When I get to our new customer’s job site, Mika’s already calling the shots like Captain America leading the Avengers to victory in New York City.
“This is a small bathroom,” she declares to Jose, our lead contractor. “We talked about the square footage — it’s small. You’re keeping the same vanity…”
“Where’s the bathroom?” Jose asks. “Second floor?”
“Mm-hmm,” Mika replies.
“Inside the bathroom…a shower?”
“Corner or side to side?” Jose asks.
“It’s side to side,” Mika says. “More comfortable for the client.”
“There’s no custom cabinets and no shelving,” Mika gestures with her hands and says, “In the shower, we need to create something comfortable for her to sit on. Should be fairly easy…” She looks around at the rest of the crew and says, “Any questions? We good? Everyone good? We all got masks on? Ok…let’s go…”
Our clients, Korey and his mom, Karen, live in Oakland, California, adjacent to the beautiful downtown district. Their home is an old Victorian-style house which is part of an older, yet historic neighborhood. Blues Brothers Construction is here today because Karen has hired us to do a bathroom remodel for her upstairs bathroom.
When Mika walks to the door, it’s like watching two family members interact with one another.
“Hey, Korey!” Mika says with joy in her voice. “How’s your back? You feeling better?” More pleasantries are exchanged before Mika finally says, “All right! I gotta bring the crew inside, give ’em a tour. Ok?” Korey agrees and Mika says, “Everyone, come on in, say hi to Korey on your way by.” She shouts our names to introduce us all: “Matt! Jose! Melissa!”
We head upstairs and take a look at the second-level bathroom which speaks a rich history with beautiful vanity, a big cast iron tub, and beautiful tiling on the floor. Jose begins checking for studs in the walls while the team debates on what to do with the tub.
Mika points to the tub.
“This…” Mika pauses and clicks her tongue in her mouth. “…is gonna be super heavy.”
As Jose’s guys inspect the tub and plumbing in the walls and above the tub, Jose takes a look at Karen’s vanity and sees there are tiles underneath it. He begins speaking, in Spanish, to one of his crew members and tells them that they need to be careful with getting the tub out and that we are trashing much of what’s in the bathroom — including the vanity.
Mika quickly taps on the vanity and says, “We’re keeping this.”
Jose looks at Mika, quizzically, and says, “You’re gonna keep it?”
“She wants to keep it.” Mika says.
“Well…” Jose shuts one of the doors and sighs. “How are we going to do the tile?”
There’s a pause before Mika asks, “Can you get around it?”
“No.” Jose replies, simply. “I mean, I could cut here and cut here but you still have to get to the tile over here and in the back and–.”
“Is that possible?”
“It’s not impossible, but–.”
“She likes this vanity and she wants–.”
“She’s not gonna have it.” There’s another pause and Jose amends what he just said. “Like…she won’t have it right away…I’m just letting you know what’s realistic here. She’s not going to have the vanity working for her right away.”
Mika sighs and says, “Ok…well…that’s fine. As long as she has a place to do what she needs.”
Sensing hesitancy, Jose tells her, “We can take the vanity, disconnect it, and then move it — then, put it back when we are done. How about that?” Again, he tells his guys, in Spanish, to move the vanity, but to be careful.
At this point, Karen appears from her bedroom and greets us. Mika comes walking over to greet her, asking how she’s feeling.
“Oh…” Karen smiles under her mask. “I’m hangin’ in there.”
“Well, rest assured,” Mika says pointing at all of us. “We have a huge team of people ready to take care of you and get you your new bathroom!”
“That’s great,” Karen says.
“We found a way to keep your vanity,” Mika informs her. “And the one thing we need to know is where you want us to put your big cast iron tub.”
“Out back,” Karen says.
“On the porch?”
“Ok,” Mika nods. “We can do that. And what about the toilet?”
“I don’t think anything’s wrong with the toilet…” Karen says.
“Well, let’s get back to the vanity then,” Mika says. “What do you have in this room next to the bathroom?”
“Uh…stuff.” Karen chuckles.
“Stuff…” Mika says. “Gotcha. Ok.”
“I don’t know how you’re gonna get that tub down, though,” Karen says. “It took four men just to bring it up.”
“Well, we’ll get right to it…don’t you worry.” Mika says.
After some discussion, we move downstairs so that we can finalize a few things and plant our sign in the front yard. As Mika and Melissa assist the demo team with the front doors so we can move the cast iron tub out to the back patio, I sit across from Korey, who is watching a replay of a Heat/Spurs NBA Finals game.
