Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scenes from a site walk, or, Adventures with Contractors

[Pixie, Yuri, Boris, and Ivan walk through part of an area under renovation in the Bierstadt Building on a weekly morning sitewalk]

Boris: So, we're wondering if we can remove this and maybe connect the casework and countertop all the way around the room... [puts his hand on a drywall bumpout in the corner of a room]
Pixie: Well, depends. Is there anything in there? Is it furring out around some pipes or something?
Ivan: I don't think so. Not that we could see from a ladder looking down into it.
Boris: Well, let's open it up and see. [turns around and shouts] Can we get a sledgehammer over here?
Yuri: [wordlessly lifts up size-16 workboot and stomps it through the drywall of the bumpout]
Boris: [turns around and shouts] Cancel the sledgehammer--we brought Yuri.

[The construction team inspects an exterior wall. Vlad arrives.]
Vlad: So, we should be getting the new storefront framing next week, so we can start demo of this existing storefront on Friday.
Pixie: Right on. I'd like to look at that ledge up on top of these windows. Is that just steel?
Boris: [cranes neck to look up] Yeah, just red iron. It's all over this building.
Yuri: [sits down a ladder near the exterior wall] Here you go, Pix.
[Pixie climbs the ladder and gets to the next-to-top step.]
Pixie: Um, I can't see the top, guys...
Yuri: [calls over shoulder] We need a taller ladder!
Pixie: [climbing down off ladder] You need a taller architect.

[The team proceeds into the main electrical room, where panels are being replaced and added.]
Vlad: We've gotten all the fireproofing in the wall penetrations here, so that's good.
Boris: Have you seen the fireproofer's ride? It's a van that looks just like the Mystery Machine!
Yuri: No way! Really?
Boris: Totally! He takes it to car shows--
Pixie: --parks it outside elementary schools, holds a bag of fun-size Snickers out the window...
Yuri: [struggles to stifle laughter] Oh, God, Pixie...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Contractors: the older brothers I never had, the cool kids I never got to hang out with

I don’t know why I like contractors so much. I mean, technically I should like them because they build the things I draw, and some of them build those things very well. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever met a bad contractor (and I’ve met very few bad subcontractors)—since I do healthcare and other large-scale commercial projects, I think that’s helped to separate the crap from the mulch*. But I just like being around them—I feel like I’m being allowed into an exclusive club, or even being allowed to observe a completely different species in its natural habitat.

We sit down around a folding table in the construction trailer at 7:30am, ready to start our OAC**. I have to do a job walk afterwards, so I’m wearing pants and closed-toe shoes, but I’m still dressed like I have a white-collar job. The contractors with whom I’m working on the Gestalt main floor renovation, Glasnost Construction, range in ages from late-20s to mid-50s. Leaning on the table with wide, tanned forearms, looking intensely at the meeting minutes and each other, Gestalt baseball caps covering the hair that’s been plastered down by hard hats for almost three hours already***, the various superintendents, foremen, and project engineers look like giants compared to me. Their XXL t-shirts stretched over barrel chests and chiseled biceps and 36- to 38-inch inseam jeans lapping over size-14 Redwing work boots belie a seemingly-unspoken hiring rule at Glasnost: you must be at least 6’-0” tall and 240 lbs to run a project. I’m not even kidding: the shortest contractor on my jobsite is the project engineer, Vlad, and he’s 6’-0” tall and in his early 30s, while the other three are 6’-2” (Boris, late 40s), 6’-5” (Ivan, early 40s), and 6’-7” (Yuri, late 20s). (The Glasnost project manager, Darko, is maybe 5’-9” and in his 50s, but he’s worthy of his own post, that guy.)

The size and cultural difference is most noticeable in the field. After the OAC, we walk around the parts of the main floor of the Bierstadt building under renovation. As we approach the job site, Yuri hands me a pink hard hat. “It’s not a statement about you, Pixie,” he says. “It’s just the only way we can guarantee that none of the other guys will wear your hardhat and get their head funk in it.” I tighten it down onto my head and walk into what looks like a street scene in Iraq—fluorescent lights hang crookedly while sparks fly from someone welding support steel for a coiling door across the room. I can look straight up to see wires, ducts, and even the underside of the next concrete floor above us. As I lift my leg to step over some construction debris, Ivan steps down onto it to flatten it out so I don’t have to step so far. I ask to look into a portion of the exterior wall that’s about eight feet above the floor, and someone produces a ladder. As I climb up, two large men hold the bottom—it’s overkill for stabilizing a ladder for someone barely over 120 lbs, but it’s very kind: don’t let the little architect fall. As Yuri and I take measurements of an undocumented fire extinguisher cabinet (we’ll have it deported the next day), a drywaller across the room lets loose with a string of F-bombs. Boris takes two steps towards the man and silences him with an icy glare: watch your mouth, there’s a lady present.

It’s educational and downright fun sometimes to hang out with contractors. You listen to them talk about past projects and problems they had on those projects and how they solved them. You even hear them describe, sometimes unintentionally, what makes a good carpenter/plumber/electrician/painter/whatever. You hear them gossip about other clients, even people they haven’t worked for. Turns out my Glasnost crew at Gestalt have friends who worked at MHRC back when I was working with Squidwort, and they heard what I saw firsthand—a research clinic with a lot of money and the entire management eating bowls full of crazy for breakfast every morning. I’ve found overall that the best way to work with contractors is not to assume that they’re always right or always wrong. They’ve seen some stuff, and you’ve seen some stuff, and between the two or three or twelve of you, you can find a way to solve anything.

