A year ago exactly to this week, I shared a Famous Opportunity. It was an exciting story about the goliath of a waterwall that I built for Alicia Keys. She had just sold her multi-million dollar home in the Camelback Mountains and one of the first pictures seen in the listing was the custom waterwall I built for her. If my professional-entrepreneurial life was a mountain, you could see the impact this single experience has had on me from miles away. The experience is so profound that it would lay the foundation for all future endeavors.
Had the Famous Opportunity been a Marvel Avengers Movie, you would have started watching out of order... Captain America still needed to be pulled from the ice...
This is that story.
Long ago during my infant years of adulthood I received a call while at work from a man named Bob. He said he got my number from a local furniture store in town and was told that I might be able to help him. It was only a few weeks prior while on my lunch break where I bumped into a furniture store owner and told him that I was really into building water features. *I had built only three in the recent years, however, I still hadn't made one that could operate for more than 20 minutes without creating a massive mess... **that was still a trade secret Nonetheless my passion and confidence won him over., we exchanged numbers and low in behold, a few weeks later I received my first referral!
Bob tells me that he had just purchased a new home up in the Scottsdale Mountains and wanted to entertain having a waterwall installed. To my fortune, I was already working in the Scottsdale area at the time and Bob was just 20 minutes north of me. Not a problem, I said! I coordinated with Chas at home and later that week I made my way to his house after work. At this time in my life I am actually closer to Avin's age today than I am now. I was a fresh baby-faced 26 year old.
Avin was only 2.5 and Tristan would not be born for another three years. A lot of ground has been covered since then...
Wow! Who woulda guessed?!
I digress :) ...
By now, I had really only ever driven by nice homes... So imagine what's going through my head as I'm welcomed into this manned gate community, then asked to drive another 15 minutes through the hills and find myself pulling up to this property?!
This was like landing on the moon! As I made my way to the door I was welcomed to a small build dark haired man. He's likely late 50's early 60's and has a gentle but confident voice. Bob and his wife Linda have relocated to Scottsdale from California. They are starting a new chapter in their lives as they have just handed off the reins to their very successful business to their son. Bob has a calming demeanor about him. I felt very comfortable around him. Considering his successes, he's a humble man. He and Linda have been married for decades and she too participates in the greeting. Being a fresh 26 years old, to be welcomed into such a home feels like a gift. Not to mention, I'm engrossed with anything Bob has to say as he's just full of wisdom. Bob and Linda had owned this home for only a few weeks and were preparing to move in shortly. He had a very nice pool table that's been in storage for many years and he's really excited to make it one of the first things you see as you enter the home. After coming into the furniture store he fell in love with the idea of breaking up the space with a waterwall and is why he invited me so I could share in the creative efforts of hopeful possibility.
Bob gives me a brief tour of the space and we start talking about his wonderful idea. He says that he would really like a curved-arch like waterwall because his pool table also has a really nice elegant curve in it. Hard edges bother him. From there I start wandering around looking for the basics: water access point and electricity. In short time I've come up with a practical approach to the mechanics of what's possible and I start sharing them with him.
Although a fresh 26 year old adult-kid, Bob speaks to me as an equal seeking guidance on a problem he cannot solve. He conducts himself with no regard to the considerable age difference between us. He bounces questions off of me and I have quick and practical answers. I tell him that I see there's a kitchen behind this wall here and there's a bar sink too! perfect! We can pull water from the backside of the sink [A] and bring it up and over here [B].
We could get access on the opposite side of [B] and we'll avoid damaging any of the stone veneer. Bob tells me that he plans on getting rid of the cabinets on this side so he can use it as a pool table storage. When that comes down he plans on having matching stone veneer work its way from the column side over... so there's no issue opening the wall. He asks about electricity and how?? I show him there's two electrical outlets right here, so we wouldn't really need to do a whole lot of new infrastructure.
