In The Trenches: B-Team

From the middle of the fall of the 7th grade ‘til the spring of the 9th, I just didn’t grow much at all. Oh, I made up for it later, but the football season of my freshman year found me still a bit of a runt. Our first string quarterback was a gifted athlete, with speed and size, and as a quarterback that year, I was doomed to the “B-Team”.

But when it was time to practice, I put my heart into it and was not lazy. Our revered leader, Coach Clay, must have noticed. One day he pulled me aside and told me that our quarterback, who was also our punter and place-kicker, could probably put an extra point between the goal posts every time if we had someone who could handle the ball correctly on those extra point attempts.

He said that if I could master the skill of holding the ball for the place-kicker, I would get to play every game at least on special teams, and it was a very important job.

For days after practice, Suzy Rogers, a neighborhood friend, volunteered to center the ball to me as many times as needed until I could get it down fast and straight, angled just right, laces toward the goal posts. And after a while, I could do it as well as any college player.

Our team was good that year, and we went undefeated. But, being on the B-Team meant most of my time was spent on the bench. Most, but not all, because after every one of our many touchdowns, I went in to hold the ball for a kicker who literally never missed. And there was that one game, on a cold night down in Center, Texas, that we won by only one point. One extra point that we made, and they didn’t.

Our sign business isn’t so big that we actually have a B-Team people who just do a single job. However, there are often tasks for which there is only one person who’s well-suited and properly trained. And there are some types of work that I trust to only one person the one who’s been there the longest and had the most experience. And since most of the people working there are young enough to be my kids, or are my kids, that could only mean me.

However, that makes my schedule the toughest of all. My time is in greatest demand, yet there are things that I know are best done when I can get to them. I may not have the nerve to send someone else.

Quite a few sign installs fit this scenario, especially if it involves stud-mounting letters onto the front of new million-dollar building. Drilling dozens of holes in the fascia of someone’s expensive facility is serious business. At least it is to me.

And it took me a while to get a chance to drive to Shreveport, La. more than an hour from the shop to install a set of plate metal powder-coated letters in a company’s logotype on the front of a new hangar out at the airport. When I finally saw an afternoon that I could get away, I called and let them know I would be coming. I wasn’t sure when, but told them that sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. I should arrive and stay until I finished the job.

The hangar’s co-pilot, Jesse, was to be there all day. But my day went badly and it was 3:00 p.m. before I could the shop, so I called to see if I could still come. That seemed to be fine, and I assured him that I did not need any help I even had a portable generator for power and he could leave, at least after a few minutes. I volunteered to screw a sheet metal hangar number sign that someone else had made to the taxiway side of the hangar, and the co-pilot had to give me access to that area.

That job was done by 5:00 p.m. or so. Jesse and I had talked about flying while I quickly put up that sign, and then another small one on the front of the hangar involving only a few screws each. The real job would take two hours or so, and I didn’t mind staying to get it done. Jesse was gone before I could even get my tools out.

After a few minutes of setting up a short scaffold, and just as I was taping up a pattern, my cell phone rang. It was Jesse, which I thought was odd, since if he wanted to talk to me he could have done it in person a few minutes before.

Oh, he wanted to talk to me alright. What he wanted to do was to chew my butt out, and preceded to do so, telling me what a jerk I was and that I should treat my customers better. He was late for a dinner date with his wife, on the special occasion of his own birthday. (I should have known, but had forgotten to check my calendar.) If I had said I would be there by 2:00 p.m., (not what I had said), I should have been there.

I never even knew I was on his bad side while he stood there literally holding my ladder. He must have been fuming the whole time, but, I never realized it until he gave me both barrels over a cell phone from a safe distance.

Of course, for the most part I was guilty. And I really did feel bad about making him late and not having kept the schedule I had called with. He was right, it was not fair to show up that late. I did call before coming on over, but he must have felt compelled to stay when he really needed to go.

But, if there was one thing I might have said in my own defense if I had bothered to try was that it is harder for me, over anyone else at the shop, to keep a predictable schedule. I hate that, but that’s just the way it is, though I apologize for it.

But that job of installing a very nice set of letters on an expensive new building, turned out just fine, as every job like that I have ever done always has. I have batted a thousand, and I feel I have to. Though it might be easier, I do not send the B-Team.

Still undefeated. Still a perfect record. No letters crooked, no holes patched, best I can do.

I hope, for his sake, his career record as a pilot is that good, always flying safely and landing perfectly. Because, even for him, that’s incredibly more important than always being on time.

Have a great month.