The Waiting Game

Vince Bailey / April 2021

Every now and then—maybe once in a lifetime—the course of a bidmeister’s experience brings him to one of those golden opportunities that looks almost too good to be true. This column documents my own past experience when the planets uniquely aligned and the stars arranged themselves to foretell an outcome so certain to be successful, I’d been inclined to call it destiny. The project was a sizeable hotel downtown. I was invited to bid it by a friendly GC, one with whom my outfit performed nearly half of their work, and it was their negotiated job. The plans were rendered by an architect whose work I was familiar with and they were surprisingly well developed, clear and concise. From this, I would not anticipate any torrent of addenda or landslide of RFIs. The bid date amply allowed for three weeks, and the project was significantly sized so that I would be expected to devote my undivided attention to it, yet repetitive enough that the takeoff of the guestroom floors would be a breeze, allowing me some stress-free time to adequately peruse to ancillary documents.
The icing on the cake: some inside information emerged that this GC’s other preferred drywall sub, our main competitor, had just signed on to a monster project that fell into the same scheduled time slot as this one. They would bid the job, but it was tacitly understood that their number would be only for comparison and for the owner’s sake—they would not be awarded. Conversely, our manpower schedule had a yawning gap that aligned perfectly with this project’s window of duration.
Fortuitous, you say? More like miraculous. Never before or since have I felt more optimistic than at the outset of that estimating job. No more sleepless nights. In fact, after a week’s worth of pleasant effort, I was sleeping so soundly at night I barely woke up to the sound of a rooster crowing. Had I overslept? I glanced at the clock; it was midnight on the dot. Now I’m not superstitious (well, maybe sortastitious), but everyone knows that a rooster crowing at midnight is the Queen Mother of bad omens. No matter, my newfound confidence eclipsed any possible foreboding, and I went right back to sleep.
Barely recalling that incident, I pressed on with my work, as my self-assurance increased by the day. I even made it a daily habit of calling the GC’s precon manager and chatting him up—not to address any ambiguities, but to flaunt my superior grasp of the details. We even got familiar enough to trade a few anecdotes and some family facts. So when bid day finally rolled around you can imagine my surprise when I phoned my GC counterpart to discuss my proposal, and my call went immediately to voice mail. After several fruitless follow-up attempts I had to conclude that my GC had gone into a typical post-bid silent running mode.
But soon, doubt set in. I began to run any number of fantastically fatal scenarios through my already work-addled brain. Is this dreaded silence a kind of stifled laughter at some outrageous oversight? Perhaps my counterpart on the GC side is pondering how best to exploit my monstrous mistake. I try to call him again to allay my fears, but to no avail. Good thing. In a panic, I almost displayed an unfounded lack of confidence in my bid. I leave an innocuous voice mail message and take up the next bid challenge, which soon eclipses my irrational fear, and I let the whole thing lie for a couple of days.
But then, after a few days of no returned phone calls, a creeping anxiety once again began to scribble messages of doubt onto the back pages of my mind. The deafening silence, now combined with a weakening grasp of the particulars that comes with time, has kindled some new subconscious misgivings. I woke up in the middle of the night recalling some assumption that I made on a vague but critical detail that I should have researched better. After a restless night, I revisited the bid in the morning to find that my most recent misgivings were more a consequence of our waning familiarity with the details than any gaping oversight.
Another week went by. Just when my knowledge of the particulars on this job had ebbed to its lowest, the silence was suddenly broken by a phone call from my friendly GC. His tone was uncharacteristically glum, which was puzzling because he was in the process of telling me that I had a good number that he took to the owner. That’s when the other shoe hit the floor: The owner was pulling the plug on the project—putting it on hold indefinitely, as the total package had apparently exceeded his budget. We commiserated for a moment before hanging up. I should have known better—luck has always been a fair weather friend.
“Damn that rooster,” I muttered to myself.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.