*I hesitate to say the men from the boys, as I’ve met some good women contractors and carpenters. They’re few and far between in commercial work, but they do exist. My mom is one of them.

**“OAC” is short for “Owner-Architect-Contractor meeting”, which are held periodically to discuss progress on a project, bring up present or future concerns, discuss the best solution for intractable problems, and so on.

***In renovation projects where the building has to remain operational, contractors will often start work very early in the morning to get noisy stuff out of the way, like core drilling. Plus, starting early in the morning allows them extra time in the afternoon to fix something in case there’s a problem.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Introducing the 2010 Cavalcade of Mom Dresses

A few days before Mom arrived a couple weeks ago, a large box showed up at my office from Mom. My coworkers knew that could mean only one thing: dresses. When she arrived a couple of days later, we tried everything on and she marked where each dress needed tweaking. A few dresses shown here, namely the first and last ones, only needed hemming--they were perfect right out of the box. The second dress shown here is a true wrap dress that she sent a month or so ago, but I haven't posted on it. Eat your heart out, Diane von Furstenburg!

And so, I present to you, faithful WAD readers, the 2010 Cavalcade of Mom Dresses! (Model's face has been obscured to prevent PTSD in the general public.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Shopping with Mom in Cherry Creek

The weekend with Mom has been great. We've risen around 7 or 7:30 most mornings, lingered over the paper and a few cups of coffee, then been off to the spa or some other funness. Saturday, we went to Cherry Creek, a tony shopping district in Denver. First, we had 90-minute massages (after which Mom could almost feel her left foot), then we stopped for a chai at Starbucks. Then, it was window shopping and kibbutzing time.

Shopping with Mom is always a treat. Her commentary on contemporary fashion and housewares crack me up. Related dialogue for each photo is below the image.

First stop was schmancy furniture store Room & Board.
Mom: What're those adironidack chairs made of?
Pixie: Um, looks like--
Mom: Looks like plastic.
Pixie: [walking up and tapping/scratching the chairs] Maybe some kind of phenolic or resin--
Mom: This shit is plastic. I know plastic. We have a Wal-Mart, people--I know what plastic looks like.

Next stop was the high-end retail clothing store Max.
Pixie: Could you make that dress?
Mom: Yeah, sure, it's um...
Pixie: Some kind of wool or flannel--
Mom: Christ! It's not even hemmed! It's just...fused!
Pixie: ......wha...?
Mom: Do you know what happens when you don't hem a knit? It unravels!
Pixie: Awfully expensive built-in obsolescence.

[Pixie and Mom walk into the store.]
Pixie: Hey Mom, how about this hemline.
Mom: No.

[walks further into the store]
Salesgirl: Hi, can I help you?
Mom: None of these dresses are hemmed! Just serged!!
Salesgirl: Um...that's, um, the style...[looks around] let me know if you need help. [walks away]
Pixie: [watching her go] She knows she's not going to sell us anything if you know what the word "serge" means and that these clothes aren't hemmed.
Mom: [feels of skin-tight grey dress] Holy shit! This is just super-thin sweatshirt material! That's all! And it's not hemmed either!
Pixie: [looks at tag] And it's $1100.
Mom: Christ, proud of it, aren't they?

Next stop was the windows at Mario di Leone.
Pixie: How about that blouse? I like the neck-thingy.
Mom: I can make that; it's just polished cotton. But she oughta button that shirt all the way and hide her tummy, even if she doesn't have a head.

Another small shop window.
Pixie: You like?
Mom: Not only can I make that, but it's really easy. It's the easiest thing I've seen all day...other than me.

In the Cherry Creek Mall, the Nordstrom's window.
Pixie: Oooh, WANT! How hard is that to make?
Mom: Oh, good lord. All they did is put a drawstring on the side to make the ruching. And I'm sure they want a kidney for it.
Pixie: And you can make it cheaper?
Mom: Sure, for half a pancreas.

Further into Nordstrom's.
Mom: Holy Moses! It's the same color as your Dress From Hell!
Pixie: Oooh, that'd be perfect to go over it!
Mom: [turning the jacket over and looking at the details] Hmm, that's two rows of ruffles and it's double-lined.
Pixie: And it's a St. John's. And they want $1295 for it.
Mom: [snaps a photo and mumbles] Fuck this, let's go to the fabric store.

At the fabric store.
Mom: Yes! It's gauzy, multicolored, and awesome!
Pixie: And when you use it, you don't even have to hem the edges! Just leave them raw!
Mom: $1100 dress, here I come!

Pixie: Ooh, that's pretty!
Mom: And it's see-through! Look!
Pixie: [snaps photo] What would you make with it?
Mom: A blouse for you! And you can wear it to work with just a bra!
Pixie: Raise and promotion, here I come!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Woohoo!! My mommy's here!1!!

Mom arrived in town yesterday, and we had drinks with Vinnie this evening. Tomorrow is a day of spa and drinks and hanging out...and no work. And yes, I have a deadline next week, and I've got a crapton of work to do. But I'm furious with my engineers and annoyed with my workload, and I just need to decompress and go for some long walks and try on some amazing dresses and just have a good time. My sister is trying to handle burnout, and I'm just about in the same place.

Fear not, though, my peeps: we'll be conducting a Mile High version of Ask Mom, and I'm sure we'll have some fun photos of wandering around Cherry Creek. Back in a few.