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It’s makin’ me wait; it’s keepin’ me waiting … —Carly Simon

Do you ever get the weird feeling that the rest of the world is running in slow motion? I think it’s probably a relativity quirk peculiar to estimators and the accelerated nature of our professional culture, but the pace that I seem to observe in other people’s lives looks a lot like the opening scene to “Chariots of Fire” in comparison. You know what I mean: The way the GCs crank out bid invitations that hold us to ridiculously unreasonable time constraints and addenda that add hours of work but never seem to extend the bid date. Yes, that mounting crescendo of activity inherent to the process gets me racing around like a Jack Russell terrier on a Red Bull binge—ambiguous bid docs, mind-numbing takeoffs, delinquent vendor quotes, pricing, addenda, tedious RFIs, clarifications, ponderous bid forms—all met and dealt with in a day’s work. The frenzy of pulling a substantial estimate together under deadline accumulates, all building to that apex of energy and excitement when, come bid day, I commit the product of all my effort to those hungry number-gobblers out on the other end of the ether with a single mouse-click. And then … nothing!

Oh, I don’t mean a simple no-response sort of nothing. I mean a sucking black-hole kind of anti-matter nothing accompanied by a sudden, pervasive, vacuous silence. The silence is so devastating, I sometimes think that I might just as well have cast my bid into the gaping yaw of a bottomless mineshaft and listened for its pathetic clattering against the sides in an endless fall into the abyss.

I doubt if I’m alone in this. We all know the feeling of unrequited expectation when we submit our best work, our estimating jewels, to the cold and callous marketplace and are met with no response at all. Our first reaction can be rather cavalier. Surely the various GCs were dazzled by our superior grasp of the issues presented and our clever ways of dealing with the ambiguities that were posed. Of course this initial silence is only a sign that they are dumbstruck by our bean-counting genius. That must be it.

But by the next day, doubt has begun to set in, and we begin to run any number of fantastically fatal scenarios through our already work-addled brain. Is this dreaded silence a kind of stifled laughter at some outrageous oversight? Perhaps our counterparts on the GC side are whispering about how best to exploit our monstrous mistake. We try to call our most friendly GC to allay our fears, but of course he’s not in yet. How foolish. In a panic, we almost displayed an unfounded lack of confidence in our bid. We leave an innocuous voice mail message and take up the next bid challenge, which soon eclipses our unsubstantiated concern, and we let the whole thing lie for a couple of days.

But then, after a few days of no returned phone calls, the creeping anxiety comes back into our minds. The deafening silence, now combined with a weakening grasp of the particulars that comes with time and occupation with other intervening bids, has kindled some new subconscious misgivings. We wake up in the middle of the night recalling some assumption that we made on a vague but critical detail that we should have researched better. We have become just a wee bit paranoid.

A week goes by—sometimes a month. Just when your knowledge of the particulars on this job has ebbed to its lowest, the silence is suddenly broken by a phone call from your friendly GC who is apparent low bidder. He wants to de-scope your bid. Not tomorrow in a meeting that you can prepare for, right now on the phone. He has been constantly winnowing through all the details of this one bid for weeks and is conversant with every aspect, while your mind has been engaged with other projects. Nevertheless, you drop what you’re doing and dredge up your best recollection of the bid details and do your best to answer his rather mystifying questions. He is naturally unresponsive to your inquiries as to your comparative position in the herd. Can you assume from his call that you are low? Should you use this opportunity to add some comfortable contingencies to your bid? You follow up with some requested call-back items, then the silence resumes.

Was this an honest attempt to get an “apples-to-apples” comparison with other bids, or something less straightforward? Did they get you to say something you shouldn’t have? Another week of silence ensues. More waking episodes. More blind speculation. More wondering.

Another call comes after seven more days of uneasiness. The disembodied voice says that they think you have a good number. They are awarding you the job. They are sending over a letter of intent.

“Of course you are,” you reply, gleefully. “Was there ever any doubt?”

Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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