By Ron Pestone – Serious Is Good But Humor Is Better!
We all have them, days from hell. You know it usually starts when the alarm doesn’t go off and you start your day running behind trying to catch up. In your rush you spill your morning coffee all over your white shirt. Running like a mad man you quickly change only to find out you have run out of stays for your shirt and you improvise by using a few paper clips. Undeterred you rush out of the house and fling yourself into your car only to find out it will not start.
Now when the day starts off like that the best thing to do is turn around, go back to bed and wait until the next day to start all over again. When a day starts off like that for me I always think, stop while you’re ahead. But being an incurable optimist and stubborn I never stop. I am always sure I can turn it all around. I just never seem to learn. I just never say to hell with it and go back to bed. Usually in the end it never gets any better and in fact it gets so bad that I start thinking the next time I am out buying a hat I should have them cut out two holes in it to accommodate my mule ears.
Let me tell you about a day I should have gone back to bed. My wife and I were living in Orange County, New York which is about a two and a half hours from where I worked at the New York City School Construction Authority. I commuted every day making three train connections and one small van ride. On good days it was a little over a two hour one way commute and on bad days the commute could be three hours and sometimes a lot more than three hours. I did the commute for years and to this day I do not know how I did it. I just did it.
On this particular cold October morning I was waiting for my first train on at 5:00AM and it did not show up until almost 6:00AM. My next two train connections were thrown off schedule and I did not poke my head out of the E train subway stop in Long Island City until 9:00AM only to find out the van for the last leg of my commute was not working and I would have to walk. Why not take a taxi you ask? I was in Long Island City and you had better luck trying to find a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk than finding a taxi.
The sky looked dark and menacing but that’s the way it looked most October days.in Long Island City so I figured I had a good chance of making it without a major weather catastrophe. I was a block away for the subway station when I heard the first bolt of thunder so I started to pick up speed. I never made the next block when the rain started and with that I started to run like hell. Then the sky opened up and the rain came down in torrents. In two minutes I was soaked to the bone. At that point I stopped running because I could not get any wetter and putting my head down I sloshed the last leg to work.
I arrived for work almost two and a half hours late dripping puddles. My administrative assistant found a towel and drying off as best as I could she informed me the president’s secretary was calling every ten minutes wanting to know where I was as I had a close out meeting with a major construction manager firm and they were sitting in the president’s waiting room. The president who was a terrific leader had many great assets one of them not being, patience. So I picked up the phone and called his secretary to announce I was in. The next thing he was on the phone screaming he had better things to do than baby sits my appointments while I took my sweet time to get to work. I told him it was a train problem and he bellowed into the phone, “NOT MY PROBLEM” and hung up. With my coat weighing a hundred pounds, my suit drenched and my shirt sticking to me like Velcro I sloshed my way to our conference room and told my administrative assistant to send in the group that was waiting in the president’s office.
At that time The New York City School Construction Authority was embarked upon a billion dollar plus yearly building program. In short it was a busy place where everything happened at triple speed. As director of Change Orders my workdays were crammed with negotiations, meetings and one hundred and one pressing problems that needed to be handled and with our president that meant handled immediately. He was the wrong person to tell you just hadn’t gotten to something. You might get away with it once but the second time for sure you were headed out the door after a vicious dressing down you would never forget. So myself like so many others in the agency worked like hell to make sure everything was covered.
When the construction manager firm’s team walked into the conference room they were far from happy, in fact they were hostile as hell. I apologized for being late and gave them a brief run down as to why I was late which didn’t seem to go over to well. Dripping I picked up my folder and we started the process of trying to close out a job. They wanted the kind of money that would take their entire organization to the Riviera for a month and I started the way I usually did by offering nothing. Like most negotiations it was hot and heavy. When it started to get personal I stopped the meeting and rescheduled. They bitched up a storm and threatened to call the president and all the trustees. I almost told them to go to hell but instead told them to go back and get their ducks in a row and get real. They left threating me with reprisal and ten minutes latter the president was on the line wanting to know what the hell happened. I told him I wasn’t running a candy store and they were going to have to demonstrate why they were owed anything, until then, not a dime. And telling me they knew the mayor meant as much to me as the other hundred companies who made the same claim. He hung up. Right out of the box, first meeting a bust and a pissed off president.
My administrative assistant squeezed my other appointments into the late afternoon but my schedule called for me to deliver a seminar on NYCSCA Change Order Procedures. Still wet, with everything sticking to me I headed for the seminar. I apologized to the sixty attendees for how I looked explaining how I had got caught in the rain. Some found real humor in it and in fact some seemed to take a real delight in the Director of Change Orders taking a public bath. From there it all went downhill. If you have ever given a seminar on a subject that is new to the attendees chances are you will have someone in the audience who thinks what you are doing is all wrong and everyone would be better off if they all listened to them. Well that day we had one of those people and he had a mouth bigger than the Holland Tunnel. I used all the normal ways and means to neutralize him, patiently explaining to him and the audience that after he learned the existing system he might have some suggestions to improve the system the authority would consider. His comment was, “I don’t have suggestions; I have facts that come from knowledge, knowledge of construction and if the authority wants to keep its contractors it is in their best interest to implement them.”
I asked him to please sit and wait unit I had finished my presentation and when I opened the floor for discussion he could make his points. He wasn’t buying, sitting or shutting up. He knew it all and we bureaucrats knew nothing.
Wet, feeling a cold coming on, a bad meeting, a less than enchanted president and my patience at the end I barked, “You’re here to learn the system because you don’t know it so sit down, shut up and listen. If you can’t do that get the hell out of the room!” The room went silent; he jumped up and yelled, “You haven’t heard the last of this.” And barged out of the room. I somehow finished the seminar. When I opened the floor for discussion there was no discussion and there were no questions. It wasn’t my finest seminar. End of Part 1
Don’t Forget: We Build America