The Craigslist economy

The Thinker by Rodin

A couple of posts over the years about Craigslist might suggest I know a lot about the site. In fact, I don’t spend much time there mainly because there is not much of interest for me there. In 2005, I did note Craigslist’s casual encounters community, if you can call it that, where you can fritter away your time trying but almost certainly not succeeding in hooking up sexually with a variety of strangers, most of whom I suspect would flunk a criminal background investigation. These posts about Craigslist have been good for me, bringing in a ton of people to my site who doubtless would otherwise never have visited.

I had no idea though that Craigslist had morphed into such a powerful economic force. How did I learn this? Because I had my first Craigslist casual encounter this weekend. No, no, not that kind of casual encounter. If I were brave/stupid enough to try that kind of casual encounter, I’d insist on wearing two condoms. I mean another kind of casual encounter, the kind where I used the power of Craigslist to have some onerous chore done that I didn’t want to do. In fact, if I tried I almost certainly would have failed.

I needed someone to remove a basketball post buried in concrete on the edge of my driveway. For at least ten years, I had been planning to either repaint it with Rustoleum or take it down. I decided in the spring that I would take it down this year. I had many other great projects I was going to do this year as well, a half dozen or so I actually accomplished. Two weeks ago, I decided to tackle taking down the basketball hoop and post once and for all. I no longer had hot weather as an excuse.

After three hours of grunting, groaning and twisting muscles rarely exercised, I managed to get down the basketball hoop and backboard. It required copious amounts of muscle power, lubricants and WD-40. After I hauled it to the curb I went back to look at the towering ten-foot post itself. I looked hard at the concrete it was embedded in. I contemplated what I could do to remove it myself. I figured it would involve a sledgehammer, a shovel and a lot of work. Since my wife could not help with the project, I would have to do it myself, somehow without damaging me or my property in the process.

Some guys are Tool Time Tims. Not me. I have the usual assortment of common household hardware, but did not have a sledgehammer, electric metal saw and the other specialized stuff I would need. So I do what I usually do. I Googled “how to remove a basketball post”, figuring some tips were what I needed. I quickly zeroed in on the most useful tip: have someone else do it for you by putting an ad on Craigslist, in this case under the Services, labor/move. So I did. Within ten minutes of posting the ad, someone was bidding on it. Over the course of several days I got close to three dozen people expressing an interest in the work. I had no idea how much something like this would cost, but I guessed at least $50 and said tell me your price. Some were insulted and wouldn’t do it for less than $200. I finally hired some guy who did a lot of handyman stuff and even had a web site, who bid $85.

Thus began my casual encounter with Shawn, who arrived yesterday afternoon in his van with ladders on the roof and a big mess inside. He immediately took a shovel to the problem. A couple of hours later I went out to check on his progress. Shawn is a big, strong guy, likely forty-ish, with curly hair, a can-do attitude and perseverant look on his face. He had dug all around the post and had it tipping diagonally, exposing an enormous concrete base, at least two feet in diameter and close to three feet deep. Uh oh.

It was getting dark but Shawn said he would be back in the morning. I was wondering though if he would actually come back; after all, I had a job contracted for $85 and this was much more work. Yet, he did show up again this morning and with his chisel and rock drill kept attacking the concrete base, trying to break it up. He eventually succeeded, much to my amazement, then filled up most of the hole with the concrete rubble and covered it with topsoil. The post lay next to my driveway. I tried to lift it but could not. “Just put an ad on Craigslist,” Shawn told me. “There are scrap metal people who will come around and haul it away for you for free.” Really? This was all news to me.

Shawn may have been one of three dozen bidders for my little project, but he earns most of his money from Craigslist. “I used to put out flyers to get business,” he told me, “but Craigslist works much better.” Craigslist pretty much is his market these days. He’s a guy with an aging van who lives in an apartment in Maryland and keeps most of his gear in a public storage locker. Anonymous people on Craigslist pay him money to do odd jobs like this. From the looks of him, he probably doesn’t have any health insurance, but he manages to scrape together a living of sorts from Craigslist. It works for him and, surprisingly, it worked for me too.

I’m not sure my casual encounter with Shawn is quite over, though. Now that I know a handyman, I may use him again. I have some deck work that needs to be done, some fencing as well, a bit of caulking, oh, and I need a bit more landscaping done too. I am not sure I want to do all of them, but now that I know Shawn, I know whom to call. Or I can just post an ad on Craigslist and see who shows up.

I confess I still treat this Craigslist hook up stuff with some suspicion. I wonder in particular how many of these laborers really have the skills to do something like break up concrete. Still, I had no idea who to call to do something nasty and hard like remove a basketball post, nor did I want to spend hundreds of dollars to get rid of my eyesore.

But I did anyhow. Shawn put in a full day of labor altogether. He earned a big bonus because this was a lot more work than either he or I expected. He protested that $200 was too much, but I wrote him a check for it anyhow. I think he’s going to need some new tires or shocks for that van of his. It looked pretty worn.

Thanks Craig Newmark. Thanks Internet. I am late to this Craigslist thing, but I can see in the 21st century, services like Craigslist are now wholly mainstream. I am just behind the times, I guess. Shawn, I’ll be in touch. And I guess there will be more casual encounters with people like Shawn on Craigslist in my future.

2 thoughts on “The Craigslist economy

  1. Would you be willing to share your handyman’s contact info? I could use someone to help with odd jobs too (in the DC metro area).

    I found your blog through DC Blogs Noted, I love it!

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