Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 13, 2010

Left Uncovered

Dear Uncle Bodie,

We expect it to rain here tonight. Anywhere else, that wouldn’t mean much. But here, we’ve had only two brief rains in the last nine months. Even for a dry place like Los Angeles, this drought is extreme. All over southern California, people are going out in their yards and putting away their yard tools and taking a look at their roofs, wondering if they’ll hold up during the rain.

You’d be interested to know how different things are here in California from Ohio. Take a look at the picture.

I took this picture one evening early in October after the roofers had left our house for the day. You can see that they left the roof stripped off, completely uncovered. Not only that, they left their tools, including a Sawzall, sitting on the roof for the night. This isn’t unusual for southern California. Dad and I have been amused to see work sites where stacks of drywall sit uncovered in the open for days on end. I know what you’re thinking: they must be careless, wasteful people who lack discipline and character. You wouldn’t say it that way but you taught us that leaving your tools out or not covering up a roof or valuable materials is something no responsible workman would ever do.

It’s taken me a lot of years to understand that these folks aren’t careless or wasteful They do know for an absolute certainty that it’s not going to rain. Not only that, there’s not even going to be any dew in the morning. The weather here comes in from over the Pacific, and we know at least two days in advance of any chance of rain. Think of it: no dew! No damp grass or wet roofs. It’s amazing.

I know what you’re thinking: if that’s true, if every crew in California doesn’t have to spend the last 20 minutes of the day putting away tools and covering up materials, these must be the most productive work crews in the world! If you figure a crew of 5 times 5 days a week times 20 minutes a day, they must get 150 hours of extra productivity a year. Not so. Here’s why not.

Los Angeles is all about water. We do not have any water here. It comes through aqueducts and it flows into reservoirs during the short rainy winter. When water does come as rain it comes in deluges that inundate the city and quickly run off the vast paved area that covers the LA basin. Even the river channels are paved, which amounts to an immense mass of swift-moving water rapidly dumping into the ocean. When water runs off a job site in Ohio or Oklahoma or New York, it ends up in a local creek, then a river and has a chance to be aerated and purified by natural processes before it ends up in the ocean. Here, floods of torrential rains pour down concrete channels and in one or 5 or 20 miles wash the waste of the metropolis of 10 million people directly into Santa Monica Bay. What’s this got to do with that job productivity? This: there isn’t a single construction site in southern California that doesn’t  need to be surrounded with water-retaining plastic sheeting held down by sandbags. Thousands of miles of plastic and tens of thousands of sand bags. Even if they sit there for years while a project continues, and even if it doesn’t rain for nine months, they have to be there. Otherwise, when it does rain, the topsoil and brush and debris go straight down the storm drain and in just a few minutes can be part of the pollution problem in the Bay. It kind of balances out. All those thousands and thousands of hours of labor not spent covering up roofs and stacks of lumber gets invested in ringing every construction site with water-channeling divergence dams.

And there are lots of other things that we didn’t have to deal with, like disposing of leftover paint or packing material or other waste. We just dumped it somewhere out in a field, but today it’s weighed, assessed and you’re billed before it goes anywhere. On just our little residential job the roofers removed 14 tons of old roofing from our house and paid a fee for the environmental cost.

We had it easy, Bodie. Still, I’d give a week’s pay to be here if you saw some roofer climb down off the ladder at the end of the day with the roof left uncovered, leaving a bucket full of tools on the roof. I can hear it now….

Sincerely,

Brad

*—*

Ora “Bodie” Nixon was my great-uncle, one of my grandfather’s brothers. I worked with Bodie in the family construction business from when I was about 13 or so until he retired when I was in my 20s. While most of the Nixon men were taciturn, Bodie was a puckish, exuberant imp, full of life and never quiet for more than a few minutes. Picture a compact, muscular Popeye the Sailor, full of salt & vinegar. While my dad and grandfather mostly assumed that I’d learn what I needed to know by watching them (and I learned a lot), Bodie couldn’t resist the temptation to pass on what he knew: direct, full of an exuberant desire to teach. One of the moments that best sums up Bodie’s joyful wisdom was the time he saw me driving nails with a tight, intense swing of my hammer. He told me to swing the hammer from a rhythm inside me: “Play the music that’s in you,” he said. Those were his exact words. I’ve never forgotten them. I miss that guy.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017

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Responses

  1. And he never struck out.

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  2. Thanks for including Uncle Bodie in your writings, what a character, and it just makes me happy to think about him.

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  3. _ A Tale of Two Cities’ Roofers _

    It was the wettest of times; it was the driest of times. Depends on where you live, right?

    Here in Southern California, we get rain about as often as we get earthquakes. But we do not prepare to defend ourselves from Mother Nature in the same way. We have state laws here mandating that we ordinary citizens (and our home builders) must do certain things to protect our lives and homes in the event of an earthquake.

