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Thursday, June 20, 2002

It's a blessing and a curse trying to do contract work for the state of California. They don't try to duck out on payments, unlike some owners, although they do take their time paying us. At least we never have to threaten to turn them over to a collection agency, or file a stop notice on a project we do for them. That's the good news.

The bad news is that it's impossible to get a contract with the state unless you're willing to play their game. The bidding documents are bubbling over with fine print. Even that would be okay if all the state agencies and departments used the same boilerplate, but they don't. Even the same agency will sometimes issue a bid that uses the 1994 version of the fine print.

We're not lawyers (in case you haven't guessed). We're contractors, and we try to deal with lawyers only when we're in trouble, or in some kind of dispute. In other words, as seldom as possible (on a professional level; personally, another story entirely). I certainly don't feel we should have to hire someone to wade through the bid documents to make sure I don't miss something. We'd have to add the attorney's fee into the estimate, and then we'd probably lose the job. This is low-bid work, you know.

The state's fiscal year is over at the end of this month, and anyone in Sacramento with money left to spend has to make sure it's fully spent by June 30. Otherwise, some other bureaucrat in some other office might get it next year. That's why the last two weeks in June are so busy for contractors.

I spent hours online last night trying to comply with the affirmative action requirements for this bid, only to find that the state's own website, the supposed font of all wisdom on this subject, is riddled with broken links. Then today I found out all that time was wasted, because we won't be able to submit a bid. Technical difficulties, as follows:

The job consists of two parts, A and B. We can do B, but we have to hire another contractor to do A. The trouble is that a lot of contractors who can do A can also do B, and they naturally want the whole job for themselves. A plus B is more lucrative than either A or B by itself. If we could find someone to do A, we could bid on the project. But we can't give our price for B to a contractor who's probably going to do both A and B, because then he can use our price for B and undercut us with other bidders, just in case he doesn't get both.

I know that's clear. And that's why we can't bid on this job, which is why my work last night was wasted. That's bad news, but it's also good news, in a way, because now I don't have to keep flailing away at the tedious boilerplate stuff. I can move on to other bids, ones that we do have a chance to get. So it's almost as much good news as bad news.

Still, it hit me pretty hard when I found out this afternoon that I'd been chasing shadows all last night. My stomach tightened up, and I collapsed on the sofa (much neglected since the arrival of the new chair). I think I spent an hour there, not moving. I might have fallen asleep. I'm almost sure I fell asleep. I know I fell asleep, until the phone rang and I got dizzy getting up to answer it before anyone knew I was asleep on the job.

dying honeysuckle

The honeysuckle at the corner of the house is suffering because of the collapsing fence.

The rest of the day went remarkably well. Once I realized that some pressure had been taken off me, I caught my breath and found other, more productive work to do. And the little nap won't hurt, since I'll be up late watching the World Cup match between England and Brazil.

I'll have to TiVo the U.S.-Germany match, because I'm not getting up at 4:00 in the morning for live soccer that I can record and then watch at a more humane hour. I'll just watch it in real time and pretend it's live. It's not as if there are any time outs or commercial breaks to fast-forward through.

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