Bob's really engaged and is nothing short of excited. He says he's very happy to see that this can be done! Up until now, I've been under the impression I'm the first person who's come through but come to find out, I'm the thrid one! *Keep in mind, I've still not made any water feature work before, let alone been paid for it. I can just see what's possible and it's rolling off like I've been doing this for years. He asks if I can give him some quotes on different designs so he and Linda can make a better decision. He tells me that his pool table will be delivered in a week or so and at that time would be a great opportunity for me to come back and take some measurements.
Later on I made it back up there and left with my brain on fire!
I remember being stuck in shitty traffic with nothing to do but be lost in my thoughts. And lord if ever! I was lost! I can see myself now hunched over with my right hand under the steering wheel. My left leg is bent up where I can put my left elbow against my knee. Like a dumbass, I sit in traffic looking like the thinking man statue!
Man, I'm a nerd!
As soon as I have the gist of the space, my brain's cruising! Like music coming out of nowhere, in no time I come up with some cool ass designs!
Knowing I didn't have a lot of experience, shit, ZERO experience, I leveraged that vulnerability with a confident delivery of ideas. *check out the date on that?! The universe was holding out on me sharing this story until now!
When I presented all of these designs to Bob he was very impressed. I felt like I was putting on a show honestly. I was so confident in the outcome. The scary part for me though was talking about the money?!? At this time in my life I had never made more than $45,000 a year. Along with that, I had done a lot of drafting side jobs, however not one of them ever broke $1,000?! And now, here I sit in front of this very successful businessman presenting multiple designs with a purchase price starting at 2/3rds my college education?!
I've not built a water feature that has run for more than 20minutes?!?!
While in discussion with Bob he tastefully confides in me and says that when we met, as soon as I started speaking he instinctively knew I was the one who was going to figure out how to pull this off. Ultimately Bob and Linda chose design 6. And man do I tell you?!?!? Knowing what I know now! I am SOOOO happy they didn't choose anything but this or the perfectly straight wall!
Before I continue, I need to get this out...
It has been years - YEARS! Since I dug through these photos. Goodness!? Knowing what I know now, recalling the things I've created and built, knowing what it takes to mechanically pull things off, all the incredible shit I've designed in the years following these moments!?! Me, right now! In my old ass almost 42 year old self?! I am blown the hell away that went from NOTHING to creating this without ever being taught how to?!?!
In the deepest of humbleness, I am brought to tears understanding the gifts the universe has blessed me with. It makes me miss my GP like none other!... as he would likely say: "Local boy done good" Most importantly, this moment, shit! I need to give myself some grace on what's possible.
*truly sniveling here with happy tears... :') Never, EVER! Could I have imagined motivating myself today from the kid I once was 16 years ago?! ...
Of all the projects I have done since this one, this is the ONLY one I ever had a handwritten contract with. I remember talking about the numbers along with the fact that I wasn't a licensed contractor, or even insured?! In discussion with Bob, he whimsically signed his name and put the pen down, and said in a matter of fact voice, "Well! If it doesn't work out, we can't say we didn't try" Someday I'd like to be someone who could give a 20 something year old kid a five figure check and say "Well! If it doesn't work out, we can't say we didn't try" There's no denying the anxiety I had on this project, however the blind, confident faith Bob had in me, motivated me at a very deep level. I just didn't want to let him down. That sense of awareness and care for him carried throughout this one year journey...
Yes, looking at the dates, it was a June 2007 to June 2008 project.
It was now early August and with the 50% deposit in hand, we had permission to start working.
First thing's first!
Get that waterline installed so Bob and Linda can veneer their wall. There's a thing about commitment that's hard to convey without experiencing it yourself.. being asked to work on someone's house when mild demolition and holes in walls are required to move forward!!
Wow! No take backs!!
I was cutting some serious teeth with this project!
Now that the electrical and waterline was in, it was time to work on a design that met their needs. Thankfully Bob and Linda knew that this was going to be a process. I had told them that I hadn't built a fountain this big before, however, I knew what it was going to take. In addition to that, they knew I had a full time day job and a young family I was working around.
