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Getting to Know the 'Bridge Brothers': Andre

Thursday, September 7, 2017

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Each week, PaintSquare Daily News, in partnership with 4th Coast Productions, will be introducing you to a different worker featured in the new documentary Bridge Brothers. This week’s interview subject is Andre Silva; Andre, a blasting foreman, works with the Corcon Inc. crew that worked on the Commodore Barry Bridge and Walt Whitman Bridge jobs featured in the film.

Andre and Ivan Silva
Courtesy of 4th Coast Productions

Andre Silva (left) worked with son Ivan on the bridge jobs featured in the Bridge Brothers documentary.

We caught up with him over the Labor Day weekend, when he had a few days off from the current Walt Whitman Bridge project. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

PaintSquare Daily News: Have you guys had a long weekend off?

Silva: Yes, our last day was Thursday. But I ended up in the emergency room on Friday. Normally I don’t blast, because I’m one of the foremen but we’re lacking blasters in the department right now, so the company asked me to go in there and blast, and I have carpal tunnel syndrome, so it got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, and I took myself to the emergency room. It’s been a little hectic.

It sounds like that’s a common ailment among people who do that work every day.

It is common, yeah. Cowboy, one of the [blasters with the company] got both of his wrists done last year. He gave me information for his doctor; hopefully I’ll go get that done at the end of the year. The pain is horrible. Sometimes you cry, as a grown man. But, somebody’s gotta do it, right?

Where did you grow up, and how did you get into the industry?

I was born in Honduras. I came to the States in 1990, did my high school years in Miami, moved up to Chicago, I was married then, year 2000, and I was working with my dad, training to become a carpenter. Then my cousin, he was on the way to Wisconsin, he was already in the bridge business. He drove by and said, “Do you want to give it a try?” I said, “Sure, why not?” Next thing you know, I get hired right on the spot and I become a bridge painter, overnight, pretty much. It seemed natural to me; I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since. Close to 17 years.

You’re clearly dealing with some of the physical ailments that can come with this hard work—is it something you foresee sticking with for a long time?

I’ve done pretty much everything that’s involved, in terms of the physical aspects, and now I’m more of a foreman, so I more have to take charge of the guys, stay busy. But when the company needs me to step up, I’m not afraid. For me, being a foreman is just a title. If you’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it. We talk about retirement, how long we can do this, being a physical job. I’m giving myself until I’m 50 years old. So, I’ll give myself, I’ll say nine more seasons.

You have a son who did work with the crew, right? 

I brought him in right after high school, because he wanted to do it—you know kids, they always look up to their parents, they want to follow their footsteps. So I brought him in and he did it as a summer job for one summer, then when he graduated, he came on full-time. But then, he knows it’s hard labor. He did it for a year, year-and-a-half, but right now, he’s actually going to culinary school. He’s a manager in a restaurant.

Were you happy to see him try it out?

As a father, you’re proud—it takes a lot! To just see your son keeping up with you, doing what you do on an everyday basis. He can see what his father has been through all this time, to put food on the table. And it helps to build up his own character. He tried it, and I was proud that he was there, but I’m actually more proud now that’s he’s not. It’s dangerous. I’ve lost some friends doing this business. You get injured. So he’ll stay away from that, and I told him, money is going to come and go. Don’t concentrate too much on the money part; find what you love to do.

Hopefully you’ll benefit by getting some good food out of his new career.

I’m getting free food right now! I’m benefiting already!

What were your feelings when you found out a crew would be coming to film you on the job?

It was cool! There are other shows out there that are similar, that show the hard labor. At first it’s like a joke, but then you actually see the guys coming in to start film, and it’s fun and interesting at the same time. [Director Matthew White], he knew I know the ins and outs of the job, so he made me one of the camera crew members. I was filming the blasters, the rigging part; he asked me to help him out. It was a cool experience.

What did you expect the film to portray, and how did it live up to your expectations?

I just wanted it to give the public more knowledge of what actually goes on, to get this job done. It’s hard to find people who will do this kind of labor. It would be nice for regular people to actually see what goes on. And maybe it will bring people who want to try bridge painting, but they don’t know about it. We need guys.

Did you have a specific part of the film that was your favorite?

I think it’s cool just to see people outside work, see their personalities. When you actually get to meet the guys outside the job, you put a face to the guy who was doing the job. You see him outside, with his family, like Damon. Cowboy, he’s the cook of the company, with the barbecues. Robert, he dresses all flashy. It’s good to get to know the people outside the job.

Bridge Brothers runs 1 hour and 40 minutes, and is available as a DVD/Blu-Ray set, which comes with a 24-page booklet. The film is available via Technology Publishing Company's TPC Store.

   

Tagged categories: Bridge Brothers; Bridges

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