Local & Impact

A Day in the Life of Mike

The hiss of the coffee pot awakens Mike. He’d fallen asleep at the table. His left hand falling inches away from the brim of his bowl of Frosted Flakes. He shudders awake, checking his teeth with his tongue. He’d been having that dream again– where his tooth is loose and he wiggles it with his tongue until it falls out into his palm. He hates that dream. Hates how real it feels. Hates the control it has over him that makes him verify his molars are still in place after he wakes up.

He shovels in the last few spoonfuls of now soggy Frosted Flakes, dumps the hot coffee into his to-go mug, and heads out to his truck.

The morning is beautiful. It’s January, but the air is warm. It’d been raining all week, but today there’s sunshine. The grass is a vibrant green, the air smells like tea leaves. He spots the Water Tower in the distance, the sun reflecting off the surface as it rises. He thinks of his sister and brother-in-law in Wisconsin. The poor suckers were hit with a snowstorm again this week. Their morning there would consist of a long defrost cycle, raw fingers from scraping the ice from the windows, and a white-knuckle drive through the slippery roads. Mike is grateful he’s stayed in Texas all these years. There was a time where he debated leaving for a while, maybe try out California for a bit, but now he can’t imagine ever leaving. It’s home.

As he drives down his street, he goes over his schedule in his mind: first appointment at the Ackles, shingle samples in tow. He’s gotta check in with Mike on the Palmer’s order, return a few calls he put through to voicemail. Second stop is Mr. Mavis’—a tricky one. What was described by the customer as a “major crisis” was actually water leaking into his home office. “It ruined my framed diploma!” he’d barked. Mike was pretty sure the college could send him a new one, but he didn’t tell him that. Sympathy he showed, and sympathy he had, in all honesty. Mike watched as these homeowners shelved over twenty and thirty grand for new roof. For a man who knew what it was like to eat rice and beans four days out of the week, who had to skip butter when his budget wouldn’t allow for it, thirty grand was a fortune. At the same time, the customers had to understand that things happen. But for thirty grand, they argue, they shouldn’t.

Mike makes a mental note to save his energy for that appointment, stop in to Dunkin Donuts for a caffeine pick-me-up before making the trek out there.

Mike turns up the music on his truck when he hits HWY6 , hoping it’ll wake him up a bit. Luke Bryan sings about some party and some girl and Mike drums along at a stoplight. When work slows down a bit, he tells himself, he’ll get ahold of his buddies. They’ll plan a trip somewhere—camping at some lake…or maybe Cancun. He could use a beach and a margarita, wouldn’t even be embarrassed by his farmer’s tan. He would love to rock to sleep in a hammock with the waves crashing in the distance and the smell of sunscreen and sweat surrounding him.

It’ll slow down, Mike knows. But should he want it to? Is it right to complain about lots of business? They’ve been swamped lately. Every roofer booking jobs they can’t get to for a month or two. There’s a ton of demand for roofs right now and simply not enough time to do them all. He hates to turn down the customers. Hates to shoot down a client who may come back when they need business. When the inevitable slow-season rolls around. So for now, he works. And he likes it. The job is rewarding—the before and after he can see, the progress he can feel. Sure he’s no surgeon saving lives, but a reliable roof over a family’s head, that’s something to be proud of. Helping eradicating the belief that all contractors are lazy scam artists, that’s a bonus too. He works hard, does good work, and people notice.

Still, a little reprieve would be nice. Give him some time to spend with his wife. Spoil her with fancy steakhouse dinners and nights out. Who knows, he might even give in and let her get him on the dance floor. Watch her hair sway to the music, her eyes all lit up with excitement.

He knows he’s at the Ackles’ house when he sees a cluster of balloons tied around the mailbox, mostly deflated and tiny, bouncing on the grass. The youngest of the brood had a birthday party last weekend, they’d had to move the service appointment since a crew was coming to set up a moon bounce and poor Mrs. Ackles was way over her head. She has five boys, all under the age of eight, and each with enough energy to charge an entire Kindergarten class for a day. They spent every second running and screaming and wreaking havoc. They were polite enough kids, curious things. The first time he’d stopped in to scope out the extent of their roof repair, they’d poked their heads in one by one to inquire what he was doing and how he would fix it.

