Yesterday I gave my son a ride to school (he normally takes the train), and that put me about ten minutes from Bonhoff Lumber, down on the far south side. Instead of going home and getting my coffee like a sensible person, I went there, looking for Ash wood.
Bonhoff is a wholesale yard. I love to visit; There are stacks of boards twenty feet long and forty feet high, in an enormous hangar and a vast open yard. Two forklifts zip about all the time, picking up half-stacks and moving them here and there so that customers can choose the pieces they need. All of the wood is rough-cut, and I bring a pocket knife so that I can scrape away the fuzzy, splintery, dirty surface to get an idea of the color and grain underneath. Most of the boards are too heavy for me to lift. Buys are made in tonnage; while I was there yesterday, I watched the forklifts work together to place a load of mahogany into a truck that visible sank onto its shocks as the weight registered.
I am a little buyer. One half board can last me for months– and given my lack of productivity last year, last a whole year, arrgh! But the Bonhoff office welcomes me as if I were a treasured account, every time I show up with my pocket-change. And the yard men sometimes have a short piece that they’ve saved from the dump with me in mind. I was offered a styrofoam cup of coffee, petted the lumberyard cat– who could be close kin to my own tribe– and flirted with, all before the manager told me that Joe had a stack of Ash down on the ground for me. I reminded him that I only neded four or five feet. To cut a length off of a board is tricky for the lumberyard, as the remaining piece has to be long enough for the average sale. He told me that ten feet was the minimum , so anything I found that was longer would be fair game. And Joe cared even less. He cut me four feet off a twelve-foot board and tucked the rest of it away for me. I told him I’d be back for it in a month or two.
Bonhoff is not the only lumberyard that has such pleasant employees. In fact, I can think of only a few times when moral has been low in any yard I’ve visited. I think hanging around wood tends to keep people happy.