Great Scott! Not another vehicle!
Bright and early on Valentine’s Day, I got a panicked call that a car had been driven into III Forks Steakhouse the night before. That’s a location we service regularly. When I arrived on site fifteen minutes later, I found a pulverized front wall, a double front door smashed through, and damage in a corner dining room. Quickly I called the facility’s management company five states away.
“This is a disaster,” I told the person on the phone. “The entire entry is destroyed. Danny [the proprietor] says they have 400 reservations tonight, the first round starting at 5 p.m.”
“Can you get it put back together?”
“Of course we can. Do I have approval to start?”
“How much will it cost?”
“No idea. It’s a huge mess. I can’t even see what I have to work with until I get into it.”
“Can you call us with an estimate?”
“Look, this is a war zone,” I said. “We have less than seven hours to get these people put back together so romance can begin at their tables tonight. Once we start, I won’t have a moment to spare. You’ll just have to trust me to get this job done and be fair.”
“OK, proceed with the work.”
Preventing Broken Hearts
How does that cherubic little guy manage all those arrows? I love playing Cupid and I love a challenge. But my difficulties had just begun. Now I had to figure out how to prevent the rafters from falling on sweethearts in less than eight hours.
Problem #1 — Staff: I had no staff. No crews on call.
Solution: Start calling hands. See what can be rescheduled. Pull all workers to the job, whether they’re needed or not. Avoid alienating our other customers.
Problem #2 — Trash: A huge pile of twisted metal, broken tile, smashed gypboard, and splintered mahogany paneling. We’re downtown, across from City Hall, with debris all over the sidewalk. As soon as we start, we’ll be held responsible for trash in the public right of way.
Solution: Call Dirty Works Services to bring a crew and haul off the mountain.
Problem #3 – Building Permit: One is required. It usually takes three weeks to get a commercial permit.
Solution: Call Werner Campbell, WC Permits, to get started on it right away, and pray for leniency from code enforcement. Those fines can be steep.
So I called for the trash haul. Then I summoned my four crews, got them to rearrange their schedules, and asked my stalwart band to show up as soon as possible. Next I ordered material, just guessing what we’d need.
The Show Must Go On
Meanwhile, great excitement was brewing at the restaurant. TV and newspaper crews had set up, taking pictures and shooting video. Danny Payne, III Forks boss, asked me if we could do it.
“’Cause if you can’t,” he said, “we can always use the side door.”
“Are you kidding?” I practically yelled. “This is Valentine’s Day! You want guys who are taking their sweethearts to a high-class joint going in the side door? Inconceivable! We’ll be out of here by 4 o’clock.”
Of course, I had no idea how we were going to deliver – I just knew we had to. And you know what I was thinking? Show biz. I have three kids in various types of entertainment work, and the first thing they were taught was: The show must go on. For most men, especially those with reservations at III Forks tonight, February 14 is the biggest show of the year. The second thing I learned from show biz was — it’s all about the look at a glance. Essentially, we had to build a set that looked like the III Forks entrance — with granite tile and big fancy doors on steel and gypboard — but nothing about it would be structural. None of it.
At Your Battle Stations, Men
It took over an hour for crews to arrive. We had less than six hours left. Rapidly they tore into the twisted steel and dangling sheathing. A 14-foot 500-pound steel panel teetered, held up by only a random metal stud. We were eight men in a space less than 200 square feet, cutting steel, climbing ladders, and carrying debris. By 1 p.m., we had the demolition done. Now we could see what we had to do.
“Gentlemen,” I announced, “we have three hours.”
Here’s what I long ago learned about management. As the leader, you make your ridiculous declaration: “We’re going to rebuild this thing and be out of here by 4 p.m.” One or two workers will laugh, but mostly they’ll say “OK,” shrug their shoulders, and get to work. None of them actually think it’s possible. More schedules slide than stick. The workers fall in, but they don’t believe.
By 2 p.m., we had the framing up, ready for the skin. The original outside wall was shiny black granite tile. My solution: plywood, painted shiny black. If you have a beautiful woman on your arm, are you really going to notice whether it’s plywood or granite in the dark?
My permit specialist called, saying he was working on the permit but needed to know a few things. How many stories does the building have? Are there sprinklers? What is the cost? What about structural damage? I gave him the answers, not really believing he could pull it off. He called three more times with equally inane questions.
An officer was just putting a ticket on my windshield for an expired parking meter. I fed the meters and asked him to cut us a little slack for the rest of the day,
“We’re just trying to get this place opened for their big night,” I pleaded. He said he wouldn’t come back around.
Code enforcement stopped by — very nice, cooperative, but asked if we had a permit.
“This is an emergency,” I tried to say calmly. “We’ve been here since early this morning, and they have a huge crowd coming. But I do have a man downtown chasing a permit.”
Now, I didn’t think we had a prayer of getting it. I’ve talked myself out of traffic tickets, however, and thought I had a good case. At best, I was hoping for leniency.
“Who you got working on the permit?” he asked. “I’ll call down there now.”
I told him, and he got right on the radio. Moments later, he told me the good news: The permit had just been issued.
Finishing the Race
By 3 p.m., the doors were set, the walls were almost closed up from the outside, and the interior was taking shape. We had one hour left, with all the cleanup and detailing still to go. I made my announcement: “Gentlemen, we have one hour.” They were starting to see a glint of success.
Then we ran out of sheetrock for the entry vestibule, with no time for a materials run. Even a small gap would invite in vermin. Speedier than Cupid’s arrow, we pieced together two pieces of sheathing from the debris pile.
At 3:30, we were all but done. Cleanup was underway. The hauling company couldn’t make it, so we piled trash in every available truck.
When you get it all cleaned up, you start to see the details. The plywood needed more black paint. Since the front doors had deep gouges, we dabbed on mahogany paint. The color was too light though, so we brushed a few streaks of black paint over the wet mahogany paint. By serendipity, that created a near perfect blend. Improvise, create, succeed.
We had 15 minutes to go, and it actually looked possible. Every man fell in line to roll up our gear. It was a marvel to behold. Trucks were piled high with tools, equipment, and trash. It looked like a caravan to California. Spirits were high. Doing good work feels great. Achieving a miracle is a tremendous rush.
I shook each worker’s hand. They did us proud. Opening time was 5 o’clock. I had promised we’d be finished by 4, mostly thinking we’d have a little breathing room if we ran over. We got in our vehicles and pulled away from the curb at 3:57.
What was it Shakespeare wrote? “The course of true love never did run smooth.”