Before I could really hammer on designs, I needed to get the pump stuff figured out. The trick with any fountain is dealing with the "head pressure" water creates as it fights gravity heading upward. After that, it comes down to if there's enough pressure to push out at a controllable level.
Things get really complicated when you have to reach almost 10' in the air and span another 8' or so horizontally while ensuring there's enough gallons per hour hitting a-would-be surface to make a fountain even work.
It's now October and we've got a pretty solid target in the design.
It was going to have TWO submersible pumps that pushed water up inside 1/2 PVC pipe, pipe with approximately 90! 1/8" hand-drilled holes, to then distribute along down the glass. This meant that the basin would need to be obscenely oversized so that it could houze the big pumps.
Before we pulled the trigger on fabrication, we best make some test runs to see if we're making headway.
We're making headway!!
Just not in the direction we need to go?!
This shit is a joke!
Insert extreme doubt and concern?! Sheesh! We're months into this project and are spending money from the 50% deposit all to figure out how to do what we told our customer we already knew how to do. Talk about being forged in fire!
This stress develops another brilliant idea!!
How about we spend more money, money we don't have, and build other, PRACTICE fountains to really know what we're doing. UGH!! Yes, we did that. In the mix of all that shit, I happened to invent a design where we could build 100% of the product ourselves and learn what the hell was going on. To help with the process, I built a false wall in the shop and did just that!
*Avin at almost 3?! Unexpectedly, this idea manifested out of absolute uncertainty would have further life altering implications. The earlier fountains were such a hit with our "test subjects", that it motivated me to learn how to design and build a website to try and sell them. Through those efforts I would create a revenue stream that I maintained for about 12 years by selling many of these "zero assembly fountains".
I would handcraft them one at a time, a piece at a time in my garage, then ship them all over the country. I've had to rent forklifts, been flown out to Oklahoma for an installation and even shipped as far as Canada!
Those earlier fountains taught me a lot about business, sales, shipping, marketing, mechanics, physics, plumbing, and electrical! All of which unexpectedly paved a way for my business in Real Estate and is also why the GUD Hand has become what it has today. The domino effect this one project has had in my life is immeasurable! With the new discovery of what's working and not working, I ended up having to redo the design again. I went to Bob and told him the struggles we were having. While there in front of him and Linda it hit me... you know this column space here? I'm pretty sure we can fit a pool pump in this space.
Yup! This space! :)
With this pump power I could guarantee maximum head pressure with some to spare! As if that idea wasn't brilliant enough, we figured out that the main support structure above, the part that supports the leaning glass to the wall, why not make that also the pipe that holds and distributes the water?!!
We could individually control each nozzle separately from each other. Further guaranteeing maximum water coverage with ultimate control.
New design, CHECK!
Not only was this design the right call, it also allowed us to reduce the size of the basin below! A dramatic improvement!! :) Bob and Linda loved that a lot! In an effort to show our commitment I designed the fountain in 3D and had a good friend of mine do virtual real-life renderings... this is 2007?! We were years ahead of where any design build company or industry was at that time. As if we weren't hemorrhaging enough money already?!! As a thank you for his rendering efforts, motivated by "paying it forward on us", we purchased almost $300 worth of books/printing so our friend could get something amazing out of it. I am happy to report, this guy now runs the Virtual Design Department at one of the largest construction companies in the country... a position I declined four times.. two of them while going through real estate school, and then two more times after having started my Real Estate business. When I left my day job I encouraged him to pursue this opportunity. Looking back, seeing what he's become today.. damn?! That was worthwhile money spent on someone's future to which he ultimately came to master!
Like pouring water on a shoelace knot! The renderings created excitement that ran rampant with Bob and Linda and cemented our efforts. :)
Let's make this shit happen now!
