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The Price Is Wrong (Part Two)

Higher than a kite in flight…—From Scotch and Soda, a traditional lounge-lizard song

You dread making the phone call, but you can’t put it off any longer. It’s been over a week since you submitted your heavily laden bid to the GC, and your sadistic boss is haranguing you about a follow-up. You dial the GC’s number and hang up. You dial again and the receptionist picks up after the first ring. You ask for your exactimating counterpart in the GC’s precon department and identify yourself. You imagine that she stifles a giggle as she actually directs your call to his office instead of sending you to voice mail.


The first two droning rings of the preconstruction director’s phone seem to stretch out over all eternity—an interlude that allows your mind to wander back to last week’s bid review. You recall when your boss and your field ops manager saddled your bid with every lame contingency in the book, and a few new sandbags to boot: stocking, parking, shipping, shop drawings, night work, consumables, small tools, equipment rental, mock-up, LEED® costs, a global-warming disaster insurance rider and a hefty fuel allowance, all piled on top of a markup that would put a shining gleam in the dry eye of Ebenezer Scrooge. Your face contorts as the memory of that conspiracy to sabotage your bid tickles your not-one-bit-funny bone.


Mr. Precon finally picks up at the other end of the line, interrupting your aggravating flashback. You wipe that daydream-invoked, Billy Idol sneer off your face, muster your best happy-go-lucky voice and identify yourself.


“I’ve been expecting you to contact us for about a week,” he chuckles mysteriously. “Of course, it’s a little late now to be calling about a math error, you know.”


You emit some indistinguishable sound of mystification at his comment.


“No reason to be embarrassed,” he assures in a condescending tone. “It’s happened to the best estimators. Those devilish little decimal points do have a tendency to wander at times.”


You now reluctantly inform him that there is no math error or misplaced decimal associated with your phone call. The number was your number. You are just soliciting some feedback.


“You’re kidding, right?” Mr. Precon cries out. “Are we looking at the same project?”


The audio quality on the phone line takes on a reverberating tone, indicating you are now on speaker-phone, and you picture Mr. Precon beckoning a flock of cohorts to his inner sanctum. Undaunted by this, you tell him that, judging from his comments, you conclude that you were somewhat high.


“High?” he shouts, almost gleefully. “Hell, the other bids were high!” he booms in a voice loud enough for Marlee Matlin to hear. “Your bid, however, is currently being tracked by NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston!”


You hear titters of background laughter as you try to counter with something clever, but can only come up with “Very funny.”


“No, it’s not funny at all,” Mr. Precon continues. “It seems your bid is interfering with satellite orbits. It’s become the most serious traffic hazard in the stratosphere.”


The background laughter builds as you ask him to please stop exaggerating and beseech him to give you some feedback on where you were compared to the cluster.


“That’s difficult to express,” he replies in a more serious tone. “Let’s see, if the cluster of other bids was the planet Earth, then your bid would be …” he paused.


The moon? you wonder. Maybe Venus? Surely not Pluto.


“… Orion!” he exclaims, a little too cheerfully. A murmur of exchange arises in the background, then Mr. Precon resumes the persecution. “I’ve been corrected,” he informs you. “Orion is apparently a constellation. To be more precise, I’d say your bid is Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse is a star in the constellation Orion, some 640 light-years away. The sad thing is,” he adds, “just like ‘The Price is Right,’ you all over-bid. The owner is taking his marbles and going home. You know what they say: pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered.”


You make some weak excuses for the excess in your bid involving unforeseeable costs and escalating overhead. You politely thank him for his feedback and his sage advice, even though you really want to curse him for making you the brunt of his comedy routine. You don’t handle humiliation well. You trudge over to your boss’s office to share the bleak report.


“Well, did we get the job?” he demands. “I sure hope so, ’cause our competitor’s best foreman just became available. I want to hire him, but I need a quick-start job to put him on.”


That Billy Idol sneer steals across your face again. You slowly shut the door behind you.

Vince Bailey is an estimator in Phoenix, Ariz.

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