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Rated: E · Short Story · Business · #1794924
The storm was upon us so fast, all we could do was lay down and hold on.
A hot day in August -- one hell of a time to replace a leaky flat roof on a music store.

The old roof was rotten and had been leaking for some time. There were numerous roof repairs but the water still leaked in everywhere, ran down inside the walls and just destroyed them. The heavy smell of musty mold permeated the air and left no doubt, this had to be fixed -- now.

I'm no stranger to this building as it belongs to my friend and Best man, Bob.
We met when I moved from the Bay area of California to the Midwest of Illinois back in 1980. We lived in the same apartment building and became good friends, playing guitar, riding dirt bikes, skydiving, snow skiing trips, working on in his convertible GTO and partying with all of his friends, which eventually became mine.

When he sang and played guitar, he reminded me of Jackson Brown. Hell - he even looks a little like him. One of his high school friends that he introduced me to was Lynn, now my wife of 29 years, which explains the "best man" part.

We were a lot alike in many ways: very independent, rebellious of authority, a love of music and pretty girls with blonde hair in summer dresses. After working for his dad's company and a few other jobs, he decided to branch out on his own and opened a small music store with four teaching rooms.

The name would be The Music Source.

I had started my own remodeling business by then so we worked together, sometimes until late at night, building the rooms, making guitar display stands, painting the walls and installing the suspended ceiling. We saved some money by recycling used doors and windows for the studios from a previous job that I remodeled.

Within a year, he took over the space next to him and we remodeled the music store again, adding eight more teaching rooms and twice the show floor space. The improvements continued as the budget would allow such as new glass display cabinets, better lighting, upgraded electrical and ductwork, but the roof was patched and put off to the point where the damage and smell could no longer be ignored.

So, we came up with a plan and a budget to remove and reframe the old roof which was actually three roofs tarred together. The only way to fix it was to start over, strip the five layers of tar and gravel, replace the rafters to add pitch, and install new plywood decking and a rubber roof.

The problem was -- it was a music store, full of wooden instruments, guitar cases, inventory, expensive equipment, and a guitar repair room full of customer's guitars. And we are about to rip the roof off and expose everything.

The plan was to apply for the permits and start emptying the store a month in advance. Maybe, rent a big storage box in the back of the parking lot, take some of the inventory to his house, put it in a moving truck, whatever. Get as much inventory out as possible. The repair shop was supposed to be moved to someone's house including the client's instruments and the store would remain open but just barely.

But, five days before we started the demo, over $25,000.00 worth of wooden guitars and inventory showed up and filled the store to capacity. Not one guitar display spot was empty. As an acoustic guitar lover, it was a beautiful site, but, Damn it, Bob! What are you thinking?!!!!

We bumped heads every day about moving the stuff out but he would just say it was too hot to put guitars in a storage box and then do nothing. He didn't want to rent a moving truck or spend any money to store anything.

He finally tells me he had invested all of his budget – $25,000.00 on the new inventory and needed to remain open at full speed and sell stuff to pay for everything, like change orders, payouts, utilities, or a rental truck. He was broke and we just started. Bob's business partner also had $25,000.00 for his ½ of the remodeling costs, which was understood from the beginning, but the whole arrangement just changed.

Here we go.

Bob, my "best friend" was an incredible guitar player and conversationalist. You'd love to hear a story or would be amused to watch him in at the store as he made the waiting mothers of young students blush with his smile and respectful playfulness,

But, he sucked at paperwork.

I learned early on the importance of a proper contract and a detailed specification sheet to avoid hearing: "I thought that was included!" My contract is 6 pages long and is a modified (shortened) Architectural standard format. It is abrupt, and iron clad.

He looked it over, we shook hands and he agreed to the terms, gave me a starting check, the permits were applied for and the materials were on the way. There were several small things to do inside while we were waiting for the permits to arrive but he hadn't actually signed the contract at this point -- not yet.

The job was already off to a bad start.
The guitar repair man found out the day I arrived, he had to get out - now. Nothing had been moved out or even boxed. The office was a disaster of scattered paperwork and on top of the desk was my contract, still unsigned. Bob is nowhere to be found.

A week flies by and finally, I managed to catch Bob in his office, put the contract in front of him, hand him a pen and say: "Sign it, please." He smirked and laughed about it and signed it as if it meant nothing. "After all, our friendship was our contract." But it was almost as if he thought I was being too technical and showing off. To me, it was just another job with a list to check off: Estimate job, sign contract, get check. It was business as usual.

Despite his dismissal of my procedures, I moved on with my mission; to help (save) my friend of 30 years and to "own" a huge project that needed a serious level of commitment. It's not like we could just take our time. It was all full bore or nothing, Let's do it.

The next day, a 40 yard dumpster arrived and my crew and I tore in to the roof like a wolf pack on a deer carcass. The old tarred roof was five inches thick in some places - and full of ants. The plywood decking was so rotten, we had to watch where we stepped.

