Where Fools Rush In

Did I ever tell you about “El Conejo”, that is Ron “The Rabbit” Spear, a real dandy of a foremen. Ron came from the line crew about five years ago and the Construction Manager, Karl Menger had promoted him to splicer for a couple of years prior to making him a foreman. Ron was a real comer, a man going places.  Or so it seemed.  El Conejo would ride around to the various job sites and ask that same dumb question, which is how he got his name.  “When are you going to be done?  Think you’ll finish today?”  And he would always get the same answer reply.  “Yeah, Ron.  I’ll let you know when I’m done.”  Menger always counted on Ron to push his men to greater productivity.  Typical old management thinking that never got results.  Pushing on a rope would be more like it.  But Ron the Rabbit never learned.  He tried spying on his people but they always found him out.


Now I should tell you the rules for any crew worth it’s salt.  Every job had work units assigned and depending on the crew’s task those work units may be ten units an hour for routine work and forty units an hour bor buried work.  The foreman’s job was to parcel out the work in an effective manner so that each man could make his units and if the craftsman was a nice guy, ten percent more to make the boss look good.  But piss your men off and you weren’t going to get that bonus.  The bonus was a point of honor among craftsmen.  The work units were for the average pace and the average individual, and since we were union, as long as management got average they had no complaint as far as we were concerned.  Of course most of the men did the average and a little more.  How much more was the measure of esteem they had for their supervisor.  Lenny Ramirez was the most popular foremen in the garage.  He always managed to make fifteen percent more work units per hour with his crew and it was hard to get on his crew.  I mean, you had to be real good.  Come Christmas his crew would chip in and give him an expensive present.  Lenny always stood behind his men.  I mean if anybody bothered his men , even the third level manager, Lenny was on them like a shot.  Having a really good crew gave a foreman the edge needed to face down almost any manager.


Ron never got a Christmas present from his crew.  I think that sums up the crew’s attitude very well.  He also never got more than five percent extra in work units, if that.  Well, for being such a bright boy, and a dandified dresser, what can I say.  there were times he even work a suit and tie in the office.  I mean, we’re outside construction, it’s dirty work.  Karl gave him all the rejects and it was Ron’s job to make them productive.  In fairness, two of those men were worthless and should have been fired years ago, but management incompetence reigns supreme.  Bill was one of those misfits, a young man who’s big sin was that he tried too hard to fit in and thus made the mistakes from trying too hard.  He wasn’t a very popular individual in the yard. Karl had tried to fire him but was checked by the union.  The problem was that Karl just wasn’t smart enough.  He came up through the ranks and because of his size he could settle any argument by taking it out behind the tool shed, and so he got the next leg up.  But Karl had reached his level of incompetence, as it were.  He really wasn’t a bad man, just used to the old ways and those days were long since gone.  A lot of the new guys had spent time in the service and had been to Viet Nam.  The old threats just didn’t work on these guys.  Bill was one of those new guys and had a hard enough time adjusting to civilian life, no instruction manual to tell him how to go about it.  Ain’t that always the way?


But Bill was smart.  I mean that guy knew stuff and could figure out stuff pretty quick, know what I mean?  He had that instinct for gaming the system, something a few of the guys picked up in the service.  Only Bill could do it better.  I remember the look on Ron’s face when he came back in the office after trying to track Bill down.  Yet when Bill came in at the end of the day he just handed Ron a list of work orders he finished.  Ron started asking where bill was all day and Bill cut him short.  Hell, Ron, I just gave you two days work for one day.  What’s your problem?  You start complaining and I’ll do less work.”  Ron and Karl made a game of giving Bill the worst assignments and this guy could figure out how to do it faster and better.  Hell, he even has the gas company doing some of his work for him in the housing track and that crew and their foreman loved him for it.  Man, you don’t mess with someone like that.  Well, a supervisor is superior in every way to a craftsman or he wouldn’t be a supervisor, right.  Sounds like the same argument I used to hear from the friendly sergeants in the service.  The higher your rank the smarter you must be.  Yeah, go tell that to the NVA.  So the showdown was coming.  Everyone on the crew and those on the other crews could see it coming.  It felt like a homecoming game in high school, only we didn’t have a king and queen.  I heard some guys were placing bets.  Don’t know what on, but there was an air of anticipation.


