Ahead of My Behind

January 2016

Bartender says, “We don’t serve faster-than-light subatomic particles here.” A neutrino walks into a bar

It must have been by some inexplicable quirk or quark of quantum physics that I recently found myself haunting the half-completed stairwells and corridors of a project on which I was about a week away from submitting a bid. No, this was not a sponsored pre-bid walk of an existing shell; this was a ground-up project that was yet to be erected. Nevertheless, the GC’s promotional banners festooned on the chain-link fences indicated that this indeed was “Gateway Heights,” a 16-story office building project that was still in the takeoff stages back at my office. Since I am loath to explaining phenomena I don’t quite understand myself, I will limit this account to reporting only what I saw and heard on this strangest of all site visits.
Shaking off the unnerving sense that I could almost hear the disembodied voice of Rod Serling providing the narration for my paranormal predicament, I glanced at my smartphone to get my bearings. The screen bore more troubling news on the dateline: May 19, 2017! Back in January 2016, the bid documents had included a very reasonable baseline schedule. Judging by the actual state of activity, the progress of the job was at least six months behind its predicted level of completion. Curiosity somehow trumped everything. The schedule lapse on this project suddenly became a greater source for my concern than my own apparent chronological wrinkle, and, still feeling every bit the part of Doc Brown (sans DeLorean), I set out to investigate the matter.
Drawing from my prior experience as a field operations manager, I was able to quickly determine from my observations what was at the heart of the egregious delay in progress. Apparently, no clear path of progress had been established, as a sad but common tale of half-completed fragments of work unfolded before my eyes: full-height rated walls left off where parallel HVAC trunk lines conflicted; ceilings half-framed due to apparent elevation crashes with window heads; drywall hung in haphazard patches—20 sheets here, 30 there—leave-offs that were clearly due to electrical omissions; an ornate lobby ceiling, framed, hung and finished up to a gaping void at the elevator lobby where it was blocked from access while the Otis boys did their work (privileged characters that they are, their schedule always trumps all others’). As I moved to other floors, I found the conditions the same or worse than on the previous ones.
Not surprisingly, I surmised that the problem was compounded by an evident lack of enthusiasm on the part of the workers. Jumping from place to place and making little progress can easily discourage a crew of normally productive field hands, and this bunch of gypsum gypsies was no exception to that premise. Work was at a standstill. Standing around and chatting, scrawling nonsense profanities on the drywall, or talking on cellphones seemed to be the main activities of the day. I hailed the foreman to ask what he perceived the general holdup to be, but he seemed oblivious to my efforts to get his attention. Recalling my tentative chronological status, I immediately abandoned any further attempt to make contact, lest I cause some disturbance in the space-time continuum. Even so, I lingered there watching and calculating what the cost was of a crew of 50 guys drawing a day’s wages and producing absolutely nothing. It was staggering—factoring in a couple of days like this on a job this size could be a deal-breaker.
Feeling somewhat aggravated by all of this, I drifted out onto one of the terraces to get some air, only to discover upon looking up yet another source of delay and added cost. I recalled that the architectural detail for the framing on the exterior soffits was somewhat sketchy and gauged framing details on the structural plans were non-existent. I also remembered that the spec section for cold-form framing required engineered shop drawings. The added framing that the engineer apparently prescribed would have at least doubled what I would have figured in terms of labor and material (added uplift drops, clips, braces, blocking, bridging and welding). I made a mental note to allow for post-award upgrades to structural framing on my proposal.
Assuming now, my apparent invisibility to these apparitions of the future, I hitched a ride on the temp-lift down to the ground floor where the GC’s throng of managers, supers and schedulers were holding a meeting in the mock-up office. I slipped in unnoticed and was able to learn from their discussion that the baseline schedule was defeated early on with steel being fabricated out of sequence. Interim recovery schedules tended to be reactive instead of proactive and, consequently, could not diminish the initial shortfall. Once the GC resorted to trade-stacking as a desperate measure to affect the appearance of progress, all hope of establishing a flow of work was lost and the result was the ongoing herky-jerky train-wreck I was witnessing.
I was working my way over to catch a glimpse of the subcontractors on the schedule when I was startled by a familiar voice booming in my ears.
Vince, what are you doing?
I glanced up from my dual screens to behold the image of my boss standing in the doorway. I looked at the date on my screen. It was January 2016. I’d been dozing again. Had my time warp been merely a dream, or was it a premonition? If I could truly foresee the shapes of things to come, I could save our company from any risk of loss by anticipating future costs. On the other hand, my precognition might well render me unable to ever win a job. I could be ruined as an estimator. With my newfound foresight, I’d be better off playing the ponies.
Hmmm. That’s probably the only way I could afford that DeLorean.

Vince Bailey is senior estimator at Berg Drywall of Phoenix.