Online Blogs, Chat Rooms, and Community Forums; these cyber communities have become the modern version of the neighborhood bar, the office water cooler, and the campus coffee shop where people share information, gossip, tell jokes, discuss technical details, and just shoot the breeze about whatever’s important to them.

Do you want to discuss the recent trade of your favorite baseball pitcher with other fans of your home team? Speculate about what kind of new hybrid vehicle the Big Three car companies are going to come out with next year to compete with foreign manufacturers? Research the latest medical developments to fight diabetes or arthritis with others so inflicted and with those on the front line of scientific research in these fields? How about finding out where the fish are biting, and what they are biting on, wherever it is that you are planning your summer vacation? It’s all out there and right at your fingertips-that is if those fingertips are tapping on a computer. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there are discussions going on about politics, religion, science, hobbies, and you can even discuss reviews on all sorts of consumer products before you actually buy them.

So, “What’s this have to do with lath, plaster and drywall?” you ask. Well, just like that fictitious neighborhood bar in Boston, there is an online community for those of us who tend to talk about things applied to walls and ceilings, and where everybody knows your name.

YOU’RE ALWAYS GLAD YOU CAME

Phil, a plastering contractor from South Carolina posts:

“I looked at a job today with 18 groin vault ceilings. One ceiling in particular is 15 feet by 120 feet with nine consecutive vaults with 2 foot arched beams between them. Anyone have a suggestion on figuring this thing?”

Within a few hours and over the next few days, he receives replies from Samuel, a plastering contractor in Connecticut; one from Charles, the owner of a construction estimating school in Georgia; Ronald, a plastering contractor from Virginia; and yet another from Gary, owner of an ornamental staff shop in Buffalo, N.Y.

Joe asks:

“I need to find out once and for all-what causes those annoying little bubbles that come up sometimes after you skim over painted walls? I’m determined to out-smart them ...”

Manny, with a grin, posts a hyperlink to a Don Ho Web site (“Tiny Bubbles”) but after ROTFL (Internet speak for “Rolling On the Floor Laughing”), Trevor, Owen and Tracy offer some solid advice about why the bubbles are forming and some suggestions to make the repair go a little easier.

Valerio, a plastering contractor from Australia writes:

“…what about last night’s games! U.S. draws with Italy 1-1. Two U.S. players and one Italian player sent off.  One U.S. player taken off with blood streaming from his head. One U.S. goal disallowed. Many ferocious tackles from both sides. I didn’t think this was to be a grudge match!”

Regulars, Steve and “Jr” are big World Cup fans, and of course they can’t wait to get in on the action. After the game was over, Valerio shares a final comment:

“I think the ’roos actually played a better game than the Brazilians, yet we lost. Our next game, against Croatia on Friday morning our time, is crucial and we must earn at least one point to proceed to the final 16. If we lose, it will come down to goal difference. Now, we wait.”

These aren’t just a bunch of strangers who came out of nowhere; these are regulars on the Walls & Ceilings online Bulletin Board. Every day or two they log on via their computer and exchange ideas, share best practices, vent, offer praise, complain, and basically say online what they would say over a cold one down at the pub after work. The conversation is generally on topic, but as with any bunch of friends, the topic can stray far afield from time to time. You are as likely to find a topic discussing the meaning of life along side one dedicated on the best way to patch drywall, or one about politics next to one about the availability of construction work across the country. The pros and cons of belonging to a trade union right next to a debate on the minimum wage. We discuss the past, the present, and yes, even the future. Pretty heady stuff for a bunch of plasterers and drywallers!

If you stop and think about it, the conversations among tradesmen have always been “heady.” The topic could be politics, the economy, planning for retirement, or who was going to win the World Series. These were always standard fair as we sat around and ate our lunch sitting on the flat-top or a five-gallon bucket, whatever accommodation one could find on the job site. Just because you work hard with your hands, doesn’t mean you don’t have opinions on the affairs of the day. If you stop and think about it, these are working class issues. Who is elected to the White House could have a great deal to do with the financial opportunities for those of us making our living in construction. If the economy is poor, we all lose income. If the price of college goes up, it’s harder to help our kids step up the ladder. If our country goes to war, we all have sons and daughters who will go off to fight.

I travel extensively in my job with the national training program, and no matter where I find myself in the country, I know that I can always log in via my laptop computer and participate in the neverending conversation. I know that Clyde, Les, or John will have posted something I can sink my teeth into before calling home to say goodnight to the family and falling to sleep listening to Letterman again.

If you care to join in on the conversation, simply log on, register, pull up a bar stool and introduce yourself: www.i-boards.com/bnp/wc/. W&C