Thursday, August 25, 2005

Habitat Helper back is killing me.

Our company assists with the Habitat program. This program builds houses for needy families. As sort of a "Team Building" exercise, our IT Department was assigned a day this week. I was a bit apprehensive for many reasons. One of them being that since I work in an office, swinging a hammer on an extension ladder makes me hurt.

We had to car pool and our driver was one of those morning people, but none of us were. He was all chipper and all. "Which radio station would you like to listen to?" He said in a piercing tone. I only had a cup of oatmeal breakfast and no coffee. I wasn't feeling it. He wouldn't fire up the air conditioner, it was 85, because in his words: "You may as well get used to it now." That's how the day started.

When we got there we found a house up on a mound of Georgia clay and set back about 30 feet from the street. The neighborhood looks like a war zone, single family homes crumbling on either side of the street. One of the houses across the street had one of those blue tarps for roofing material. You get the picture.

The first job was to cart all the tools up the hill, about 20 feet above street level. There was a little safety meeting about how to use a ladder and we were off to unload the materials from the semi truck.

I had mentioned to someone that I needed coffee. They offered their thermos in their van. While I was away drinking my coffee, they assigned people to shingle the roof and install the insulation. Cool. When I got back I was assigned to exterior siding. We cut and nailed what's called hardy plank. It's a pressboard material that's been primed. Not really great quality.

After climbing up and down ladders for four hours we got a little bag lunch. As I sat down on the grass and started to eat my sandwich, I had to fight off ten files at every bite. If I stopped to sip a soda, I had to wrap the sandwich up in paper. If I didn't, five of them would land on my meat. I later learned that there are several cesspools in the area that were not properly maintained. (No wonder it smells like a pig farm out back.)

After lunch there were group pictures and then back to work. Oh how hard it is to get moving again.

I was able to make it through the day without pounding any of my fingers (others were less fortunate), but I've got blisters on every finger on my right hand.

By 3:30 we had put planks on three sides of the house and the contractors seemed happy with our progress. It was about time to end it all. My hand and arm were cramping up. Several others had the same problem. They were pounding in nails with two hands or trying to switch hit with the other non-dominant hand. This lead to great problems like cracked planks, bent nails, and purple thumbs. Me and my buddy were the last two to walk off the job.

We were so hot we left the sliding van doors open as we snaked through the narrow lanes. A zealous motorcycle cop saw us through a cross street, raised his gloved finger, pointed at us, and said through is windscreen: "You, close those doors." Sheesh. These cops sure have a power trip going on. "Lighten up buddy. It's only a tiny neighborhood lane! Don't you have some murderers to chase?"

On the trip back we got air conditioning, There would have been a mutiny if he didn't switch it on. I was grateful.

All in all I really had a great time. I enjoy working in the building trades. There is a great deal of satisfaction when you look back at your work, like the side of house you've just completed. That's pretty tough to do with software. I mean, you can't really see those bits and bytes GOING anywhere. Its so ethereal.

Besides, it's good to do good for others. The householder was a happy camper.

The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new. -Cato