Here’s a warning to all the mothers/wives out there; concrete is an addictive, obsessive, all-consuming trade and once we start in it, we can’t escape it. Concrete occupies our minds at night, robbing us of sleep. It distracts us and consumes our thoughts while our spouses are talking to us, we will never avoid critiquing concrete work which we observe everywhere in our off hours, and it takes a toll on our bodies as we quietly carry our aches and pains to the grave. Did we order enough concrete? Will the concrete truck be on time? I really hope the concrete truck doesn’t bring a 8” slump… are all thoughts that are constantly going through our minds. Once concrete is coursing through our veins, we are willing to sacrifice a normal life for our trade.
Working in concrete, we take our lives in our hands daily; we can’t afford to ignore the dangers that surround us. Whether it’s a loose chute swinging by our head missing us by inches, having the winter concrete touch your skin leaving a bad rash, climbing scaffolding to work on a tall foundation, unclamping high-pressure pump hoses or banging our hoses to get a plug out, or getting cut by a trowel in the back pocket of the guy screeding the concrete, this trade has its inherent dangers which we must always be aware of. We’ll pay a much higher price than losing any eye or a few digits if we ever forget this.
Many years ago, Johnny Carson had a skit on his Tonight Show where he drank so much coffee, when they pricked him with a pin, coffee flowed out instead of blood. I’m pretty sure there will be more than one undertaker who’ll get the surprise of their life. For when they go to embalm an old concrete worker, instead of just draining their blood, they’ll discover there’s something gray in their veins.
Paying The Price For The Love of Concrete
Growing up, my dad would often say, “Experience is a great teacher…if it doesn’t kill you.” When we worked together , not a week went by without him repeating this mantra. It was his way of saying, ‘Pay attention, always try to learn something, and be careful.’
Our trade can be dangerous and it has a lot to teach us. Think of the poor guys who’ve lost fingers setting up ready-mixed chutes or who’ve lost hands in conveyors or in pumps. Or those who, tragically, lost their lives on the job.
Concrete has taught me many personal lessons, and I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s taught me to monitor the economy just like the weather – many years are feast or famine in our trade. It’s taught me that having a rock-solid work ethic is the best way to build a good reputation, which is priceless.
Concrete has taught me to ignore the color of someone’s skin, their educational credentials or lack thereof, and their physique. Some of the smartest people I’ve worked with didn’t graduate from high school, some of the hardest-working people are multiethnic, and some of the toughest people I know don’t weigh 130 pounds soaking wet.
Concrete has taught me time and time again about the value of mentoring. When I started finishing, I grew only because of the seasoned finishers who invested their time in me. As I led people later on, I felt fulfilled only when I was pouring my heart and soul into those who followed. Now that we’re in our third year of owning and operating a concrete pump, I’m perpetually aware of my reliance on Charlie McIntosh, a contractor who also sells and services Reed equipment throughout the Southeast. He’s the pumping guru in our region.
Working in concrete is all about timing. We can’t just stop in our tracks whenever we’re tired, hurting, or frustrated. Furthermore, I’ve learned that getting anxious and panicking only makes matters worse. Learning to stay calm and be patient are the two absolutely essential traits everyone should develop.
Concrete has taught me that, no matter how much pressure we’re under, we are problem solvers with great imaginations. Every day is a new challenge, and we adapt and overcome by thinking through these problems and using our imaginations to envision the best possible way to accomplish what the ordinary citizen could never do.
For me, concrete reinforces the maxim “mind over matter.” Whenever I feel I’ve stretched the limits of my endurance (like working 18-hour days) and reached my breaking point, I’ve somehow been able to do what it takes to get the job done. Stamina, endurance, a high tolerance for pain, confidence, and grit – these are the gifts concrete offers.
Concrete teaches us that, above all, with the right mindset, even though our muscles are cramping up and our joints and tendons are strained and sore, we will never give up. Concrete teaches us we have what it takes.