Mike rings the doorbell and with it comes a deluge of sounds. Their husky begins to bark and barrel towards the door, his nails clacking on the hardwood floor. A bevy of voices immediately follow, all the boys streaming, “Mom!” and “Door!” at the top of their lungs. When Mrs. Ackles answers the door, Mike expects her to look overwhelmed—eyes manic and hair disheveled, her arms full of toys and bottles and apple slices—but instead she greets him perfectly poised, thriving in the chaos that has become her life.

“Hello Mike!” She remembered his name. That wasn’t always the case.

“Good morning, ma’am. Beautiful morning.”

“That it is. I promised the boys we’d rake up some leaves for them to jump in. I told them we’d start as soon as you arrived, and look at that, you’re early!”

Mrs. Ackles red-hair gene was passed onto all the boys. Each one fair skinned and freckled, they’re hair a vibrant red. Mike had heard somewhere that natural redheads would phase out in a few decades or so, but the Ackles were single-handedly keeping them from extinction.

Mike patted his pockets looking for the samples he’d brought. “Mrs. Ackles, I have your color options here.” He presented the stack to her and she took the pile from him, slipping on her glasses.

“Now, I don’t have my own HGTV show, but if you want my professional opinion, I’d go with the stonewood. Browns and reds are the most popular and this one here is real sharp, goes with any style house.”

Mrs. Ackles nodded and shuffled through the samples, giving it ample thought. He couldn’t blame her—this was something she’d have to live with for the rest of the time she lived in this house, but he wished she’d hurry along. Mrs. Ackles was more indecisive than his average clients. Usually, they picked quickly. They knew if they wanted light or dark and instead got hung up on whether to go with traditional shingles or metal, but the color was easy. Not Mrs. Ackles. This was his third trip to the house.  He’d completed all his paperwork, the whole order, but just had the color option left to fill out. They had to get the order submitted though, or the work would be delayed, which is why he came prepared with popular samples—not too many to overwhelm, but enough to cover all the bases. He could see evidence of her indecisiveness around the house—the living room décor a mix of rustic and classic; a breakfast table spread consisting of four different versions of Cheerios; on his first visit to the house he caught her hanging curtains with three packages of color-options sitting unopened on the window seat, likely returning the ones she didn’t like.

Boral Tiles close up by a College Station roofer
Claymax - Newport by Boral
Schulte Roofing a College Station Roofer offers - Gold Dust Villa Concrete Tiles by Boral

“You really think this one is best?” Mrs. Ackles asked, holding the sample an arm’s distance away as if envisioning it on the roof.

Mike fumbled for his iPad. “I do, ma’am, but here, I’ve got a picture of a house we just finished up. The style is similar to yours. They even have the same shade of red on the front door.” He swiped through a few images before settling on the image he wanted. “There, see how nice that is? That’s the same shingle as you’re holding in your hand—stonewood.”

“Wow that is nice.”

The oldest son sauntered into the room. His nose dripping with snot and his eyes red from tears. “Mama,” he said so softly Mike was surprised she heard him, “I can’t find Cassie. She didn’t eat any of the food I left out, and I even brought some milk and she didn’t come.”

The oldest son sauntered into the room. His nose dripping with snot and his eyes red from tears. “Mama,” he said so softly Mike was surprised she heard him, “I can’t find Cassie. She didn’t eat any of the food I left out, and I even brought some milk and she didn’t come.”

She turned to Mike, “Cassie is a stray cat that comes around. We can’t have them in the house since Paul is deathly allergic, but the boys love her.”

Mike nodded and smiled. To the boy he said, “Have you tried ham? My cat growing up would come running from any room in the house if anyone had a slice of ham around. She loved the salt.”

Jake looked up to his mother, eyes wide. “Do we have any?”

“We’ll get some at the store this morning, but first we have to pick a color. Now you tell me, I’m only asking you because you’re the oldest. I have it narrowed down to two choices—do you like stonewood or aged oak better?”

Jake didn’t hesitate. “That one,” he declared, pointing.

Mrs. Ackles turned to Mike, “Well, stonewood it is.”

