I met a lot of construction guys as a general contractor and subdivision superintendent in the 23 years before becoming head of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association. There, I met plenty more.
A few of them read this column. But many don’t because they can’t or because it’s just too much effort to try.
I’ve noted that if three or four successful contractors were together, at least one might fess up to being the D-word: dyslexic. For middle-aged guys who were killing it as successful contractors, the admission was often a badge of fortitude and perseverance.
For others, it still caused shame.
I first encountered it more than 30 years ago while running a crew for a contractor who was building an adobe custom home in La Cienega. Jay strode onto the site like a burly colossus. With a hairy, barrel chest, long biker hair, drooping mustache, unlaced combat boots, homemade tattoos on his bulging guns and short black jogging shorts (it was the ’80s) his presence stopped work on the site when he barked a question about where the boss was.
Others on the crew were from Santa Domingo Pueblo and La Cienega. The Austrian contractor hired Jay on the spot. Massive and strong — a great asset on an adobe build— I soon found out Jay couldn’t read a lick.
Later, when I got my own first big job, Jay and the Kewa men came with me — a typical multicultural Santa Fe construction outfit. Jay respected the Native guys and they him. He knew they knew about his inability to read and made no judgment, unlike virtually every other person he’d known in his life.
Many years later, as head of the homebuilders association, I invited the newly elected president of our state association to do the annual swearing in of new board members at our holiday dinner party at a swanky downtown hotel.
As a courtesy, I sent him a script of what to say and when to say it, as I did every year for our honored guest.
But I had to change it at the last minute and handed him a new copy when he got to the ballroom. His face went pale. He grabbed his wife and rushed away. He was very successful and widely respected. He had risen to the pinnacle of his association for the statewide industry. He had memorized the original script with his wife’s help and now had to read something on the fly.
His performance was the most cringeworthy thing I’d ever experienced. I just knew he’d been that kid suffering the giggling of 8-year-olds on the first day of out-loud reading who then got shunted to the slow group. Just like Jay. Unlike Jay, who swung and brawled his way to respectability, the successful guy had the privilege of parents who helped him overcome his problem.
Knowing this about my industry led to a passionate mission to reestablish hands-on education in Santa Fe. On the campus of the old vocational-technical school below Santa Fe High, Early College Opportunities is a high school for kids who don’t succeed in traditional school environments. That education is essential for a skilled workforce.
Online education isn’t doing it for them. We need to get those kids back in school and tools back in their hands.