So we came into the office the next morning and sat and drunk our coffee.  A few jokes here and there, a little banter about the coming games this weekend, you know, regular guy chat.  Bill, as usual is sitting in his chair and reading a book.  That man always has a book handy.  I don’t mean trashy novels by Louis L’aMour either.  Something on science or economics or something like that.  And don’t make the mistake of asking him about that book or you’ll get an hour’s lecture on the subject.  Yeah, the man is out of place but he is a marvel of workmanship and production.  He can take a two hour job and complete it in half an hour.  I mean, the man is good.  Why would you want to mess with him?  That makes no sense.  And yet, that is what Ron was going to do.  Now we heard from Lenny that old Karl put the order out to watch Bill and catch him doing something, anything wrong.  so It was no surprise when Ron the Rabbit came out and told Bill that he was going to quality his work that morning.


To those of you wondering what that means, the foreman will come out and observe the craftsman at work and write down any deviation from the normal procedure and write the man up for not following established procedure.  Well, he might just as well slapped Bill in the face.  That was one of the few times I have seen that man angry.  I mean, if looks could kill, Ron would be lying on the floor dead about now.  Bill and I were working in the same new housing tract building the terminals for the service to the houses under construction.  So I followed him out to the job site.  First, of course, we stopped for a Mcdonald’s breakfast and large coffee.  Then we drove to the housing track under construction.  I parked my van about a hundred feet down the dirt street and waited.  Bill parked his and commenced to eat his breakfast, waiting for “El Conejo” to show.  Ron was a few minutes later than we had expected.  He parked his supervisor’s pickup and walked over to Bill’s van.  Bill got out and the first thing he did was to place the two orange work cones in the front and back of his van.  Then he broke out his Men Working warning signs and the three orange cones require as warning for the sign.  Then he stood and watched what little traffic came by.  Ron started to ask him what he was doing when Bill interrupted. “First thing we do is safety first, place the cones front and back of the vehicle and then place the warning signs.  Then we watch the flow of traffic to determine that we have places warning signs and cones in their necessary places.”  You could have knocked Ron over with a feather.  Then Bill went back to the van and pulled out his work order and checked to see that he was at the right place.  That determined, he went back to the van and pulled out a shovel and walked over to the exposed cable loop.  Then he proceeded to dig a little and level the dirt around that loop.  Next he pulled out his seat box and took it to the cable loop.  Ron was about to say something when Bill spoke. “I have determined that this is the correct location according to my print and work order.”  Then back to the van again where he pulled out one tool and went back to the cable loop.  I mean this went on for at least an hour as Bill was using a tool then putting it away and doing another operation.  Did you ever see a man use just one tool and then put it back and get another rather than have all his tools handy?  It like to drove me crazy watching this parade of fools.


Finally I heard Ron yell, “I can’t stand this anymore!”  He left in a hurry, almost hitting another vehicle.  I went over to Bill as he was quickly finishing his job.  “God damn idiot, cost me an hour this morning.  It’s coming out of his bonus!”  I just had to marvel at what he had done.  He didn’t just beat the system, he strangled it.  When we got back to the yard Ron was nowhere to be found.  But the buzz was thick.  Seems he came back in hopping mad and just a yelling at Karl.  There would be no more attempts to quality Bill again.  And a lot of guys were grinning at Karl when he dared to show his face.  The worse thing about it was that Bill always gave extra work units, said it was the price he paid to sit and read or do whatever he needed to do on company time.  You never look a gift horse in the mouth else it’ll bite you.  Know what I’m saying?  As it was, Bill’s status among the yard increased measurably, he become one of our leaders.


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