Mike had just fastened his seat belt, paperwork for the Ackles submitted and the repair scheduled, when his phone rang.

“Hi, this is Mike.”

“Mike, this is Tom Richman. Eric Reynolds gave me your number, said you helped him out of a bind with his roof last year…” The man seemed panicked, like he was at a bank during a heist and had a gun to his head.

“Yeah, I know Mr. Reynolds,” Mike offered. “What can I do for you?”

“Ahh, It’s bad. Got a real situation here with my roof, I guess. Or at least I think it’s my roof. Water’s coming in, I’m not sure where from. It’s supposed to rain tonight so…” He spoke fast, rapid-fire sentences. It was like a 911 call and his car was filling with water.

“I’m worried about the walls,” he continued, “the mold… my son, he’s got asthma and this is just, oh man, a recipe for disaster. Could you stop by and take a look?”

Mike was waiting for that question. Of course, he knew where this was going. He had another job in an hour. His stomach gurgled as if on cue, eager for an early lunch. If he hit the drive-thru on the way to his next appointment, he might have thirty minutes to spare, maybe, depending on where this guy lived. He wanted to say no, he really had no time and his next job was going to be a tough one, but the guy seemed so panicked.

“Uh, I’m real booked today. Not sure I’d be able.”

“Please, you gotta help me. I have to get this taken care of. If you can just tell me if it’s really bad, maybe I can fix it myself. I just don’t want to have just anyone do it. Eric said you guys were great. I’m embarrassed to say I’m begging.”

Mike put his car in drive, headed out of the Ackles’ neighborhood. “What’s your address?”

“I’m by the university, just past West Campus.”

“Ok, I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

Tom met him at his truck before he’d even turned it off. “Hey man, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.” He wore a button down and dry-clean only slacks. On his way to the office when disaster struck, Mike presumed.

“Not a problem, let’s have a look.” Mike had eyed the roof when he’d pulled up, it wasn’t new, that was for sure, but there weren’t any obvious problems at least from the street.

“Not a problem, let’s have a look.” Mike had eyed the roof when he’d pulled up, it wasn’t new, that was for sure, but there weren’t any obvious problems at least from the street.

“It does look like it’s seeping into the wall. Probably minimal damage if we stop the leak. Mind if I take a look up top?”

Five minutes later, Mike found himself on the roof, eyeing the clock. He had to hurry. The view from the top was spectacular. He could see the railroad tracks and cars parked on University Drive. Mike craved a lawn chair and a beer, but he didn’t have time even to take in the sights. A quick inspection and he could easily deduce the chimney needed a repair. Some shingles were cracked around the base and there was a section that’d have to be ripped out to see what the root of the problem was. Nothing he could do today—this fix would require a specific chimney guy.

Mike wondered how bad it was for doctors telling their patients bad news. It had to be worse than telling homeowners they were in need of a costly repair, and that was never easy. Sometimes, they got hostile. “Are you sure I can’t fix this? You’re not scamming me, right?” Mike doubted that doctors had to field the same questions, but maybe.

“Ok, here’s the story,” Mike started as soon as he made it back to ground level. He didn’t have time to ease him into the idea. “You need a repair. Can’t say how much it’ll be or what the scope of the damage is since it’s definitely a chimney problem. Schulte Roofing doesn’t work on chimneys, unfortunately. So here’s what I’m going to do. I have another job I have to get to, but if you can buy a tarp I’ll head back here when I’m done. I’ll tarp the roof for you, keep you dry, it should get you through the storm. When I get back to the office, I’ll ask the other guys for a good name of a chimney guy who can fix this, I’ll give him a call and let him know what I think the problem is so it’ll maybe save you the trouble of having him come out here twice. We’ll at least keep you dry tonight.”

Tom nodded, taking all the information in. His eyes showed a mixture of shock and appreciation.

“I appreciate that. I have no idea where to start trying to find a chimney guy.”

“No problem, I have someone in mind, just need his contact info from the office.”

“Great, what do I owe you today?”

