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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Ricardo    ( Posted June 1, 2005 )

He wandered onto my remote property south of the Bahia de Los Angeles early one day. I heard the car pull up and the engine shut off and went down the outside stairs to see who it was and what was happening.

He introduced himself in Spanish. I'll call him Ricardo because this story paints his work habits as problematic at best and he's a nice if troubled family man with a wife and four young children and I don't want to defame him in any way.

Ricardo told me he had performed serious work for the previous owner of our new home. He had worked there for many years and done much of the electrical, solar, plumbing systems and was intimate with it all. We sat talking for a bit and he seemed dedicated and anxious for work. I asked him what it would cost for materials and labor to fill in a second floor outside balcony that was dangerously open to the ground below. Ricardo gave me a price that I felt was fair and we shook on it. He would start muy temprano the next morning, 7 A.M. he said. I was working in the garage when he was about to take his leave. I was sorting the solar, electrical and plumbing spare parts left by the previous owner into something I could comprehend. Ricardo spent half an hour telling me how he could use most everything in the garage if I didn't need the items. I told him I was sorting through them and would let him know. But I knew there were a number of bulky bags of used clothing, bed linens and other items that he could have now. I would see him muy temprano the next day.

By noon he still hadn't shown. By mid afternoon he pulled into the dusty drive with a bunch of cardon ribs in the back of his truck. By the time I arrived downstairs, Ricardo was filling an overheated radiator while his workmate pumped up a flat tire with a hand pump. Wow! Ricardo explained that his house had been entered by the Mexican Federal police early that morning, and that they had accused him of stealing the Items I'd given him from some tourist. He told me that the police had beat him, handcuffed him and thrown him in jail. He than said that after he was released he and his workmate had been out in the desert all morning looking for the ribbing. They threw the ribs onto the ground and began cleaning the thorns and small irregularities off them by means of two large machetes. I watched from a distance. Once again he asked for several items from my garage. For each he had a specific application. I put him off. I was beginning to think that Ricardo was living a life to evoke sympathy. It was having the opposite effect.

Within an hour the workers had cleaned the cardon and were headed back into town, saying they'd be back muy temprano. Ricardo, solo, returned the following afternoon. He told me his story about how a rattlesnake had cornered him in his outhouse that morning and held him at bay for some time. He then worked alone and finished the job in about half the time we had agreed it would take. His work was acceptable. When he finished and was preparing to leave he told me he'd be back at 5 A.M. to begin the next task, which I'm beginning to wonder about.

At noon the following day he's back with another wild story. This time it's about his ear which has developed some infection and kept him awake all night. By now I'm beginning to question everything Ricardo tells me. But he begins fronding my palapa and I say nothing. He has estimated 250 palm fronds will do the job and I have paid him for that many. By afternoon he is preparing to depart and idly mentions that I will need to have him purchase another 350 fronds to finish the job. I ask him how was he was so inefficient as to underbid the materials so significantly. He brushes the question off lightly, telling me that the first set of fronds (that he had chosen) were "undersized." He asks me for money to make the purchase and I hand him half of the requested amount. You'll have to wait for the remainder until I go to Guerrero Negro I told him. "That's fine, Miguel," He says. "We will continue on schedule regardless. I'll be here muy temprano." Then he asks me for more spares from my garage. I'm beginning to see a pattern.

Ricardo shows up in the afternoon with a few fronds and screws them down to the cardon ribs before he's asking for more money. I remind him that I have no more money until I get to the bank in a few days. It's a seven hour deal just to get a maximum of $400. Ricardo doesn't like what I'm saying. Additionally, he asks if he can have an air conditioner that is sitting on the floor of the garage. I told him to please stop asking for everything in my garage before I can determine what I need and what I don't. He noisily throws his spare tire and tools in the back of his truck. He angrily adds water to his radiator and pumps up his leaky tire and slams off down the rocks toward town. Too bad, I'm thinking, as I've told him nothing but the truth and paid him more than a fair wage.

The final day of our working relationship Ricardo has yet another wild story. This past evening his wife has been bitten by a black widow spider and had to be taken to Guerrero Negro to save her life. No one else in this tiny community has heard this story and I question it without saying anything. I have obtained the necessary money to pay Ricardo, and, unknown to him, have firmly decided I will never hire him again. Never. There is no reason to aggravate the situation with words Ricardo doesn't want to hear so I make my final decision and smile at him and pay him the last cent he will see from me.

I guess the largest lesson is to be learned in my responsibility and that would be to check out the reputation of each person you hire before they're on your payroll. But I think the second lesson is important as well: if I put myself into the head of the Ricardos of this world, even though some of us are hungrier than others, it's still important to just simply tell the damned truth.

In the days that followed Ricardo's unending errors of judgment I have had another fellow recommended by friends. I stopped by to talk to him this morning, while he was at work. I observed that his work had a high degree of quality and that his labor rates were more favorable and open than Ricardo's. I will have to tell Ricardo these facts somewhere down the line, not to "get even" or to be malicious, but to discretely let him know that there are honest and direct folks in this world who want to do a reasonable day's work while being factual. We could all win with those small improvements.

Addendum - August 31, 2005

Thoughts on "Ricardo"

A while back I wrote a piece called "Ricardo" and posted it here. In the story I was upset because a worker I had hired to help me make some modifications to my house in Baja had less energy that I thought he should have had. He was always asking if he could have this and that from my garage and I gave him hundreds of dollars worth of stuff and he just kept asking for more. He got mad at me when I couldn't give him enough gasoline for his truck to get home. I have not had him do any work for me since that time.

As I try to be direct and open about my experiences I wrote and posted the story or "Ricardo," changing the name of the worker involved. I then proceeded to tell others that live around me that so-and-so did a really poor job on the tasks I had asked him to support. I felt it was my responsibility to inform my friends about a poor worker. I also thought it was important one way or another to tell "Ricardo" that I was not happy with his work ethic.

That was three months ago, in the late spring. I posted the story and a number of folks responded and I went on from there. But this event caused me to think and observe. I was, after all, moving into an environment where I had never actually lived on a permanent basis before.

On several occasions I told friends that also knew of "Ricardo" what poor work he'd done for me. I was met mostly with silence and some mild form of agreement, but no one had any serious criticism for my worker. The entire village and surrounding area had a nickname for him (as they apparently do for most everyone). Nicknames usually imply some degree of acceptance. Then I was really confused. So I added a couple of ingredients to my thought process and my acceptance of "Ricardo" that were relatively new to me.

Firstly, we were living in a rural environment. Secondly, this is a very small village. Perhaps that explains why the behavior of others is so tolerant to "Ricardo." Maybe because we are all living in a small and remote environment we learn to welcome the good behavior of others and simply accept the poor performance as we see it from time to time. And perhaps we just know that we're going to be spending a significant part of our lives down the street from the "Ricardo's" of this world so we just do what we can to live and let live, to take the good and let the bad go unspoken.

It's not the sort of thing you can have a definite answer for. It's just a thing you can chew on for awhile. When we enter into a world where others have existed before us it seems wise to stand back for a time and see what's happening and understand why it's the way it is.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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