The job I was hired to do was sort of vague. The Boss has bought a large tract of real estate down that he plans to subdivide and sell the lots. Since he intends to cater to the “occasional-use” crowd, each lot will come with a boat slip. Which means we have to build a marina, which is what we’re doing now.
My basic job description is that of logistics officer – getting all the materials and supplies we need, getting enough of them to complete the job and getting them here on time. That alone is a big challenge since everything must come from someplace else. But I’m also to oversee the payroll of up to 55 employees. And when the Boss is not here, I act as him as far as supervising them goes. It’s a bigger job than I anticipated.
Mind you, I know exactly nothing about marina construction. But I do know about managing people. So I let the people just do what they’ve been taught and told to do. This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not that they’re lazy (they’re not), but whenever the supervisor is absent, the guys sit down. Work simply stops unless there is a Bossman in attendance to keep them at it. This means that I constantly move from one crew to another, checking on progress, giving words of encouragement or answering questions/solving problems.
Problem #1 for me is that I do not speak Spanish other than what I learned in junior high school 35 years ago. And that doesn’t go much beyond the, “Como esta? Muy bien, gracias,” level. Most of the guys do not speak English. As you can imagine, this makes for some difficulties. The English-speakers get the most responsibility; that should be obvious even if it’s not totally fair. This has the effect of making the others learn English if they want to get ahead. Hey, that’s life.
Among my talents is that of “mechanic.” This is not because I enjoy working on machines, which I do not. But most of the cars and motorcycles I’ve owned were such pieces of junk that I had to learn how to work on them to keep them running (or *get* them running when they broke down on the road). So I know which end of a screwdriver to use as a hammer. But make no mistake, I am no master mechanic. I get by.
Over the years, I’ve actually learned quite a lot. Primarily, I’ve learned to be patient and methodical. If you’re patient and methodical and half-way know what you’re doing, you could rebuild a nuclear reactor. But I rue the day that I ever learned how to work on stuff. Because if people know that you have this skill, they will always come to you to fix their stuff. If you are a mechanic, take my advice: Do not let anyone know – keep it a secret. You’ll thank me later.
On the Sunday that was my very first night in Honduras, we were sitting around after supper and the Boss complained that we were supposed to be pouring cement on Monday but one of the two cement mixers was not working. “The guys say it’s the spark plug,” he said with a skeptical roll of his eyes. (It is almost never the spark plug.) I casually mentioned that I could take a look at it if he liked. As the words were escaping my mouth I was regretting saying them.
Next morning, we go over to the job site. I’m dressed in my best casual “supervisor” clothes (nice shorts, polo shirt, sneakers and socks), definitely *not* my working-on-cars clothes. Right off the bat, the Boss announces to one and all that I would *fix* the cement mixer. Not “take a look at it,” fix it. I looked at him in disbelief. I’d never seen a cement mixer in my life, much less worked on one. Not only that, I hadn’t brought along my tools.
Hey, it’s just a machine, right? A socket set was scrounged up; the owner was not happy to be lending it to me. I went to work, like a surgeon operating with a butter knife. The thing was in terrible shape. The air cleaner cover was all melted and warped, but there was no filter element inside anyway. There was so much sand in the intake I could only imagine how much damage had been done to the cylinder walls. I checked for fuel and sure enough, there was plenty in the tank and at the carb. Looked clean, too. Next, ignition.
“It’s the spark plug!” everyone suggested.
“It’s not the spark plug!” I barked.
It didn’t matter; we had no spark plug wrench of the proper size, so removing the spark plug was not an option. Instead, I took the ignition lead off and showed them how to check for spark – and there it was! Hmm. Why wasn’t it running? If there’s fuel and spark, any engine should run unless there is internal mechanical damage. Which crossed my mind, considering the environment the machine routinely operates in combined with the lack of an air filter. Secretly, I thought it might actually be the spark plug. I put it all back together with confidence (you have to know how to fake that).
Next problem: The starting pull cord was broke. No problem! Grabbing my borrowed socket set, I quickly removed the one from the other cement mixer. Naturally, they were not the same size. D’oh! I found a piece of rope to use instead. A couple of hefty pulls and…the thing fired up! No surprise to me, but the guys couldn’t believe it. Even the Boss was impressed. I’m just glad that nothing serious was wrong, or I would have been out of my league and out of luck.
But now I’m the hero, and I’ll take that. I’m sure that the guys all thought I was just another sunburned gringo in nice clothes, down there to tell them how to do what they’ve been doing all along. But right off the bat they’ve seen that I know my stuff when it comes to mechanics.
I just hope they don’t ask me to fix anything else.