Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Trail of Tears or Bataan Death March? You be the judge.

Howie, Dash, and I met at a fast food restaurant just outside of Denver near the airport to carpool the other three hours to Wheatlands. I thought I might be asked to drive, and I was right. Good thing I'd filled up before leaving town.

After arriving a little late (I drove pretty slowly after we saw three Kansas State Patrol cars in a 43-mile stretch of state highway, more than I'd ever seen in almost two years of going to Wheatlands), we spent the next two hours in a meeting with the member of the hospital staff who'd been the staff/design team liason and followed construction. Markie is the kind of person who...sigh. He's sometimes insightful, helpful, and very diplomatic. However, he also is a big fish in a small Wheatlands pond, and if he's not happy, then no one can be. If it's not perfect, then it's an almighty disaster in his eyes. He will forget everything that contributed to the situation at hand and can only see that Nothing Is Right and This Is All Wrong. Howie, in turn, would like to say Bite Me and Grow Up, but that doesn't lead to getting a good reference later from a past client to a potential client.

So, for two hours, we listened to Markie grouse somewhat politely about doors that weren't operating correctly, noise issues in the main corridors, this, that, and the other. We talked through the amount of soil it would take to correct the retention pond as well as alternate plants to use in the landscaping. Howie, to his great credit, did extremely well in the meeting. He did a lot of listening, making sure he understood what Markie and the hospital wanted, saying more than once that Design Associates had not done a good job of listening and getting things right and that we appreciated the chance to come out and make things right, etc. He as well as Dash made reference to the fact that cost had been such a focus that we lost sight of the look of this project. Markie, also to his credit, agreed that there were some factors that weren't DA's fault that made this site lok so bad, including pressure from the contractor and the owner's rep on cost, cost, cost.

We then walked around the building and made note of a lot of grading issues in general. Water draining from the roof through lambstongues were cuttign deep grooves in the soil down to where you could almost see the foundation (very uncool). Grading had been done in some areas such that water was ponding close to the building and sidewalks (also very uncool). We looked at the doors that needed better security and a location for a new employee parking lot. Finally, Markie let us leave after two hours.

When we got in the car, I looked Howie in the eye and said, "You are not paid enough."
Howie barely flinched, just perceptibly raised an eyebrow. "For what, that ass kicking we just took for two hours?"
"Yeah. You were amazing in there. The picture of diplomacy."
"Man, that was excruciating." Howie loosened his tie. "I need an ice cream and a nap."
Dash looked over his shoulder at the building as I drove out of the parking lot. "Not to be derogatory, but I think the contractor hosed them on that grading. The ponding and washouts are inexcuseable."
"Hm," mused Howie. "We need the civil engineer out here to see if this got built the way he drew it. Something's not right."

Let me be clear. I have yet to meet a truly wrong and/or truly evil client. They want what they want, and they paid to have a good building that looks good, works well, and holds up over time. Wheatlands had every right to ask for a decent site. But sending Markie to have that discussion is like sending Don Imus to teach sensitivity training. He's just...tweaked. He exhausts those who must work with him and tease out what he wants or needs. This may the hardest part of being an architect--understanding inarticulate clients and helping them become literate in what you do.

Howie was a busy mofo. He's been out of the office for two weeks solid, save about three hours. He came to the office after the Wheatlands meeting for a couple of hours, and then he goes on a much-deserved vacation tomorrow for a week and a few, then off to some more meetings. Howie literally won't be back in the office until July. In the meantime, I'm working for Jann, staying busy, and keeping Howie out of jail by driving him to and from Wheatlands today. He was on the phone for the entire three hour trip there and two-and-a-half hours coming back. Just trying to catch up on all the crap he's been missing for the past two weeks. I don't know if I ever want to be that busy. In Howie's case, it's a sign of success. While I'd never want that much work, I have to say that hearing his voice make call after call is somewhat comforting. His voice has a high top layer, but somehow underneath that, I hear his slight Bostonian twang in a deep tone that is more felt than heard. i know that doens't make any sense, but it's a comforting sound, hearing his voice spit information rapid-fire into voicemail after conversation after voicemail. It's the sound of progress. It's the sound of work going on in the office and getting done, the sound of job security. The sound of Someone Who Knows What the Hell They're Doing Around Here. And it makes me glad he's my boss.


faded said...

You do have a good boss. They are vary rare. Take good care of him.

BaxtersMum said...

One of my favorite quotes in the world is "There is nothing like the feeling of being able to legitimately pass responsibility."

Howie is your hero. He's a man in charge, a man in control, and a man with the answers.

damn. I hope he's not cute too, or I would be totally 13-yrs old in luuuuurrrrrve with him.


Miss Kitty said...

Po' Howie. I hope he got his ice cream & nap.

Miss Kitty said...

BaxtersMum: Howie is cute, in his own smart-fella Northeastern "find ya'self a nice goyl ta marry" kind of way. :-P

St. Blogwen said...

I would looooove to hear what the CE says. And to say the client may've got hosed when there's excess water problems-- you can say that again.