It started one Sunday in early September. Xy and Persephone were out on a shopping trip, and I had just left on a bike ride to a discussion group meeting, when I decided to circle back around and pump up my tires. As I was finishing, a red car pulled up. A man and a boy got out. The man’s name was Roy, and he wanted to tear up our driveway.
Roy’s twin sons are enrolled in Xy’s school. She’d seen Roy driving a cement mixer and asked if we could hire him to replace our driveway.
So that’s how Roy ended up at our house. He spent about thirty minutes looking at the work that needed to be done, asking questions occasionally but mostly just looking. I kept waiting for him to mention a price. Finally he said, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” And the price? No charge, except for the cost of the concrete.
Next weekend Roy showed up with a couple friends and a couple big sledgehammers. This was before the weather turned, mind, when just standing outside was enough to break a sweat.
Tearing up concrete the old-fashioned way in that heat seemed cruel and unusual. And don’t forget they were working for free. I felt obliged to swing the hammer myself a few times. Xy even got in the act. But we couldn’t compare to Roy’s friend who was over fifty but strong as an ox.
He was quite a character. Always cracking jokes, talking a mile a minute. I didn’t care for some of his racially-charged comments, but I gathered he’d spent some time in prison; as Xy noted, prison does not tend to cultivate our highest virtues.
They came back the next day with a jackhammer. I was stiff and sore enough from the previous day’s exertions that I gave up any pretense of trying to help. It took a while to finally get all the stuff torn out, but eventually they did it. It was not just the driveway that had to be removed but portions of the sidewalk as well.
The roots of the oak tree in front of our house had lifted up the sidewalk, breaking it up pretty badly in some places. I was able to take a picture of one of the the roots before the new concrete was poured.
We were never sure exactly when Roy and company would show up to do some more work. In other words, they were just like regular paid contractors. The key difference was that he’d usually bring his twin sons along, and Xy would end up playing babysitter for a few hours, and we’d feed them as well.
They got it framed up on the 17th of September and came to pour concrete on the 22nd — making for a memorable equinox. We also got the bill at this point, approximately $525 for the concrete. Xy insisted we give Roy some extra for all his hard work and out of pocket expenses, so I wrote a second check for $300.
But this story wasn’t over, not by a long shot. On the evening of the equinox, one of the twins remarked that the work wouldn’t go well because they “didn’t have any Mexicans.” I’m not sure if that was really the problem. I suspect it might have had more to do with the fact that they were working until well after dark without adequate lighting. In any case, there were problems. When the sun rose on the morning of the 23rd, it revealed workmanship that was somewhat less than ideal. Finished concrete is supposed to be sort of, you know, smooth. This was the opposite of that. The surface was rough and wavy with furrows in some places and lumps in others. Hillocks and valleys abounded. Xy tried to put a good face on it, taking an optimistic view for perhaps the first time in our 17 years of marriage. But even the neighbors were pointing and laughing. “That’s some funny stuff,” Charles said.
When Roy came back to remove the wooden frame pieces he took one look at it and said he’d have to tear it out and do it over.
What’s interesting is how quick the second job went. I really wanted to take a picture of the “funny” concrete but Roy tore it out before I got a chance. He brought a Bobcat this time. Howie and his wife suggested some sand should be put down; when I mentioned this to Roy he’d already arranged for sand to be poured. And before I could say “Terrytown” he was back with the cement mixer.
This time, with Mexicans.
The final product was much better. I don’t know if the credit goes to workers of Latino ethnicity, or the fact that the work was done in adequate light so they could see what they’re doing. In any event, I ‘m much happier with the result.
Roy never asked us for more money to cover that second load of concrete. Nor did he ever cash the check for the “extra” we tried to give him. In fact, Xy had to hand it to him three times before he took it. As I’ve related this story to friends and neighbors and co-workers, most have expressed amazement that Roy would do all this work for nothing. What’s his motivation? Perhaps he hopes Xy will give his son some extra scholastic help. Perhaps he knows teachers at Catholic schools don’t get paid much. I don’t really know. But having interacted with Roy a few times now, I suspect that he simply did this work out of the goodness of his heart.
Kind of amazing, isn’t it?