For want of a nail-driver

Al was easy to get hold of back in 1992. A builder, about my age, he was still getting established as a solo act.

He also lived practically across the street. I could time my calls to when his old truck was in the drive. If I did choose to leave a message, Al always returned it.

There were lots of reasons to call. Al was putting an addition on my house. We'd talk about PVC pipes, parging the foundation, how many outlets were enough.

Al showed up when he said he would. No detail was too small. If he stopped by to pick up a ladder, you could persuade him to price out a bigger closet.

That was then.

Early this summer I needed a quick referral to a good roofer, a new set of attic steps, and some work done on a rotting deck.

But Al wasn't calling back.

I can't see his house anymore from mine. He's moved into a big Colonial. When I pass him in town he waves from the cab of his gleaming new Ford F-150 XLT truck. The custom lettering on the driver's-side door is just a blur.

Al takes only high-paying, from-the-ground-up jobs. Can't blame him for passing up my piddling projects. (Note to Al: I finally did two of them myself.)

When it comes to builders - and trades workers of all stripes - even big-job customers stand in line these days. Too little help.

Some of it's cultural. Many workforce newbies still want to run dotcoms - even as some disillusioned executives reportedly trudge back to "not coms" - or at least be home-based, self-directed, computer-using mercenaries.

There's no hit TV show called "Who Wants to be a Stonemason?" Yet there's money in the trades. Demand seems to be unflagging. *Reach us at

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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