Wednesday, August 27, 2008

VI. Tree House, "Higher and Higher"

The second section of stairway, now that’s when the real gymnastics and high wire work began. Watching these guys wearing flimsy flip-flops, no hard hats and even worse for my peace of mind, no safety harnesses, makes me nervous to no end. Having spent decades on Air Force flight lines where every work scenario is governed by strict safety considerations, I could barely watch without squirming.

Eddy confessed that one of his boys had actually fallen not all that long ago at another work site. The kid had hit the ground from about 15 feet up, landing on his back, luckily on soft ground with no apparent lasting injury other than having the wind knocked out of him.

“Okay, so you’re with me if I ask you guys to start tying off?” I practically pleaded.

As always, when I bring up the subject of safety, he just smiled and found something else that needed to be done at that moment.

Admittedly, mostly based on hearsay, falling is not exactly an unusual way for construction workers to get hurt and even die around here. From what I hear, many building projects involving more than a couple floors run up a death and injury toll. Last year I watched the Korean Hotel go up across the street from my gym and I was regularly horrified (anyway, I regularly cringed a lot) to watch the blatant flouting of what I consider basic safety precautions. In fact, one or two deaths took place on that site before it was finally finished. I asked one of the fitness center assistants, a talkative good-natured fellow who regularly gives me the low down on what’s happening in the neighborhood, what kind of compensation the family got for the death of their loved one. He shrugged saying only a few thousand pesos, perhaps just a couple hundred dollars.

I hate the idea that any worker might get hurt or even die while working on the tree tower. Thing is, I know that even if I go ahead and buy harnesses, which are available here, that mostly out of pride and because they can be cumbersome to use, none of the boys would wear them. I’d be wasting my money. I even told Eddy that I was willing to buy everyone a hardhat, a harness, and safety goggles; but again, he just smiled politely. You can lead a horse to water…

Even though it reached upward towards 20 feet, the second flight of stairs was still fairly easy to put up and weld into place since someone on the ground with a long sturdy board could help support the steel step casing while the welder reached out from where he stood on a makeshift platform of wired on one-by-one boards and tacked into place the casing’s underlying supports.

By the time I came home that afternoon I was ecstatic to see the second flight mostly complete. Eddy stood with me below answering my chatty questions as I craned my head back peering excitedly at the wonder that he and his boys had wrought.

“So, what’s next?” I asked enthusiastically.

“We start putting up the next level of vertical supports,” Eddy responded.

“Are you sure it will be high enough? Will that take us up so that when we’re standing on the platform we will be able to see above the top of the tallest tree?”

“Yes, it should. We’ll know soon.”

“If not, can we extend it on up so that it does?”

Nodding his head with arms folded high on his chest he answered quietly, “Yes, we can do that.” And he said so in his typical staid confident manner.

If anybody can, it’s Eddy. At this point I’m convinced that he can build just about anything…

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