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The Dreaded PTO, Part 2

A businessman working while on vacation at a beach.

Yes, I think dread is the perfect word to describe my feelings toward taking time off from my estimating duties. Fear and loathing run a close second and third (with a tip of the hat to the late Hunter Thompson). Having spoken about it with dozens of my fellow bidmeisters, I’m confident that most of us feel the same way. A quick recap makes it clear why fellow quantifiers collectively fear a little time away from the office. From experience, we know that vacations don’t do what they’re supposed to do—that is, provide rest and relaxation, an opportunity to recover and recharge. Better said, it’s an occasion to recoil in revulsion at what aptly describes our consensus response to the mere suggestion of a weeklong retreat. Just have fun, they say. Fun, like a tornado having fun in a trailer park. Some fun.

For most approximators, the torment that others call a vacation unfolds in three terrifying stages. Initially, there is the panic that attends the preparatory phase. This episode usually accompanies some drastic development in office activity just prior to a forced departure. My boss’s previous announcement of a software conversion clearly qualifies as a phase one indicator (that is, contemplating the horror associated with learning a new estimating program).

Next comes the elevated anxiety that extends across the duration of the coerced absence. This is the exile phase in which the banished bidmeister is cut off from communicating with his office, yet he senses work-related implications—intuited events that will require his immediate involvement, though he is powerless to intercede. What type of catastrophe has occurred during this silent absence is left unknown to the vacationing estimator. Unknown, that is, until his dreaded return in phase three, when he is directed to mitigate the devastating effects of the foreshadowed disasters.

Now, I am duly aware of the accuracy risks involved when using anecdotal evidence to expose a trend. And I understand the difference between a correlative relationship in experiences as opposed to a causal one. Nevertheless, never having had a vacation from my work that was not an extended series of catastrophes makes it difficult for me to ascribe this phenomenon to mere coincidence. Indulge me, then, in another of my many tales of woe with regard to paid time off. I believe that this year’s fiasco bolsters my argument quite adequately.

As I might have predicted, my passport application seemed to have vanished somewhere down the halls of the State Department with a thorough disappearance rivaled only by Hilary Clinton’s emails. Consequently, our planned expedition to the jungles of Central America was put on indefinite hold. But in order to satisfy my boss’s time-off mandate, I hastily arranged a staycation for a week at a local resort—a recently completed hotel with a water park theme, situated in close proximity to a number of amusing attractions—with assurances to my fiancé that this was only a stop-gap measure to appease my superior’s wishes. Still, the nearby butterfly exhibit and aquarium did little to compete with her dream of observing macaws, toucans, cockatoos and motmots in the wild, nor did they do much to distract me from my interior preoccupation with imagined bugaboos at work. Choice bid invitations receiving no reply? Unexpected addenda? Bid results? I was clearly in the throes of a phase two exile, with no laptop and no cellphone. It was maddening.

Then, on Saturday, the third day of my banishment, I caught a lucky break. We were killing some time at a nearby indoor go-cart track, when I got a just-by-chance glimpse of my assigned intern from work sitting at the bar. My fiancé was apparently demonstrating her heretofore untapped driving skills, so I surreptitiously ducked into the pits and hailed my protégé. As expected, he knew nothing of interest that had occurred at the office. However, for the price of a Maker’s Mark on the rocks, I was able to buy the use of his cellphone for a quick call to my colleague, David, at home.

“David, this is Vince.”

“That’s not what my caller ID says,” he retorted.

“I know—I borrowed a phone from Junior, here.”

“I’m not supposed to talk to you, you know,” he grumbled.

“Yeah, but that’s just during the week. That order doesn’t apply to personal calls over the weekend.” Not exactly ironclad logic, but it somehow resonated. He quickly agreed, and I quickly placed my inquiry with him, as my fiancé was now taking her victory lap.

“Sorry to be blunt, my friend, but my time is limited. What’s going on at work—anything that affects me?”

“Okay, since you asked, you know that pricey casino renovation you did a couple of weeks ago? Well, it got deleted.”

“What do you mean, got deleted?” I practically screamed. My vocal outburst summoned my fiancé, who immediately confiscated the phone while I attempted to mask my devastation. How could things possibly go more wrong than a deleted bid? I wondered, wringing my hands.

They did.

Next month: the horror leading to phase three of the vacation blues saga continues to its conclusion.

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

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