The Dream Job

Ho hum … A couple of high school dropouts in white coveralls sneak off to the bushes to smoke pot. You see it all when you're running the gun. I'd watched their boss, the painting contractor, drive off minutes earlier. Well, at least they weren't running power tools or driving earth movers.

I peered through the scope. Alan was still digging away. The old redwood stake he was after reminded me of how fortunate I'd been all these years, working with older surveyors like him. The painter guys would be lucky to find such mentors. There was Smida the construction staker, who had taught me the job-site motto: "Never ask contractors what they want; you tell them what they need." And Richard, prince of darkness: "Every day I'm a little bit happier, because I'm that much closer to being dead, when I won't have to worry anymore about all the corners I've set." And then there was Alan….

Suddenly I realized I was being watched. I turned around to find the painters standing there, all glassy-eyed and grinning.

"Whoa," said the one with the tattoos on his neck, "You've like, got it made."
"Yeah," said the other. "It's like having a break all day long."

Grrr. I could feel the defensiveness well up inside. I wanted to say: "Look, you boneheads, you don't have a clue. Look at all the research I've done. The hours spent at the title company. This roll of record maps as thick as a baseball bat."

But then I caught myself. Ten years of working with Alan had taught me the most important lesson of all. And that is how to deal with people as a surveyor.

See, I tend to think like most surveyors. Instinct tells us that respect for the surveying profession is something we have to verbally beat into people's heads. Ever notice how it doesn't work? Standing there facing the painters, I flashed back to the day, years ago, when Alan showed me the light.

The bulldozers had been idling since dawn, waiting for us, the surveyors, to show up. We'd discovered problems with the plans at the last minute and were in the office frantically resolving them. Call the engineer. Call the architect. Hammer away madly at the computer.

Every thirty minutes the construction superintendent would call. "Where are you guys? I've got men and iron just sitting here. We're waiting…."

It was mid-morning when we finally arrived. Drained. Spent. Mentally shot.

"Hey!" someone yelled. It was a block mason looking down from his scaffolding, pointing at his watch. He knew nothing of the idle bulldozers, only that he'd been slaving away since daybreak, and that the surveyors were just showing up. I was poised to bite the poor guy's head off, but never got the chance.

"Yep, I guess it's warmed up enough," Alan yelled back with a smile. "The surveyors can go to work now." You'd have thought he'd just walked off the beach in Bermuda.

"What is this," said the mason, "banker's hours?"

"It's the life of the surveyor," said Alan. "You know, stop for lattés, eat a few croissants, read the paper…." The mason laughed and went back to his concrete block. Alan looked at me and winked.

"See," he said, "there's no point in telling him the truth. We'd sound like whiners. Might as well tell him what he wants to hear."

"Which is?"

Alan looked around to make sure nobody was within earshot. "Okay, here's the secret: Attorneys, civil engineers, brick layers-it doesn't matter. They all want to believe that we, the surveyors, have it made. That we have the dream job. They idolize us. Why disappoint them?
Why, indeed? I took a deep breath and looked back at the painters. They were still standing there like dazed idiots.

"You're right," I said. "It should be illegal. You wouldn't believe the money we make doing this."
"Whoa!" they both said in unison. They walked back to their paint rollers, shaking their heads in amazement. I was thinking "whoa," too. I'd just become an idol. I'd made their list. Rock stars, sports heroes, … land surveyors.


Doug Morin is a professional land surveyor living in Los Osos, California.

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