It’s 5:37 pm, the second time today I have seen that number on the half atomic clock/half weather station perched on the left corner of my desk in the site office. It’s been a long day, and there are a couple of hours yet to go before I can unplug the laptop, turn off the lights, lock the doors, and chain the gates to start the trip to the house.
I was in slightly earlier than usual today to check the weather radar, doing my best Jim Cantore impersonation, deciphering the swirls in the bands of rain coming in a pincer move from the Gulf off of Panama City and from off the Atlantic near Saint Marys. Today was Concrete Day on the site, a major, critical pour that we have spent months preparing for. Rain has a tendency to screw up Concrete Day.
As the boots-on-the-ground guy, the go/no go decision is my call. The weather report is no help with its 50% prediction. Hell, I could get that with the flip of a coin, a roll of the dice, or any number of other euphemisms for neutral odds. So I study the radar again, check the hour-by-hour forecast. As best as I can figure, it may begin to rain here around 2 pm.
I call John at the concrete batching plant, where there is a room full of concrete truck drivers drinking coffee and anxious to know what direction they’ll be heading. I have never met John face-to-face and wouldn’t know him from Adam if we walked past each other at the county fair, but I have talked to him on the phone regularly for nearly fifteen years. John is holding every other job that wants concrete today at arm’s length, waiting to hear from me. I give John the message Gil Favors style. “Head ‘em up, mooo-ve ‘em out!”
From outside, I can hear the concrete pump truck pulling onto the site. It’s James at the wheel. He has driven down from Hampton, and in the early morning darkness the high beams of his rig are the only light on the site. He’s 45 minutes ahead of schedule, and I’m glad to see that it’s James. This building is full of columns, and James is an artist with a 31-meter boom. I know I’m in good hands, that I won’t have to worry about him beating up the columns as he pulls the boom in and out, weaving at odd angles to get maximum output from each move. This will free me up to pay more attention to the concrete finishers.
It’s first light out, and the concrete is rolling toward the site. I mentally review the checklist: Pump? Check! Concrete? Check! Finishers? Finishers? Where in blazes are the finishers? Finally, they show up with minutes to spare, fifteen of them spilling out of two trucks, like clowns out of a little car at the circus. When the first two trucks of concrete turn in, the traditional shout goes out. “Thar’ she blows!” The finishers haven’t even pulled their boots on yet.
It’s not an easy pour. The architects and engineers have exercised full design license. The building is arc-shaped, and it’s been…well, a few years… since my last high school geometry class. The interior walls are in concentric arcs that mimic the exterior shape. Walls perpendicular to those are splayed on a radius from a centerpoint 295 feet away from the building. Figuring out where walls will be after the concrete has been placed, so that electrical conduits and plumbing piping will wind up actually in the walls, has been a workout for the old noggin. Toss in varying geometric multiplexes of slopes to floor drains in what will one day be a kitchen area, painstakingly situated and prepared. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen. It’s labor intensive, the finishers are beginning to flag, and I covertly signal James to keep pushing the concrete at them. No rest for the weary, not with rain closing in.
Seven hours and 203 cubic yards of concrete later, the last drop of concrete tumbles down the chute just as the first drops of rain tumble down from the sky. The pour is so big that the first half has been troweled and finished and is “walkable” when this happens. The remainder is just a waiting game, a chemical reaction driven by time, temperature, and humidity.
I call Vanessa to let her know I’ll be late, so she won’t worry. Yes, I’m still here. No, I don’t know when I’ll get to leave, hopefully soon. No, don’t wait on me to eat. Yes, I’ll call you as I’m leaving so you’ll know.
I am blessed to have convinced her that I was worth marrying. I am blessed that she understands and allows me this one mistress, understands that what I do and what it requires is part and parcel of who I am, blessed that she rescued me from myself in my reckless days. Her understanding grounds me, and gives me something concrete to hold onto.