left me alone) so I told him to roam around at will. I went back to work in the shower, but not more than two minutes later I hear him calling me again. “Where is the outlet here?” he asks. I don’t see an outlet and don’t really know what he is talking about. “There are three outlets on this wall”, he says, “One here, another here and there is one more. Where is it?” He answers his own question, “They covered it up.” Well, I have business to take care of so I get out my pencil, mark an “X” and write on the wall, “OUTLET?” I’ll look for it later.

He leaves and I go back to work. One minute more, then, “Mr. Shan!” he calls from somewhere else in the house. I find him in another bathroom with the same problem. “They covered up another one here” he tells me and punches a hole in the drywall with a screw driver. I mark it also. By this time the drywallers have caught on and are looking none too happy. “And you want to see something?” I really didn’t. “Look up there,” he gestures toward the ceiling. “There is a smoke detector outlet up there somewhere I don’t know.” He walks a few feet down the hall. “Someplace along here there is the smoke detector”. This time he indicated a 12 foot expanse of hallway ceiling behind which was the missing outlet. I thought a moment then told him that I had a lot of photographs of the construction and I’d go check to see if one of them might show where to look, or poke with a screwdriver. “Can I go with you?” he asked. I explained to him that the photographs were on my computer and that people were sleeping (my daughter and mother-in-law were napping) on the other side of the wall. He relented.

Sure enough, one of the photographs showed that particular area of hall, but it was a long shot from the door of the master bedroom down the hall to the guest bath. Still, I could tell that it was centered in the ceiling two stud-bays from one of the recessed can-lights. Figuring two stud-bays at a little more than 32” it didn’t take long to get a general idea of where the missing receptacle was. Still, the electrician had to cut two fist-sized holes in the ceiling before he was able to locate the exact spot. the drywall crew quietly seethed.

The conclusion to the story is that I never was able to return to work until he left, and by the time he did leave he had pointed out three other outlets/switchboxes that had been covered up by the drywall crew. We were all glad to see him go, though in all truth I needed to have those fixtures pointed out to me. I wouldn’t want to wait another three weeks to start wondering why I don’t have anyplace to plug in my toothbrush. And these are just the sort of problems that an “owner/contractor” is expected to contend with.

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