On our proposal to Bob and Linda in July 2007, we said that it would be a 10-12 week project... it's now early February of 2008?! The stainless steel has rolled out of fabrication and to our nooby-apprehension, everything fits together very, very well!
The next step would be creating a mockup to see if this even works.
I remember laughing about having poorly tried this once already!!
There was a lot more pressure than before! I couldn't stop the experiment there!.. I needed a "mock glass" surface to close the mental gap. I used a flat sheet of aluminum to act as the glass.
While this is happening, all I can see in my head is this.
I'm feeling incredibly confident now!
Now it's time to schedule the installation!
Aside from the glass itself, all the material fit in the trucks well. The material wasn't heavy either.
I remember pulling up to the day of install. It was 6AM and the guard at the gate was bothered that we arrived so early. Just before we're allowed through, he tells us that:
"You know, I just woke up Bob... I don't like treating our residences like that! This will be the only time I let you boys through so early. Next time you will need to wait until 7:30A"
When we arrived that early ass moning, Bob and Linda had no gripe. They too were excited and were very happy we were willing to get after it so early. :)
Bringing in the fountain and pairing it next to the pool table was a different kind of feeling. I know these are inanimate objects and have no feelings... I'd swear though! Seeing these two paired up felt like two siblings finally being able to reconnect!
Things went together smoothly and as planned. :)
Now... about that pump, there should be enough room..
Yup! Enough room for sure!
Aside from having an active water situation, my biggest concern for the use of a pool pump inside a house would be the sound. Inside the cubby I double insulated the walls, backed by 5/8" water resistant drywall, then covered with an aluminum lined, rubber backed, sound deadening material. Along with a custom built, curved door, with acorn nuts connected to long all-thread. **I wish I had a picture of the finished door... this is pre-cell phones w/cameras era
Now that all the main pieces were in, it was time to order the glass and have it installed. In today's time, I would opt to handle the glass myself, but we hired professional glazers. This is where we encountered our first installation problem. The glass was 1/2", tempered, about 18" wide by 9' tall. Heavy and expensive. Not to mention the delivery fee to make it out that far and on a Saturday?!. Turns out that we ordered it correctly, however, we did not ask that the edges be polished. Instead, they were hand sanded and looked like shit. Can you smell the money just burning away?!... A few weeks later we gave it another go! And as planned! Shit was installed as designed... perfect! :)
Hot damn! Those earlier renderings were on point?!!
Like exactly!! With as much time has gone on, the stone veneered walls were all complete. They found a really good match!
Everything is now set! Preflight check ups have all taken place and all that's left to do is fill the basin up with about 20 gallons of distilled water so the pump can prime, then turn on the water line and we're ready to take off. I open up the water line and go back to the auto fill float and aggravate it to see if it's deploying water. It is and we're good! Everyone is eager with anticipation. It's like turning over an engine in an old project car... you just want to hear it!! Standing back looking at the waterwall before takeoff, I'm distracted by a sound behind me. You've got to be freaking kidding me?! Right here, coming from the newly stoned wall is water...
Drip, drip, drip.
Not losing my cool, I quickly turn off the water line and inform Bob and Linda of the situation. Obviously they are not happy and are equally concerned. I surmise that when the builders installed the lath and underlayment for the veneer, one of their nails likely punctured our 1/2" waterline. We should have had metal plates over each stuf we crossed through... but here we are. Now my mind is racing on what the hell to do??... Just like a gas line and a fuel pump to the project car, this waterwall will not work without continuous water or the evaporation rate will run it dry! thinking and thinking...
I got it!!!
