Why do estimators dread vacations? Let me count the ways. Foremost, extended breaks don’t perform the function they’re designed to provide. A vacation is supposed to be a restful respite from the daily stresses and strains dealt out by a singularly arduous vocation—a romp in the forest, a hike in the hills or a nap on the beach. Not so for the bidmeister who is in dire need of such relief. To the contrary; the mere thought of time away from the office provokes a state of horror that can only be likened to a descent into the depths of hell. The predictable surge in work activity just before departure, the haunting thoughts of the catastrophic events that surely arise during the absence, the dreadful anticipation of the grueling task to set the inevitable ruin back to right upon return. These are the fruits of bitter irony that a vacation offers the bidmeister.
The recent retreat to Las Vegas that I was compelled to take was a prime example of the fear and loathing described above. We left off last month with me trying to call the office to check on a possible omission on one of my recent efforts, when my nervous hands fumbled my cellphone and it plunked into the Bellagio fountain pool. Predictably, that phone was not one of those new IP68 waterproof jobs (you can bet the replacement is, though). Anyway, my wife, who had mysteriously begun to channel the Annie Wilkes character from the movie “Misery,” refused to lend me her phone, and had even surreptitiously unplugged and hidden our guestroom phone in her misguided attempt to isolate me from my work.
Crestfallen, I retreated to the confines of my room to brood. I stood at the window and gazed across the Strip at the Paris hotel. Back home, I had likely missed the moisture-resistant board required in two-hundred and twenty-two rooms. Left unchecked, that omission would probably gain me the award of a project that would be certain to tank right out of the gate.
“Could be worse,” I mumbled to myself wistfully. “It could have been 2,900 rooms, like the Paris.”
“What are you muttering about?” my wife asked in her new Kathy Bates tenor.
“I desperately need a phone to check on something at work that I might have forgotten!”
“What you need is to forget about work altogether,” she growled, ominously. “And I’m going to keep you from contacting your office even if I have to tie you to the bed!”
“I’ll probably lose my job,” I moaned.
“Oh don’t be so dramatic,” she chuckled derisively. “Besides, even if you did, I’d still be your number-one fan.”
That eerily familiar accolade made me shudder. Feeling trapped by my own wife, I began to formulate an escape plan. Naming the one place that she would not follow, I announced that I was going down to the cigar lounge to have a smoke. I find that most women, and my wife in particular, are repulsed by the aroma of a good cigar. Go figure. But her certain refusal to tag along gave me the cover I needed.
Back down on the casino level I made a quick stop at the gift shop, bought a throwaway cell phone and ducked into the sanctuary of the cigar bar. Halfway through a good Dominican and three-quarters through my second bourbon-rocks, I finally raised someone at the office. Good thing, because it was Friday and everyone usually leaves early on Friday. Bad thing—it was the cleaning lady who picked up, and she doesn’t speak a word of English. I had to rely on my sketchy college-days Spanish.
“El phone-o list-o!” I demanded. My fluency had clearly decayed some over the years.
The dead silence at the other end made it quite apparent that I wasn’t getting through to her. I needed our company phone list because all my saved contacts were resting in a watery grave with my recently deceased cellphone (who memorizes telephone numbers anymore?).
“Numeros del telefono!” I blurted, miraculously recalling a couple of critical words.
At this point, an open palm extended before my face. I knew its owner instantly.
“Nice try…” my wife grinned demonically as I surrendered the phone and as she extinguished my $12 Dominican in my $15 drink “…but no cigar.”
And so I was thus held incommunicado for the remainder of my miserable retreat.
Days later, I reentered my estimating department apprehensively. The outcome regarding my hotel proposal, which had bid the previous day, was an unpleasant surprise. It turns out that I had included the MR board in my estimate—but failed to mention it in my scope sheet. I would have gotten the job had I just been there to pick up the phone! Adding insult to injury, the colleague to whom I’d given the other plumb job was successful in his bid. His win record for the year now topped mine. My congratulations to him tasted like ashes in my mouth.
“You’re back!” my boss grumbled at my open door. “It’s about time. I need you to justify that budget that you did last month. The GC is furious that your numbers were so high. Incidentally,” he added, “you know that huge casino job we’ve been waiting on for months? The plans finally came in while you were gone. I saved it for you.”
“Thank you,” I smiled gratefully. At least there was one ray of sunshine.
“Well, you better get after it—it’s due tomorrow! Oh, and by the way, welcome back.”
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.