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My Life in Concrete

Carlos Contreras

Written in loving memory of my father, Frank (Mighty Mouse) Contreras, my main teacher in the trade.

Starting from the Bottom

Finishing concrete can be hard on your knees!

Finishing concrete can be hard on your knees!

Let me tell you how it began. My life in concrete started one summer when I went to work with my father. I was young, so it was fun for me.

We started work at 5:00 a.m. We poured the concrete and then sat around for about an hour waiting for it to “set up” (get hard). That’s when we had lunch.

By the time we were done with lunch, the concrete was set up. Then we would start finishing it, which meant working on my knees.

I worked that summer, and it was great. I had a lot of fun and the money was good. It felt good to contribute to the household.

The summer ended, and I decided I didn’t want to go back to school. I wanted to work. My parents were upset, but they said ok.

My father took me to work with him, but instead of working in concrete, I started as a laborer doing pick and shovel work. He told me that’s where I was going to start—from the bottom. He told me I could work my way up at the pace I wanted to.

I labored for four years. Being a laborer meant digging ditches and leveling the dirt where you pour the concrete. It was fun.

Then I started setting forms. You set forms around the foundation of the building that the concrete is poured in. That was also fun.

I swung a sledge hammer all day, pounding in steel stakes that held the wooden forms in place. I did that for about four years, as well.

Becoming a Finisher

Carlos Contreras points to his name on the plaque outside the U.S. District Court in Tucson, AZ.

Carlos Contreras points to his name on the plaque outside the U.S. District Court in Tucson, AZ.

Then I started finishing concrete. That’s when the fun really started because you get to go to different job sites.

For example, worked at the U.S. District Court and at the University of Arizona. I poured the concrete for the Student Union and the Main Library.

It was fun because at the end, I got to see my finished work. This work lasts forever, and when you go by places where you worked, the memory returns.

My father and my uncles taught me the trade. They always told me to work smarter not harder. After they were done with me, I was one of the best concrete finishers in town. Everybody knew me. I could go to any company and get hired.

I worked for about five companies in the time I was finishing concrete. Each one paid me more money than the previous one.

One of the jobs I did is the Tucson Federal Building. My name is on the brass plaque by the door along with everyone else that worked there.

Knees Gave Out, Time for a New Career

I am very satisfied with the career path I chose. Finishing concrete is and always will be a favorite part of my life. Sadly, my knees gave out and I couldn’t finish concrete any more.

Now, I’m on a new path. I got back into school; I’m getting my GED and I’m aiming to get a degree in Social Services work.

I picked this path because I can relate to many individuals I will be working with. I can have empathy and compassion and I want to give back to my community.

I am very optimistic about what the future holds and  I cannot wait for the next chapter in life!

Carlos Contreras is a student at Adult Basic Education for College and Career (ABECC) in Tucson, AZ. He is a single father of a 12-year old boy, and Carlos wants to show him that education is important. Carlos is active in the student leadership council at El Rio Learning Center. Volunteering in his community has made him want to continue his education in social services to be a better advocate and resource for those in need.

Learn more about Carlos! Listen to his 3.5 minute digital story.

Back to Issue 45