I read in today's News & Record where Rentenbach Constructors Inc is being considered by the Greensboro City Council to build the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. I'm not surprised as the Tennessee company has long been politically connected in Greensboro and has done a lot of business with Greensboro's elite status quo. The same companies were awarded the UNCG Rec Center.
One such project was what was once known as the Friendly Center Forum 6 Mall built in the northwest corner of the Friendly Shopping Center in the late 1970s. The building is now called by another name and is mostly used for offices today but is easily identified as it has a parking garage unlike the other structures at Friendly Shopping Center.
I can't remember the exact year but it was during the recession of the late 1970s. It was winter, early February to be exact. I answered an add in the News & Record for construction laborers. Twelve of us were hired that morning and went to work immediately using steel brushes and 5 gallon buckets filled with water to scrub the concrete.
The foreman told us if you miss a day or show up late you're fired.
It was cold, bitter cold like February can be some years. The sandwiches I'd packed for lunch were frozen. I'd been out of work for months and didn't own gear enough to stay warm but I toughed it out. And the end of the day the foreman told me it was time to go home saying he was surprised I toughed it out as all the other men he hired had quit and gone home. I told him I'd always be on the job.
I was young, ambitious, had a background in structural engineering, wanted to build things, big things and wasn't afraid of the hardest work under the worst possible conditions. Every day for the next month I made my way across town to suffer the bitter cold busting the ice out of my bucket of water my hands sometimes frostbit and never giving up. Every day a new crew was hired and every day they quit before the end of the day complaining minimum wage wasn't enough for the suffering on their hands and knees scrubbing wet concrete in the bitter cold.
I knew things most of the laborers didn't know, like how to read the blueprints and what the technical specifications meant. In the mornings when all the other guys were shouting the bull before work started I'd be pouring over the designs as that was at the time the biggest building I had ever worked on. I remember regretting not being hired early in the job.
After working for Rentenbach for a month my Pontiac broke down on the way to work. A rod had broken and made it's way through the side of the engine. There were no cell phones in those days and Wendover Avenue was pretty much desolate back then. As Wendover still had a paved shoulder in those days I left the car on the side of the car and walked 5 miles to work.
I was fired as soon as I got there and never given my last week's pay. Rentenbach could have made me a lifelong loyal employee, instead they made me an enemy.