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My Little PTO (Part 1)

“I mean it, Vince. You’ve been going without a serious break for the better part of two years now. It’s time you took some PTO.”


My boss was wearing his stern face, the one he usually saves for scope reviews. I remained reticent, searching for some distracting quip. Finally, after an uncomfortable silence, I cleared my throat.


“Yeah, my brother had a GTO back in high school. Damn fine automobile. But really, I’m perfectly content with the company car I’ve got.”


The stern face went to stone face. Clearly, he was not the least bit amused. OK, it was not funny, but I tend to resort to facetiousness when cornered.


“Let me put it this way,” he grumbled. “I want to see you committed to an entire week on the PTO calendar this upcoming month, or we’ll have to have this conversation again, and I won’t be nearly as jovial about it as I am right now.”


I nodded dumbly and slunk from his office like a whipped puppy. My boss meant well. He doesn’t want any of his estimators to burn out. But he enjoys a position of control, so he does not appreciate the terror that an estimator feels when confronted with the mere suggestion of a vacation. We bidmeisters avoid them like the plague. For us, a week off is about as much fun as a piñata full of scorpions. The ordeal passes through three distinct phases—the panicky preparation, the extended anxiety of staying out of contact, and the assault upon return. It was these highly predictable persecutions that befell me on my last attempt at PTO.


I avoided the shared calendar for a day, but a well-aimed scowl from my boss the next morning was all it took. I folded like a deck-chair and signed out for the third week in June.


Just as I had feared, three days before my planned departure two huge bids with great potential came across my desk—both from GCs that I’d had success with in the recent past. With a superhuman effort, I might hammer one of them out by Friday evening. No chance for both and no chance to postpone the trip. My wife had booked a flight, a hotel and shows for her long-awaited Las Vegas excursion. Waffling right now would be courting certain death at her tender hands. I started on the most likely project to net an award and tossed the other piece of low-hanging fruit to a favorite colleague.


After three torturous days and two late-nighters, I completed my 12-story hotel estimate and composed a crystal-clear scope letter that I left for an intern to submit while I would be away. I emailed the proposal, sans numbers, to the GC, explaining that I would be incommunicado for the next week and admonished the intern to attach the priced version at bid time, hit send, and do or say nothing more.


Exhausted and filled with pre-bid angst, I departed the office with bags in tow and headed directly from there to meet my wife at the airport. As we commenced with the TSA screening ordeal, I cringed as I placed my laptop onto the conveyor. I knew what was coming.


“Just what do you think you’re going to do with that on our vacation?” she demanded in her best Kathy Bates voice.


“It’s only just in case of emergency,” I whimpered as she seized and squirreled it away.


“And I’ll determine what is and what is not an emergency on this trip,” she cackled.


I think it was the bourbon that warded off the omission terrors until the middle of the Blue Man Group show. Like a bolt from out of the blue it hit me: Blue Board. I recalled seeing a note that called for extensive blue veneer plaster board in the lobby of the hotel job I’d just taken off. I remembered seeing it, but did I actually include it? I couldn’t be sure.


I squirmed through the show and tossed and turned back at the hotel until my wife fell asleep around midnight. I got up and groped around in the dark for her sports bag where I knew she stashed my laptop. I found it, turned the screen away from the sleeping area, and tapped the power button: No dice—dead battery.


“I hid the power cord,” came the Annie Wilkes voice through the darkness. “Give it up, Vince, and come to bed.”


I silently complied with some trepidation about having my ankles broken, and after a few hours of staring at the ceiling, I fell into a restless sort of narcotic slumber.


Daylight brought some semblance of reason to my troubled mind. Even if I had missed the plaster board, it was only on the ground floor—no repetition and therefore only worth a few thousand dollars. It was an inconsequential miss that might even net me an award with a small penalty. Not as if it was on the second floor—times 11, I reasoned, and the trauma passed until nightfall.


It was the water-fountain show at the Bellagio that set me off this time.


“My God—moisture-resistant board!” I cried aloud as my wife and passers-by stared. It was required on all the bathroom walls and ceilings. Had I included it? Unlike the blue board, this would be a substantial bust—a miss times 222. I had to call the office right away and have somebody review my bid before going out. I reflexively pulled out my cell phone (as if anybody would be in the office at this hour) and instantly dropped it into the fountain pool.


Next month: The vacation horrors continue …

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.

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