Always the first question. Mike smiled. “Nothing today. If you end up needing a roof repair too, you can hire us then. I just need you to head to Home Depot or wherever and get a big heavy-duty tarp, thicker than the one you got in your living room. Leave it out here on the porch and I’ll swing by and set it up for you.”

Tom sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, “Wow, that’d be great. Thank you.”

“No problem, I don’t want to add more stress to you.” Mike reached for his card and handed it to Tom. “Now I really gotta run, but here’s my number. Call me if you have trouble finding the right tarp, I’ll be back here in a few hours.”

Mike smirked as he headed to his truck, laughing at his super-hero exit. It was the right thing to do and Mike knew it was these small gestures that led to return business and referrals. He checked the time. If there wasn’t any lunch-time traffic, he could sneak in one drive-thru burger and some caffeine.

He’d need the caffeine for this job. He was hoping the client just had a fondness for dramatics and his description of the crisis, as he called it, was really minor and fixable. Mike crossed his fingers but if he showed up to this job and saw that all their work had only solved the problem temporarily and they were back at square one, he’d have to consider that maybe they’d diagnosed the problem wrong from the start.

The client, Roy Mavis, was a BBQ master in town. He owned a restaurant with the best ribs in the city, but he lived modestly. Although he could probably make a fortune marketing his BBQ sauce, getting on that show Shark Tank or something, he was content managing the kitchen at his one and only location, mingling with the customers. He was fair, tough, and reasonable, and he expected to be treated with the same decency.

“There he is,” Roy announced when he answered the door. “The man of the hour.” He poked his head over Mike’s shoulder, glancing behind him. “Forgive me,” he explained, “I’m just checking to see if you brought your magic wand.” Roy laughed, enjoying his game, but Mike was unaffected.

“I certainly hope I did. I’ll do my best. Now, show me where the problem is.”

Roy took Mike around back where a ladder was already set up. A couple weeks ago they’d had a whole team of guys out there working on Roy’s roof. Mike booked the job though, he found the problem, offered a solution, so it was his guilt to bear if there was a residual problem. After just three minutes on the roof, Mike knew that his fears were justified. The roof was mess. Virtually all their hard work had come undone. He’d seen this problem before, time and time again. The chimney and the foundation had shifted. This happens when dry conditions suddenly become wet or when water gets in there and freezes. This causes leaks all the time. Thankfully, it wasn’t a craftsmanship issue. He couldn’t be blamed for this problem, it was the chimney’s fault. But how would he explain that to Roy?

“So Doc, what’s the verdict?”
Roy asked as Mike made his way down.

Mike shook his head, “It’s not looking good.” He explained the problem to Roy and the likely costs to fix it. The issue was with the chimney, not their work, and it was going to be a lot more man hours and labor costs than they’d expected. Roy listened carefully, but he’d prepared himself for bad news. When Mike was done with his apologies and explanation, Roy spoke:

Mike shook his head, “It’s not looking good.” He explained the problem to Roy and the likely costs to fix it. The issue was with the chimney, not their work, and it was going to be a lot more man hours and labor costs than they’d expected. Roy listened carefully, but he’d prepared himself for bad news. When Mike was done with his apologies and explanation, Roy spoke:

“Look, you seem like a good guy, and I’m not knocking you, but the issue I have is that I was under the impression that you were going to fix the problem. I paid you to fix the problem. So you say the problem isn’t the work you did, but the fault of the chimney…am I supposed to just take your word on that or can someone else verify that?”

Mike nodded. “Yes, sir. Of course, let me call my boss and see if he can stop here. I don’t want you to just have to take my word for it.”

Ten minutes later, Mike was back in front of Roy. “My boss is around the corner at another job so he’s going to stop by in ten minutes if that’s okay?” Roy nodded, “Yes, sir.” He pointed to a chair across from him. “Now take a seat, I’ve got a new chili recipe I’m trying out and you look starved.”

When Mike’s boss, Steven, arrived Mike had just finished the best bowl of chili he’d ever eaten and he let Roy know just that. “Is that a bribe?” Steven asked as he eyed Mike’s empty bowl while shaking Roy’s hand. He was joking. Steven had the untrained ability to read a room. He knew exactly when he could joke, when he shouldn’t and when he should be as direct as possible.

