Remodeling the Mexican Way
For months I’d been ignoring almost daily calls from local contractors offering a free quote on my every remodeling need. Each offered SALE PRICING! and said a Professional Contractor would give us a quote before the sun went down. How could I say no to a Professional Contractor and Sale Pricing? Easily, as it turned out.
Job #1 was to put a new floor on the main outside deck, replace a couple of railings, and maybe build a roof/trellis on it. It was a big deck, so I knew this was going to cost some bucks so I’m thinking maybe $4k. Professional Contractor #1 shows up carrying a clipboard, a pen and a tape measure. After I explained what I needed, he took a few measurements and 30 minutes later I had my quote: $35K! And that was without the roof. PC #2 took even less time (he didn’t bring a tape measure) but arrived at a similar figure: $38K and I could have it done in six weeks. At this rate I was going to spend half million dollars on everything that needed fixing around the house.
We needed a Plan B.
Plan B came in the form of Mario the Magnificent, Simone the Sorrowful, and Martin the Man (pronounced Marteen). Simone was Mario and Martin’s uncle and all three were from South of the Border. Together, I came to believe they could build an entire city, one that wasn’t perfectly straight and aligned perhaps, but certainly one that would last beyond the next earthquake. They’d do it quicker, cheaper and better than any Professional Contractor could imagine.
Mario the Magnificent was the trailblazer. Mario single handedly built two cement plateaus on our hillside that required a month’s worth of dirt to fill in, a stone stairway that even today is sturdy as a rock, and did Version 2.0 of the front yard with pond #1, sprinklers, etc. Mario worked the neighborhood for more than two years and even today we speak of him in awe. I’m told that Mario now is a construction supervisor for a housing development in San Diego and I bet he ends up running a construction company some day.
Simone the Sorrowful was not up to his cousin’s level of work, but nonetheless far superior to any PC around. Simone’s specialty was masonry and structural work. In many ways as inventive as Mario, Simone never saw a straight line he admired and wanted to follow. While I could live with this slight weakness, Simone also had a weakness for driving without a license, usually with too much Tequila in his gut, and went missing for months at a time as bail money was beyond his reach. Yet, even with these handicaps, Simone rebuilt the driveway, the driveway wall, all the deck flooring, and was 90% done with the deck roof when he got pulled over just before Thanksgiving for driving without a license.
Enter Martin the Man. Since Simone could be in jail for a day or a couple of months, I was pretty desperate for a replacement. My neighbor suggested trying Simone’s cousin, Martin, as a temporary replacement until The Sorrowful served his time. I knew Martin and I’d get along great when he showed up at 6:30AM on his first day wearing a tool belt like a gunslinger. Martin was here to work, and work he did. For the next 12 months Martin showed up before the sun and left just before it went down. There’s an ongoing debate amongst the Men of Hollyridge whether Mario the Magnificent or Martin the Man was better. Personally, I think Martin takes it by a hair, but I’d follow either one of them into battle any time, anywhere.
Plan B’s team would not be complete without mentioning Otto the Outstanding, even though he was not related to the rest of the guys. I met Otto as he was walking to his car in the neighborhood. Always an astute observer of my fellow man, I figured Otto was a painter given that he was covered from head to toe with paint. I was in need of a Plan B painter as another PC had just given me a $12K estimate to paint the outside of our house. Granted, it was a bitch to paint because it was a couple of stories tall and hanging off the hillside, but I couldn’t afford the $12K I needed to paint the inside as well. So, I asked Otto if he needed some work and I offered to give him a try. Cutting to the chase, Otto was a master with a paintbrush and ladder. He painted the entire outside of our house and every room inside for – you might want to sit down – slightly more than $3K. And he did it by himself with no help! Otto, unfortunately, managed his personal life about as well as Simone as he was constantly broke, in a fight with his girl friend, and usually slept in his car. But boy could he paint!
I would pit my team of South of the Border Professionals against any group of Professional Contractors 5X their size on any project. Together, this motley crew and their helper (me) literally rebuilt Hollyridge:
- Two new backyards with assorted stairs, etc.
- Completely rebuilt all decks and added new flooring
- Put a roof on the biggest deck
- Repainted the outside of the house once and the inside twice
- Redid all the floors
- Put in new bathroom fixtures
- Added various walls
- Built a garden for Karen
- Put in new appliances
- Replaced most of the lights
- Landscaped the place (twice)
- Replaced the hot water heater
- Carved out a wine cellar from underneath the house
- Repaired and/or replaced all fencing
- Retiled the kitchen and bathroom floors
- And way too many other things to list here
As a result of my Mexican Remodel experience, I find all the fuss about our immigration “problem” misguided. I have never met a group of harder working people in my life, men who appreciated an opportunity and applied themselves diligently. And they weren’t just “labor,” but creative problem solvers who could figure out how to do something faster and cheaper than 99% of other men. Two of them, Mario and Martin, supported families in the US and perhaps in Mexico as well. And while it’s true that they under-paid taxes, I for one am very happy to pay more than my share to keep them around.
My perspective is colored I’m sure by money, the money I didn’t spend on work done by Professional Contractors. Here’s a real world comparison of the money my Mexican Crew saved us: