Work Notes: Ladies Doing Demo

My boss and I destroyed an entire office building in South Minneapolis in less than two weeks. Since we finished our last house in North, we had the month of May open before our new build begins in Saint Paul. This demo project is to prepare a recently acquired old warehouse/office space to become the second Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.

The building was the old office of a moving company. Talk about 8 hours a day of smashing sheetrock, wall slicing, and slicing through electrical wires. After months of building, destruction at first seemed very easy. There is no finesse, no measuring, just a lot of muscle and a ruthless mindset where you see everything in front of you as something to be ruined.

Here are two of my journal entries from the weeks of demo which left my body somewhat battered and my mind strangely light and airy. My boss and I decided two weeks of demo was the most we could handle.

Journal 1: Tearing down office walls

Cutting a steel stud with a sawzall has a particular smell. It’s burning, sour tangy. It’s so strong you taste it even with your mouth closed tight to avoid swallowing the tiny metal flakes spraying toward you. Shrapnel. Be sure to wear googles, and for goodness sakes, save the ears too! Plug up the hearing canals for eight hours and indulge in letting the warehouse become your only grey and pink world. The saw will shake a lot so it looks like your arms are seizing. Keep the arms as steady as you can and apply gentle pressure forward. Try not to close your eyes even when it gets scary. Eventually, the tool will do her work. As it slices through the steel stud, the tendency is for gravity to pull down the weight of the saw with your arm. Don’t let this happen! The rest of your body is down there standing on the ladder and you’d hate to see that get sliced instead of the next stud in the wall. The wall’ll come down easy once you slice through a few studs at the top. Hop down off the ladder and grab a friends to help heave it over. Creaaaaaka booom!!! There goes the wall. How many more to go?

Pete: It’s just you two ladies today?

Us: Yeah….

Journal 2: The Tile Saga

On to the tile floor in the women’s and men’s bathrooms. Yes, we could have rented a jackhammer, but we don’t know how to use one. Our arm muscles have been training for our whole lives. We have one maul that my boss has borrowed from her husband. It’s a like a hammer with a short handle and a pointed head that’s weighted. The tiles we need to shatter are 1.5″ squares and cover about 30 square feet for each bathroom. Day one: we smash through the men’s room and half the women’s. It’s humid. We’re sweating through our t-shirts. Day two: we smash through the rest of the men’s. We find that one of the cool air exchange vents has been accidentally left on. One of us stands under it while the other wails on the tiles for as long as she can hold out. We call this our circuit training. In addition to standing under the cool vent, we can sweep, shovel up loose tile, and use the crowbar to remove top plates which have been nailed into the concrete ceiling. We finish the tile at the end of the second day, celebrate with Dairy Queen, and head home to our respective beds for long naps.

Soon Ryan Construction will come in and frame up some walls for a new entryway, polish the concrete floor, and grind residual bolts off the ceilings. Soon, it will be beautiful retail space reminiscent of a Target. Actually, I hope it’s prettier than Target. There will be a mural on the wall. I can’t wait to return in August for the grand opening party.


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