Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Truth

I have tried to write a blog post a number of times in the last few months. Honestly, all of the baby-ness that has consumed my life doesn't seem to be very pertinent to highways or high heels. I've tried to tie Jack into a neat little blog about how precious he is and then move onto "work related topics," but that doesn't seem to work. I've tried to consider the feminist views of working with a baby in the office. Yes, you may refer to my post in December 2011 and call me a hypocrite. I wouldn't blame you--in fact, I feel like a hypocrite daily. And I still find our arrangement less than ideal, but this is survival mode. And honestly, none of my life is separate from Jack now. So, I'll write about being a mom, and consider highway topics one day in the future. 

This summer, I considered joining forces with several girl friends to write a blog from multiple perspectives of ladies in their twenties. Every post that I wrote for that blog was bleak. It was ugly. It was thinly veiled with humor, but it was clear: I was in a hole. I think that I have come out of the 6 or 8 week old baby hole, and life is starting to balance out nicely again. But it doesn't mean that it isn't hard. And this is what I've found: 

Nobody tells you the truth.

Everyone talks about the cute little cheeks. The smushy mouths. The warm cuddles. They are all fabulous. And I swear, I wouldn't trade this sweet baby for anything. In reality, I have one of the happiest babies that I know. In fact, I posted a picture of him crying the other day, just to prove that he does it. But it's still exhausting. And it's doubly exhausting to do it while working full-time. And it's triply exhausting to do it while working full-time WITH the baby. I am truly blessed to be able to bring him with me, but the pressure is almost crushing at times. I try to accomplish all of my tasks in a frenzy, while keeping the baby from making a peep. I try to make phone calls while he naps, but quietly, so that I don't wake him. I try to type one handed while I hold him, and bounce him on one leg, and take him out for lunch so that we have somewhere other than the office to be during the day. This is my struggle, but everyone has some kind of struggle when they have a baby--we may just not have the same ones.

A dear friend blogged about her constant anxiety since she had her baby who is just days older than Jack. I don't think that I have constant anxiety, but I understand where she is coming from. 

Someone else confessed that she wanted to see her doctor about what she suspected to be postpartum depression. I encouraged her to, because until early August, I had considered the same thing. But no one talks about this. 

Someone else said that she thought it was supposed to be so much better than this. That her six week old son was sweet, and she loved him, but he was HARD. 

I even quickly spoke with a friend in passing and confessed how tired I am. She confessed how tired she is, too. And then we let it hang. We didn't dig into it. We didn't share gripes or complaints, we just left it there. I almost feel like the conversation was tangible, and that if I walked back into her living room, I could pick it up. Literally. Why did we do that? We even laughed, dry, mirthless laughs...both knowing that if we actually told the truth, that we might be a little too vulnerable.

Why don't moms tell each other how hard it is, without trying to fix each other's problems? Why don't we say, I know that your struggle isn't the same as mine, but I do have a struggle. We complain about our husbands' constant desires to fix things when all we want to do is express our frustration, and then do it to each other. I know that it is well-meaning, but gosh, it's tiring. It's tiring to want to fix each other. And it's tiring to feel that you are the one being fixed. 

There is no doubt, that October is not a big black hole like July seemed to be. I am glad that I didn't write anything then! I can honestly say that four months is SO MUCH BETTER than six or eight weeks. But, wow, so much better is relative. And I'm trying not to wish away his baby days, because he is growing so quickly! I appreciate all of my well-meaning friends, but sometimes, a gripe is just a gripe. And let's be honest, sometimes it is just nice to know that other people's children aren't perfect, that life isn't all baking cookies and taking trips to apple orchards. And that other moms are struggling with learning how to be moms, too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Primaries and the Gas Tax

I have always loved politics. This is clearly inherited from my father. Bart didn't seem to get the bug. Mom and John each agree to play the game when it's necessary. But Dad and I? We love it.