    But no such laws seem to be on the books for rain storms. This is surprising, as California loves laws, statutes, regulations, ordinances, and the citizen initiative process of amending our state Constitution (and other laws that our noble Legislators have gotten wrong) every election cycle, or more. Hence, all natural forces being equal, a Californian probably has a better chance of his or her home surviving a quake than surviving a roof leak.

    In a round-a-bout way, this brings me to Brad’s roofers and their tools. Our roof leaks, and has leaked for years. Always in the same place: behind a wall in the guest room, which leaves the carpet along the baseboard damp after the rain. And all this depite the fact that we have had roofers out to “repair” this roof leak over the course of several years. Consider it Roof Roulette: maybe someday, we’ll get lucky and find a roofer who can actually fix a leak.

    Of course, there is no good way to test these roof “repairs” promptly after they supposedly have been made. You just have to wait until it rains again (maybe months or next year) to see what happens. But that leak has been just as reliable as the rain that falls on our roof — always, year after year.

    Consequently, I am slightly perturbed with “my” roofers, and envious of Brad’s. If only my roofers had left their tools on my roof, as Brad’s roofers did on his, perhaps the tools would have covered the hole in my roof that my roofers could not find, and thereby prevented future leaks!

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  4. This subject is what the Dutch excel at.

    Talking about the weather is common good over here. Many foreigners who come to settle in our tiny country are at first amazed how often we talk about the weather and it is probably the most used subject when meeting strangers.

    Instead of asking someone, ” how are you doing”, whilst waiting for the bus a conversation in Dutch would go something like this: Man comes to the bus stop and sees other man. “nasty weather isn’t it”, the other man replies:”Yes, I hope it’s stops raining for a change.”, Man says, “Yes, but it is not as bad as yesterday though.”, other man replies: “true, they say it’s gonna be this way all week.”, man says: “the newsman on 6 said it will be better next week.”, other man: “Ow that guy, well you never can tell with him can you.” man laughs and says: “true, ah well we will see. You know what they say, nothing as changeable as the weather. But I do hope we will see a little sun next week.”, other man: “Yes that would be nice.” And they wait for the bust for the remainder.

    “As changeable as the weather”, is a typically Dutch phrase. And for the Netherlands it is a very true story. We had a blizzard a few weeks ago which they could predict until it was 30 minutes away it caused massive traffic Jams and traffic control was totally caught off guard. It can rain over here and then not rain 5 km further down the road. My country is so used to the changing of weather that everyone knows that you can never fully trust a weather forecast. Everywhere there are large sewage systems that collect the heavenly waters and divert them to treatment plant. We have many of those.

    Water is what we know how to take care of in this country. Mainly we have water in abundance we are never short of it. Two of Europe longest rivers find their way to the sea over here. The Netherlands coastlines are warmed by the warm currents of the north Atlantic and Atlantic storms first have to go over the United Kingdom before it reaches the shores of good old NL. On the other side is the land climate of Europe, usually placing the Netherlands exactly in the middle of where these different climates collide. The result is a temperate climate but also a very instable one.
    Resulting in our changeable weather. It is only extreme over here when it is even extremer somewhere else.

    There is another catch over here. Well except for the fact that our country is below sea level for about 50%, the catch is the two rivers over here. When the weather is really bad in the rest of Europe, You can bet your life that in spring when temperatures increase, all that water snow and ice have to go somewhere. And the German, Swiss, some French and Belgian water will go straight down to. You might have guessed it to us. Which makes all the weather in those countries our problem as well. We over the years learned to cope with all this water, by building intricate canals and dykes all around the country. They protect us from the sea as well as the rivers.

    Weather over here is a big deal. And you could make a fortune over here If you could make a system able to predict the weather 99% accurate 2 days in advance. I as a Dutchman cannot even imagine such a thing.

    P.S.: Did you know the Dutch are helping out the US in creating waterworks to help protect New Orleans from another flood disaster?

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    • Great news on having the Dutch help for New Orleans. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent generations making a mess of the entire Mississippi watershed and should be taken to the woodshed (that is an American slang phrase for giving them punishment).

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      • True. They should be taken to the woodshed, before any more tears are shed over bloodshed. Perhaps we should also enlist the help of the Dutch to help protect us from further disasters inflicted on us by our own government’s ineptness. The is not a partisan comment. These disasters span generations and political parties.

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      • 😀 did you really think our government was any better than yours Bill? Did you ever see our current prime minister? His nickname isn’t Harry Potter for nothing. And he is actually as competent as he looks.

        Been trying to get that guy out of the seat for years. At least you have a law about a maximum amount of terms. If the Dutch government is good at something its at making an even bigger mess of things than they were in the first place.
        Of course this is all a personal opinion. But facts are in abundance.

        Protecting the Netherlands from water is well organized because we first had to have a major flood ourselves in 1954 for instance. Every native Dutchman has caution for water in his or her genes. Because we have been battling it for over 2000 years. And when we finally thought we had fixed it. Global warming came along and gave us the treat rising sea-levels. So now we have to raise it all. At least that was it until climate gate. The thing with water is you have to keep working against it or eventually it ‘ll get to you.

        But its a fun country to live in anyway 😀

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