This is a 1/2" waterline! I could purchase 1/4" waterline hose and feed it up inside, through the existing line like wire in a conduit! Yes, yes this could work! :) With a shot of huge relief, I get in the truck and head to the closest Home Depot, (30 min door to door) and come back. That quick purchase burned up almost 1.5hrs of the day. By now the drip had stopped entirely and like a family anxiously waiting to hear the news after a surgery, Bob and Linda were on their toes. There I was bent down in the kitchen, I started to feed the line. Already keeling I start praying! ... Lord please make the hole only a puncture?!! I hope the Devil did not send a nail through the line entirely?!?! All is running smoothly. Very little binding, just consistent pressure and pop! out came the 1/4" water line - great! Phew!! Wait?! Well shit! wrong plumbing connections to the float?! Ugh!! Again! another quick 1.5hr trip to HD!! FINALLY!! we're ready to go. Talk about a stressful moment! - sheesh!! All set! Check, check, double check!!! we're good!
The pumps a'humming and water starts to shoot out of the nozzles! YES!
Now it's a dance party! Each of the nozzles need to be bled, (letting all the air out) then individually tuned, then as the air pressure releases, they need to be tuned again. This is a 30-45minute exercise.
And there it is... it's happening!!
This shit is working!!!
The look on my face is priceless!!
Gosh dang man!! I remember this so, so vividly! The final step in any water feature is installing the rock tray. This creates a barrier from water splashing out of the basin and covers the look of just water. I find myself kneeling again. I'm patiently working on the installation of the rock tray. I'm deeply enjoying this moment. I'm recalling the triumphs of all our efforts which brought us here, and I can see the finish line ahead - we're pretty much done. :)
Bob and Linda are walking around the waterwall, admiring and soaking it all up. Like a small child playing with his new toy, I look up at them with admiration. As soon as our eyes lock I watch the happiness leave their face like color fading out of a picture. They have that look of excitement, but mixed with, well, this isn't what I anticipated, I'm not having fun anymore, please stop. Linda says to me, it's so lovely... but it's just so loud. Too loud actually. Bob standing next to her, he agrees with her too. Looking up to them, I'm hearing what they are talking about. Gulp.. this is stressful. The stresses are magnified simply by the psychology of body language. I'm down looking up to them as they, collectively, look down at me. I know I wasn't being scolded, but I sure felt like I was. The seriousness of the matter could not be understated! One thing we did not anticipate, like AT ALL?! was the sound of the water. The waterfall occupies 88 square feet of 1/8" thick falling water. It's designed on a curve facing a closed off space where the shape opens up at the top. All around us are nothing but hard surfaces. An atrium of a living room is filled with travertine flooring, where tall windows reach to the sky supporting the cathedral ceilings above. If there were a place to magnify such an echo, this was the perfect spot. Sound of crashing water is literally being projected up this sound cylinder and then being broadcasted everywhere like a bullhorn.
If my math serves me right:
88sq ft X 144sq inches (144 inches in a sqft)... = 12,672 cubic inches multiply that by .125 (1/8" in decimal) = 1,584 cubic inches divide 1,584 by 231 (cubic inches in a gallon of water) = 6.8 gallons?!!
Imagine pouring one gallon of water into a tub of 20 gallons?! Now, have six of your friends also pour a gallon with you?!?!?
SHIT IS LOUD! and kind of annoying!
It wasn't hard to pick up on the challenge we were facing... Sure it's pretty, but it's very distracting! We've spent almost a year working on this, spent tens of thousands of dollars on it and now, once we're at the finish line, suddenly it's not as you thought?! They knew it had nothing to do with "me" however, if there were ever a major problem, this was at the top of the list.
So the question is:
How do you reduce the sound of 7 gallons of water falling from 9' in the air along a product that just so happens to magnify noise, AND do so all without reducing the water pressure?
Now, I've never played sports consistently enough to know what it's like to feel the energy of raving fans watching and cheering me on. But what happened next might as well have been a last minute shot to win the game which won the series. ...A legitimate grand slam moment! Still kneeling and processing the considerable problem, it hits me! Like dodging a punch in a street fight, I tell my brothers to take the rocks off the rock tray and give me the extra liner material.
*This is the only picture I had of the liner. :) In late 2013, Avin came with me to work on the fountain. This would also be the last time I saw Bob and Linda.