I can't help but get excited when each political season rolls around. I know, it seems like there isn't a season that isn't political these days. And I can get frustrated with the non-stop media spiels when it seems like they are just "making" news for the heck of making news. However, now that we are into the primaries, and North Carolina's is gearing up in two weeks, I'm ready to jump in. If there's a candidate speaking at one of my meetings, I'll be there. If there's a party or a rally to attend, I'll most likely drag John along. If there's a political sticker or button to wear, it's mine. I even vote on election day, just so that I can wear my "I Voted" sticker all day long, instead of voting ahead of time and feeling silly wearing my sticker all alone.

That being said, I've done some research on my MANY options for every office that can be elected in Iredell County. Unfortunately, in North Carolina, you must be affiliated with a party in order to participate in the primaries. This really goes against my Gen Y perspective to vote for the person--the candidate with the good ideas--rather than the letter attached to someone's name. However, this frustration is somewhat lessened by the knowledge that over 85% of Iredell County is Republican. You would think that would limit your options, but when there are 8 Republicans (and often no Democratic primaries at all) to choose from in any given race, it seems as though the choices are fairly broad (relatively speaking).

I specifically have spent some time researching my local NC senate and house candidates. It's these people who most impact the state funding streams for highway construction. While I am not going to publicly endorse or denounce any individual, I would like to share what was said in a lunch meeting that I attended today:

This candidate has been privy to the Republican caucus discussions in Raleigh (doesn't give much away, does it? Ha!) In this meeting of business people in the Statesville area, this person announced that it was the Republican caucus' primary goal to "attack the gas tax" during this session. This person also claimed that it was the gas tax that was hurting the economy, making it harder for people in the state of North Carolina to make ends meet, and that as long as the projects that he/she supported weren't cut, there should be no problem with decreasing our already inadequate tax. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this person is very charismatic, seems to have huge support, and can make these broad reaching statements without much push-back from the group that was assembled. This person, many people would say, is that shoe-in for the Republican nomination for the seat he/she is running for...

In light of this, please let me share some actual FACTS with you:

  1. Capping the gas tax at the levels proposed will save the average North Carolina driver $13.00-$30.00 PER YEAR. This is about $1.00-$2.50 PER MONTH. I'm not so sure that $1.00/month is causing any particular individual in the state heartburn.
  2. Capping the gas tax at the levels proposed will cut the highway construction budget by almost $100 million this year alone. The highway fund is currently under-funded, with existing gas tax revenues. Cutting it an additional $100 million could be devastating. 
  3. The cut in revenues could put thousands of construction jobs at risk. Aren't all politicians claiming that job creation is the number one priority of their campaigns? How does saving drivers $0.25 per week justify adding to the unemployment levels of our state? 
I started this post by saying that I love politics, and I truly do. This season, and every season, how each political candidate plans to impact highway funding is of utmost importance when I decide how to vote. I hope that you also care about your state's roads and general infrastructure. But more importantly, I hope that you look at what is most important to you and research the candidates' opinions on those topics. Too many people go to the polls with no idea what the person they vote for believes or truly supports.

I'll leave you with a quote from Republican NC Senator Bill Rabon when cutting the gas tax was voted on (and defeated) last session: "I'm not going to be the one to say, 'Hey, I'm the guy who saved you $23 on gasoline taxes, and I'm really sorry about the school bus that your kid was on that fell through the bridge that we didn't repair.'"

I hope we have enough political will and common sense to keep this perspective as the dominant one in the NC legislature. NC voters are the ones who need to guarantee that we do, and not fall for good-looking charisma or hyperbole...otherwise, what seems like an overstated assessment by Senator Rabon could be our reality.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bid Day

Lettings are strange animals. 

Most people in this world have no idea what they are. People often ask why I'm attending a "wedding" on a Tuesday. It used to frustrate me, but now I just laugh. I'll say, "No, not a wedding. A letting--a bid letting. It's how we get work." Most of the time, the conversation ends there because it's a foreign, somewhat boring-sounding concept. While the concept may sound boring, the actual process of a letting is anything but boring. 

The "older" generation tells the "younger" generation how much we've missed out on; how the lettings used to be about relationships, gathering with other folks from the industry who lived around the state, and all-nighters to work on strategy and tweaking numbers. Fortunately, I am just barely old enough to know what they are talking about. Sometime in the mid-nineties, it was the rage to purchase a computer, a massive printer with rolls of paper, and floppy disks. These would accompany you on your monthly journey to each state capitol and would make you super-high tech during the process. It only required two whole hotel luggage carts to get this modern technology into your hotel room. 