“This was a good game,” he says, looking up at Melissa, who has joined us. “You a sports fan?”
“I don’t really watch sports,” Melissa says. “I mean, if they’re on, fine, but not for me.”
“Ah…” Korey says, then looks at me. “How ’bout you?”
“Yeah…” I say, smiling. “I think my hair has gone greyer over the years because of it.”
Korey chuckles and says, “Who do you like?
“Giants, 49ers, Sharks, and Warriors for baseball, football, hockey, and basketball, respectively.”
“All right…all right…those teams are my boys…all right…” Corey says, nodding.
It’s at this point that Karen comes into the room and joins us and takes a seat to my right.
“Your home is beautiful,” I tell her.
“Ha!” Karen scoffs and rolls her eyes.
“No…um…I mean…” I stammer, trying to recover. “I think what I meant was–.”
“I know…it needs a lot of work.” Karen says.
“Well, yes,” I said. “But this place reminds me of the old school Bay Area I grew up in. My great-grandmother lived in San Mateo in a house just like this one — high ceilings, open space. It was always special to me. Are you trying to bring up to date? Is that what got you guys moving on this project?”
“This house used to be nicer,” Karen says, looking around.
“She’s actually done a lot of work on it over the years,” Korey says. “I’m not saying it was this nice when we first got here, but she made a lot of improvements. The painting, the tiles, the flooring…I think all of that has been in place the last ten, fifteen years. Other than that, when the house was bought, it was all carpet.”
Mika comes back in and sits to my left.
“Can I…?” Mika wants to get back in.
“Yeah, by all means,” I tell her. “You’re up. Go for it.”
Mika explains the contract to Korey and Karen — and then talks about her plans for the future.
“I love it out here,” she says. “I would love to live in a house like this! The Bay is my home.”
“Yeah,” Karen says. “But they messed up my beautiful city! Korey was born there and they just messed it up! Everywhere you look, when they tear down something old, up goes some big, commercial building or apartments! In San Francisco, they just do business!”
“You know, I would love to live in San Francisco!” says Mika — and we all express shock. If only we had some beers and a poker table right now, this would be a hell of a conversation. “What??? I’m still single! I don’t have kids! This would be the time! Know what I mean?”
“Where would you live?” Korey asks.
“Noe Valley!” she says. “There are beautiful lofts down there. I like that it’s always sunny up there. The problem is how nuts it’s gotten. I went to school in the Fillmore District of the city. Eddie and Pierce. It was a small, Jewish high school. You could go to Miyako’s Ice Cream after school and it was a buck for ice cream on a cone. I went back a few years ago. It’s five dollars per cone and the place near by it is a hundred bucks for two people to have lunch.”
“I remember when San Francisco had Yoshi’s, which was an off-shoot of Yoshi’s Oakland,” Korey says. “They’re gone. They closed. Last act I saw there…” Korey looks up, thinking, then says, “I can’t remember, but they were good…”
“I saw Tower of Power there,” I tell him.
“They were good.” Korey replies, smiling.
“Man…” Karen says. “They messed up my hometown.”
The Bay Area’s skyrocketing prices are both a blessing and a curse for Karen and Korey.
“My Mom is trying to do all she can before she decides she’s out,” Korey says. “You saw the outside. We have chipping paint, dry rot…she’s trying to take care of all of that.”
How long have they been here?
“Over 40 years,” says Korey.
“Since 1980.” says Karen.
“The cost of the house was low back then,” he says.
“I can imagine,” I say. This California real estate story is all too familiar to me by now.
“Our house is the rattiest one on the block right now!” Says Karen with some shame and regret in her voice. “A lot of people around us have already done stuff, so it just makes our place look bad.” She points behind herself. “And around the corner, if you go that way, almost every house has been fixed up now. And our neighbor across the street? He’s elevating his house…”
“Wants to have a carport put in,” says Korey, finishing her sentence. “Because most houses on this block don’t have a garage. You gotta park on the street. So he wants to raise his house and put his own carport in so he doesn’t have to do that.”
“Well,” Mika says. “At least you’re trying to get out,” then she looks at Karen and says “And at least you got to live it when it was your vibe.”
“That’s the thing about this place,” Korey says. “This is my home. It’s expensive to live here…but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This state is unique. It has everything.”
(Stay tuned for Part 2 which will feature the finished bathroom.)
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