Steven cut to the chase, “I don’t want to take any more of your time, but please catch me up on what I missed.” Roy gave him the same explanation he’d given Mike on the phone—the leaks, the damaged diploma, how Mike told him it wasn’t anything they did, but a deeper problem with the chimney that only became visible since the last freeze. Steven went up to the roof and surveyed the same damage that Mike did and his diagnosis was the same.

After Steven’s explanation, Roy spoke. “Ok, so it’s the chimney. That makes sense to me how you explained it, and I trust you guys aren’t scamming me, I really do. My issue is that I was under the impression that I was getting a working roof. And yes, maybe the chimney you didn’t notice was a problem, but I paid for a working roof and I didn’t get that.”

Roy nodded slowly and reached out his hand to shake Steven’s, “That seems fair. I appreciate your honesty, I truly do.”

Steven was a reasonable guy and a great man to work for. So much of Mike’s customer services skills, he’d learned from Steven. Steven listened intently. He was upset that his company was being asked to take the hit on something they didn’t cause, but he only showed sympathy for Roy’s situation.

“Alright,” he said, uncrossing his arms. Turning to Roy he said, “I’m so sorry that this didn’t work out like you planned. You thought you were getting a solution, you paid for a solution, and you didn’t get a solution. My guys here did give you a working roof though, and once you get a chimney guy in here to fix his part of it, who we will help you find, you’ll have your solution.”

Mike could see that Roy was listening. Steven was being calm and rational and Roy wasn’t bothered.

Steven continued, “So it’s just one more step. And yes, it’s not what we had in mind and it’ll cost you more money, but it’s necessary. Mike here did a good job on his part of the work. That being said, once the chimney issue is resolved, we’ll have some of our guys come out here and install some flashing to fill in the gap that’ll be there between the chimney and the wall. And we’ll do that free of charge.”

Mike nodded at his boss, quietly thanking him. “I’m happy to take care of the flashing. I feel awful that we couldn’t spot the chimney issue. Had the weather been different that day, maybe…”

Roy nodded slowly and reached out his hand to shake Steven’s, “That seems fair. I appreciate your honesty, I truly do.” He turned to Mike and shook his hand as well. “Don’t beat yourself up, kid. I don’t blame you for this. Now I trust you all know a chimney guy who won’t charge me an arm and a leg?” Steven smiled, “Yes sir, we’ll make sure you’re in good hands.”

“Great.” Roy took Mike’s now-empty bowl of chili and walked it behind the counter where he set it in a bin of dirty dishes, “I have to say, your attitude is very refreshing. I’ve dealt with a contractor or two in my day and they’re often sneaky and selfish and send you through hoops. Y’all are better. Fair. I won’t let your etiquette go unnoticed! Every visitor to my restaurant is going to walk out with a full belly and a roofer recommendation.”

Steven laughed, “Well, careful now, don’t tell too many. Mike here is already overworked as it is!”

Mike-Schulte

As Steven and Mike walked back to their trucks, Mike was all ready to apologize but Steven wouldn’t hear it.  Steven thanked him for his work. Told him this good-gesture flashing work would end up bringing in more money in the long run. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing you could’ve done differently.”

Steven opened his truck door. “You headed back to the office?”

“No, I gotta head back South. I’m tarping a roof for this guy. Another chimney issue. Told him I’d get him through the storm and a referral.”

“No cost?”

“Naw. Later though. I think he’ll book us for it if the roof ends up needing work too.”

Steven nodded and got into the driver’s seat, showing his approval.

He started the engine. “Now Mike, listen here. I know you’ve been working hard, and I know you won’t listen to me because you haven’t the last three times I suggested it, but will you please take a vacation!? We can survive without you, I promise. I can’t have you burning out on me. Work/Life Balance is important.”

Mike smiled and headed towards his truck, “Alright, Alright. I’ll think about it…maybe.”

As he drove back to Tom’s house, thunder crackled in the distant. Mike knew he needed to hurry, poor Tom was probably pulling his hair out. Bob Marley was playing on the radio and it made him think of margaritas, coconuts, and crashing waves. “Soon,” he told himself and this time he was 70% sure he meant it.