Coalinga Airport

The bully foreman

by Duane Ausherman

In 1994 I was the inspector for an airport construction job.  I worked for a very good BMW friend, Don Cortright (RIP), who is a Civil engineer who specializes in airport design and construction.

The airport under design and construction was in Coalinga, CA.  This area is in the center of earthquake activity in CA.

The job was to take more than a year. I stayed in an apartment and went home on weekends. This arrangement worked well, and I enjoyed working with the crew.
The contractor that won the bid hired Mexican laborers from the local union hall. These laborers were very good at their job.

My inspection work had huge pauses, so I liked to help the crew with their work. They had never seen an inspector do anything like that. They even had their wives make extra Burritos for me. They heated them on top of the hot engines.

The contractor had only one employee on-site, and he was the foreman. Quickly I learned that the workers hated him. They would carefully tell me to inspect something. That meant that it wasn’t done correctly, and they hated doing inferior work. They ratted him out to me several times a week.

I rejected the majority of the work, and they had to do it over again and again.  The workers loved it.  The foreman hated me, even trying later to bribe me.

Eventually, one of the crew members who spoke English told me why they hated him so much.  Many evenings they collected at a bar in town with a couple of pool tables.  They wanted to have a couple of beers and knock a few pool balls around.  The whole thing was social, just a way to relax and get ready for the next day.

Often the foreman would show up and put his quarter down on the table.  He was a better player than any of his crew.  As the winner, he would hog the table for the evening.  What he should have done is win two games, give it up, and buy a round of beer for his crew.  Nope, he was a bully.

I asked the crew workers to find me the best pool player who also spoke English. We drove to another town to do some testing. We played a couple of games, and in this way, I could see how to discuss my plan. Then I showed him the technological tricks, right, and left-handed play. Then I played one-handed with both my right and left hands.

His appraisal was that the foreman wasn’t even in the ballpark of being able to beat me. I gave them my phone number at the apartment so that they could call me up when he appeared at their pool game.

In only a few days, I got the call, and so I showed up to find that the entire crew was there to see what would happen. The foreman was so cocky that he wasn’t suspicious of finding all of his team at the bar.

They had only one-quarter on the table. That should have given the foreman a clue that something was up. That allowed me to get on the table quickly.

As the winner, he broke the racked balls, and after a couple of shots, I ran the table. He knew nothing about defensive play. He went balls-to-the-wall at every turn.

As the winner, I broke and won the second game too. I didn’t do it quickly, as I needed to see how he played and what he knew. His positional play was poor, but he was a reasonably good shot.

For the third game, I offered to make it a bit more even. Since I had won the last game by three balls, I would remove 3 of his balls to give him the handicap. He didn’t realize that removing his balls only made my job easier. Finally, I took all but two of his balls off of the table except the eight ball and still won.

Now I offered to play one-handed. He still lost badly. He wasn’t a poor loser, as he hoped that he would eventually win. At some point, he knew that he was out of his league, and my point had been made. His crew was able to see him get severely whipped, and that is what they wanted.

Very soon, the owner of the contracting firm flew his plane in to see the project. The progress report was a load of crap. I was standing out on the edge of the crowd.

Finally, I broke in to tell him that 40% of the time was gone, and I had only approved 7% of the work.  He was stunned.  He had been getting falsely optimistic reports from the start.  He wasn’t happy.

In the next weeks, something came down, and my boss called to tell me not to go out to the airport, as he feared that I would be killed. We are talking about millions of dollars at stake. What finally happened was that the boss bribed somebody in power, and the city fired me. Firing me didn’t save them a cent, as my pay was figured in with the design contract.

The city construction inspector took over.  He was a nice guy with a family.  He couldn’t understand how he could inspect since he knew nothing about airports.  I explained that it was pure corruption, and he better keep his head down and approve everything.  My boss flew in to reject some of the major faulty work, and they had to fix it, but still, most got approved.

Updated 10 September 2023