The demo and new framing went along without incident. Well, there was one thing: Randy, my knucklehead apprentice was flirting with some girl in the parking lot and walked right off the roof and almost landed on Bob! I looked at him as he bounced off the concrete without a care and said:"What tha hell are you doing?!" Geez. That could have been a trip to the hospital and a lost day at the worst time possible.

Like kids, I swear.

The plan was to take two days to replace the roof in two phazes so the store was never unprotected. On the third day, we would remove the tarps and my roofer would glue down a new rubber roof. The Lake County Fair was going on at the same time so the streets were full of cars and people. It was blistering hot and there were just a few clouds to give us a break from the sun. We completed the framing late in the afternoon, right on schedule. We covered everything with tarps, nailing the edges and then laid 2×8s that were 10 feet long on top of the tarps to hold them down - just in case.

Just as we finished nailing the tarp edges to the outside of the building, the wind picked up dramatically. We were all on the roof and in the process of bringing the tools down and securing the tarp. As we looked to the west, we could suddenly see a black wall coming at us as if it just appeared. There were no warnings or weather reports about it. It was supposed to be clear weather all week. That was the plan.

The Lake County Fair was hit first and just disappeared into a wall of rain right in front of us. We didn't have time to think about it as it raced across the street and was upon us so fast, all we could do is lay down and hold on. The tarps ripped from the building as we fought to hold them down. We were instantly soaked to the core. I couldn't see. The wind had ripped my glasses off my face. The 10 foot 2×8s were tossed around as the wind and rain grabbed the tarp like a parachute and ripped it to shreds.

Bob was next to me and we looked at each other as if to say,"Can you believe this?" I yelled at him to go down and check the store and he disappeared in to a blur of 95 mph. wind driven rain. Me and Randy stayed where we were and rode the storm out, holding the useless tarp down no matter what. What the hell were we thinking? There was no time to think.

It came and went in what seemed like a minute.

What was left of the tarps and the 2×8s were all tangled together in the back parking lot. Somewhere in the middle of the pile were my glasses.
The inside of the store was destroyed. The rain came down in buckets which poured inside and soaked the insulation and collapsed the suspended ceiling on top of the new guitars. There were ceiling lights and wires hanging down and the carpet was soaked with an inch of water.

We argued the day before the demoltion started about buying plastic to cover everything so I bought it anyway - just in case.
It was never used at his insistance until it was too late. "You can't sell a guitar under plastic!"

All of the new guitars were wet; they were ruined.

That moment after the storm, at first, I looked around and everything seemed so surreal as if I was watching a movie. But then, an overwhelming flush of guilt swept through me and made me nauseous and dizzy.

How could I let this happen to my best friend? What have I done?
and then I thought, who was going to pay for this?

We regrouped, made sure everyone was OK and quickly re covered the roof with new tarps, not that it mattered much at this point. I found my glasses 100 ft. away, unbroken. We were numb and in shock over what just happened but as reality set in, we realized the insurance company would have to be involved and therefore, we were temporarily out of a job.

One thing Bob had going for him was his unused. paid up to date, 30 yr. old property insurance policy. They quickly came in like a swat team and paid to completely clean up, gut and remodel the whole inside of the store, including a new handicap accessible restroom, an upgraded furnace with AC, new ductwork and electrical, New slat boards and display cabinets, new office equipment, and lots of new shiny guitars.

Like Christmas at Santa's house.
All hell breaks loose and he comes away with at least $250,000.00 in repairs and new inventory.

Meanwhile, I ended up finishing my "at cost -" contract and my roofing sub contractor installed the new rubber roof, at cost, as planned. The insurance company had their own sub contractors for the interior damage and showed no interest in asking me for a bid on the new work. They also never questioned me or indicated I was to blame, thank God, or blame God, same thing.

It was really up to Bob and he did ask if I wanted to do the work but at this point, I'd had enough of this nightmare and my next "normal" job was waiting as scheduled. Time to move on.

The Music Source is doing well these days.

The new guitar repair room made the repair guy very happy. Bob's new office is really nice, but his desk is still a mess. Ha! Bob now owns the building which is across the street from what will soon be a huge new shopping center. They're putting in a new four lane street as we speak. Talk about luck. He couldn't possibly have ended up in a better location.

Today, the new store is full with little guitar students strumming and blushing lonely housewives waiting.

It's been over four years now since the job ended. We haven't talked or even run in to each other at the gas station or around town. It's sad that we could let a bad storm come between a lifetime of friendship. After all the good times and things we've been through, it seems like this would have made us stronger as friends. We made it through a difficult situation and finished the job as promised. In fact, it came out fantastic, all things considered. We should be laughing about this by now.

They say you shouldn't work for your friends, but I never listen. It's just not my nature. They're my friends, who else is going to help them? I'd rather help and do the work for free - and I usually do.

I'm glad I was able to help my friend in his time of need. I have no regrets as far as that goes.
But, I've had a lot of time to think about it and sometimes, I wonder: what if I had said no and just walked away from this job?
Would we still be friends? Who knows for sure. We just grew apart, that's all.

Maybe I'll stop in the store today and see if Bob is around.

After all, we were best friends.

-- Mark
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