I know this for a fact, because as a child, my father employed my willingness to endlessly enter numbers into a computer. At first, he only used my skills at home. Once I had proven that I was capable of listening to and entering accurate numbers, he decided that I could progress in my responsibility. On a few rare occasions, most likely during summer break, he felt that it made sense for me to join him in Nashville to enter his numbers into the computer for him. This was a special treat. I got to travel with my daddy, stay up late, and enjoy the Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Krystal cheeseburgers that arrived at the hotel promptly at midnight. I got to meet the people who my father respected and talked about when he was discussing jobs. I got to feel the energy and the tension that is generated by a group of people who know they must be low in order to be awarded a job, but high enough to cover their costs and make a profit. And I got to witness exactly what a bid letting felt like. I am probably one of the few people in my 20s to have this experience, since none of us were of working age to have experienced this professionally. 

Fast-forward to 2011. All state-wide lettings are electronic. There is no gathering of the industry--everyone works from what is most likely a number of sleekly designed laptops, all inside a home office. There is no dash to deliver the sealed envelope--a bid is sent with a click of a button. There are no Krispy Kremes or Krystals, but that probably has something to do with being headquartered in Mountain City. 

In our office, what remains, though, is the energy. The days leading up to the third Tuesday of every month are filled with energy. This was most clearly exhibited during the December NCDOT letting. It is common for the State of North Carolina to let their paving projects in the winter. This allows the contractors who are awarded the project time to plan for the project, line up subcontractors, and coordinate the work with the State. It also allows us to work on these projects during the entire paving season. What is not common is for all of the counties we would normally bid to be in the exact same letting. They would typically be spread out over 2 or 3 months. This year they were not. We bid 10 jobs in one day. To say that there was energy in the office on December 20 (and many days before), would be a huge understatement. All hands were on deck for our biggest letting day of the year. Boo-boos were unacceptable. Uh-ohs could not be allowed. To screw up one job is rough, to screw up on 10 jobs could be disastrous. 

The amazing part to me, is that with all of this pressure, our office maintained a light-hearted approach to the day. One of our head estimators has been with Maymead since I was a toddler. He has taught me how to run our systems, how to compare quotes, and how to enter things in the way that "Pard" likes them. One of our other estimators has been with Maymead almost as long. He taught me how to swim when I was three. He has also taught me much of the spec books and how to understand the nuances of the mix designs. My father runs the ship, but relies on them and many others. He is truly a master of strategy, a numbers wizard, and a shrewd businessman. However, in the middle of it all, he takes the time to explain to Bart and me why he looks at items in certain ways, how bonding on a particular job works, or to answer any of our other questions. These three men have worked with each other for over 20 years. So while we may not have had Krystals at midnight, when we went home to eat spaghetti that my mom had prepared before going back to the office to keep working, it was like having family dinner. 

Many people say that the transportation industry is like a big family. And I think that many people across each of the states that we work in would agree. It is unfortunate that the contractors don't come from around the state to bid work in a central location because the younger generation misses out on the exposure to other experienced people from across the state. But I am fortunate to have received the tutelage that I receive each month within our own corporation. 

It is absolutely impossible to describe the electricity associated with any bid day. Faxes blare, emails ding, phones ring off the hook, and people run up and down the halls all day. It is necessary to keep focus on the hundreds of numbers on any given computer screen or quote page. Likewise, balancing the numbers with the descriptions of a work item in the ever-changing spec book or proposal is critical. 

Honestly, the set up may not be in a capitol city's hotel, but I'm not sure that a whole lot of the process has changed. The excitement may not be quite the same as when I was in awe of the hot Krispy Kremes, but being tasked with assisting in the process of ensuring that we have work for our company day-in and day-out has a responsibility, electricity and enjoyment all of its own.

The technology may be more advanced, and the venue a little less swanky, but I'm still entering numbers for my daddy. And enjoying every minute of it.