So with the liner in hand, I cut a larger piece and rolled the overlapping 4" or so into the glass, therefore submerging almost 2" of the liner in the basin below. My thought was to cradle the falling water down as it contacted the standing water below. As soon as I made contact with the first sheet of glass I could feel the change Panel by panel, I inched my way closer to the wall. With each insert of new liner the volume dropped and dropped. By the time I got to the last panel, I had reduced the sound of rushing water by pretty much 80%. Suddenly the clouds parted. The storm was over. The look on Bob and Linda's faces were mixed with happiness in how sudden the change, mixed with amazement that I came to such a quick decision that changed the entirety of the problem. My brothers were also there watching this unfold. I had an audience and it didn't even phase me. But the congratulatory response afterwards was forever memorable!
By now we've pretty much finished the entire project. Almost a year has gone by and it's early April now. Our customers are happy and we finally get to square up on the remaining balance. It should come as no surprise, we really didn't make a whole lot on the job! Our hours were through the roof! The amount of trips we've made on weekends were endless! Not to mention the change in design with no changeorder's regarding material fluctuations... but it was nice to be paid and be completed. Fast forward two weeks after we wrapped up we got a call from Bob. He was super chill and asked how we were doing - all the cordial phone call courtesies. He then proceeds to tell us that he and Linda woke up to their living room area flooded.
He said that he's already turned off the water line and has presently used up all the towels in the house and still has a little left to clean up, however for the most part he has it under control?! Good lord?! Water leaking from the newly stoned veneer is one of the most stressful moments I've encountered.. but this was not a fun call. Insert embarrassment, concern, mixed with shame.. ugh?! I would make my way back up there after work to quickly resolve the problem. When I got there both Bob and Linda were welcoming and happy to see me. As soon as I got the tail out from between my legs I started to get comfortable assessing the situation. I will never forget Bob saying: "You really find out the value of your contractor when they've been paid and then a problem arises" In true Bob fashion, there's tremendous wisdom in that comment. Years thereafter and still to this day I say those same words to other contractors. Or worse, use them on myself when similar problems happen. Sidenote: It would only be a year later when I would receive a similar call about Alicia Keys' waterwall... the property manager was welcomed to water leaking out the front door. Ultimately the entire fountain would come down and the lower half be rebuilt.
Turns out that in my haste of solving the waterline dripping from the stone veneer, I purchased inadequate plumbing connections to the auto float. It only needed a few weeks of being under substantial water pressure before it lost its keep. *They make specific waterline products for a reason! Even to this day, when I am working on anything waterline related, I always think about Bob and Linda's house. The final product is nothing short of amazing to me. Although it was truly one of my first fountains, my very first waterwall, it might as well be my Mona Lisa of jobs. She's so impressive and undeniably photogenic!
Having relieved this story while understanding that I didn't know anything about what I was doing truly amazes me. I know that I built this?! But looking back at these pictures through the eyes of a seasoned craftsman, I am struck with bewilderment.
All of this came down to having faith that I could pull it off; and I did.
I can't remember the last time I worked on a post as hard or as long as this one... approximately 20 hours stretched over three days. As if summoned by a greater power, something compelled me to keep going. To dig through all the pictures and to relive all the memories of success and perseverance... The further I went, the further inside I found myself. Regardless of all the struggles, time, money spent and lost on this job, the cascades of momentum it has provided for my life is immeasurable. As of today the shoreline of my spirit is shallow. The wave before me is one that I sent some odd sixteen years ago and is now at my feet, overshadowing me. If there were ever a story I needed to hear, or relive... this is the one. Have faith in what's possible. Don't second guess yourself. You already know what you need to do. ... just do it already. Thank you for reliving this with me. :) If you do something consistently over time and are patient, it's amazing the paths that can be unexpectedly connected... It makes the art of effort beautiful. Have a grateful weekend