Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Poker Dice and Business Cards

Life is about taking chances. It sounds like a cliché, but we all do it. From crossing the street, to taking on a new job; or even driving home from your current one; life is fragile and uncertain. Each step of the way is akin to a roll of the dice. You might get lucky and land that perfect job; the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life; only to have it taken away in an instant, and without warning. Or, you may struggle for years at one job, toiling diligently with the promise of a promotion; or raise; dangled before you, only to have that incentive snatched away just as your reward is in sight. I speak from experience, having played the game for many years, in both the aforementioned categories, as well as some unique situations of my own.

Look below and you will see the symbols of 25 years of working for others; business cards. Each one represents a chapter of my life and a piece of the puzzle that my life has sometimes been. There are many memories; and memorable characters; associated with each one.
Beginning with the ultra-American looking Anthem card, I have worked for some of the smartest and dumbest people on the planet. The smartest man I ever worked for had a 6th grade education. That was at Anne Arundel Excavating in Maryland. It is one of the only jobs for which I never had a business card. And I wish I did, for working there was the beginning of an education not available in schools anywhere, at any price. George Edwards was the owner, and he taught me the fine art of “sitting on your hands.” That’s no joke, and in legal battles it is sometimes the most effective tactic, forcing the other side to show all of their cards while you do nothing. I’ve written very little about George before, but he is one of many men I have met in the course of my working years, whom I actually looked upon as a sort of father figure. And he, in turn, treated me in many ways, as a son. A complete contradiction in words and deeds, he was, nonetheless, a man of honor and compassion, though he would never let it be known that he possessed either of those qualities.

There were of course other, less important employers in the chain of business cards, which resulted not from my being fired, but instead from my leaping from job to job; either by invitation, or design; in order to make more money. Each of these cards reflects a raise in pay and abilities as I continually found myself bumping my head on the “glass ceiling” which was never visible until I asked for a raise. At those times, the glass ceiling became an opaque covering, blocking out all light, or chance of advancement.
Soil Safe was an interesting job. I was working for a guy named Art Duduke; which tickled my daughter no end as she interpreted his name to be “Art the Duke”, and was the first royalty she had ever known beyond the cartoon princesses that populated her world. He had developed a new paving material, based upon the principles of soil cement, only using petroleum contaminated dirt in place of fresh soil, which was then encapsulated in a 5% mixture of Portland cement. The result was a rigid and long lasting Material that outlived asphalt, and also kept the hydrocarbons in the contaminated soil from leaching into the ground. It was a brilliant product, but never caught on, mostly because people did not understand the technology behind it. You could say that Art; Duke or not; was just a bit ahead of his time. At one point we had a stockpile of the contaminated earth that could be seen from space. That’s not a joke. It’s a fact.
R.B. Stine is a man I have written about before. He had a small earthwork company based out of some trailers in the woods outside of Frederick, Maryland. He also had a son named Ritchie, who was over indulged and spoiled. I shot at his car once, destroying the entire top end of his engine after he did something I specifically warned him not to do or I would shoot him. He did it anyway, and then ran away. The only thing left in my sight was his truck, and so he outlived his engine.
The next card below that represents the time when R.B. Stine was in debt, and looking for a partner. He found one willing to team up with him in Williams Construction, no relation to me, which was also heavily in debt. It was quite an education as I watched the two companies dance around one another, each one looking to stick the other one with its own past debts. Both men were equally dishonest with one another and eventually dissolved their partnership, each electing instead to return to being in debt on their own.

Mainline Construction was where I began to hone my abilities as a Contact Administrator, which was a fancy way to say that I had 2 jobs in one. But finding Bob, my boss, was a time consuming matter which affected our business greatly until I was able to find out where he disappeared each day. There was a woman from the Philippine Islands who had been married to an American serviceman for some years before he died and left her a bar in Linthicum, Maryland. The man was hardly in the ground before Bob moved into the apartment above the bar, which is where I had to go and wake him up in order to have certain papers signed form time to time. Working with a compassionate banker; while breaking all of the rules laid down by the Small Business Administration; I was able to keep the company afloat just long enough to take it through a controlled bankruptcy, which left him in his home. But that was right before  his wife found out about the bar and kicked him out.
Shortly after moving from Maryland to North Carolina in 1998, I went to work for Pedulla Excavating, a small, but growing family business located in Mooresville, North Carolina. Headed by Mickey Pedulla, this job was one of my favorites, as I was in the office only about half the day, while roaming around looking at new work during the other half.  Mickey had a reputation for being a bull in a China closet, but beneath his blustering veneer was a heart of gold. His son eventually graduated from college with a degree in engineering and took over as estimator, which had always been the plan. The business is still up and running today, with a very good reputation for the quality of work they produce.

Spectrum was a challenge, with something like 8 LLC’s to keep track of. I never got out of the office, or away from the phone. I administered contracts, obtained licenses to work in other states, handled legal matters such as liens, and so many other things I cannot remember. But there, too, I ran into that old glass ceiling and left for what would be my final job as Chief Estimator for Huffman Grading. These were some of the nicest people I ever worked for, but the economy was bad and the owner was unwilling to take a chance on developing his own land holdings, and so we parted company amicably.
Looking at these cards; which I have carefully preserved as a record of my jobs in the earthwork industry; I can see each and every one of the people I worked for. Some were wise; some not so. Some were generous to a fault; while others were so frugal that they collapsed upon themselves. Some of them possessed the courage which is necessary to go into business; while others rode the backs of their families, often straight into the ground.

Each of these cards contains a score of stories; some good, some bad. And all were a piece of my education in taking chances.

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