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Getting to Know the 'Bridge Brothers': Damon

Tuesday, August 22, 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. Our first interview subject is Damon Arapkiles; Damon, a foreman with Corcon Inc., was heading home early from work on the Walt Whitman Bridge on a rainy day when we caught up with him. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Damon Arakpiles
Courtesy of 4th Coast Productions

"Even my wife didn’t really understand what I do until she saw the film," Damon Arapkiles says of Bridge Brothers.

PaintSquare: How long have you been doing this work, and what specific work do you do on these bridge projects?

Arapkiles: I started when I was still in high school; I was 16 years old and it was just a summer job. I was still going to school. It turned into a full-time job as soon as I graduated high school. I was different from a lot of these union guys: I traveled all around the United States painting bridges from job to job and company to company, and it was 15 hours a day, there was no overtime, [and] there were no benefits. You had to fight for every dollar you made. It was tough—but I’m actually glad I went that route, because I learned every aspect of how to do the job. Some guys up here get stuck doing just one thing: Some are just painters, some are just riggers, [and] some are just sandblasters. I was fortunate—I learned the hard way, but I learned how to do every part of the job. Right now, for Corcon, I’m running the blast crew, and sometimes I’ll even go sandblast. Just whatever they want me to do.

Where did you grow up?

The Greek bridge painters, you’re either from Tarpon Springs, Florida, or from Ohio. Corcon is from Ohio. I grew up in a Greek community where almost everybody painted bridges, in Florida. That’s how I got involved in it—my buddy’s dad had a bridge painting company, and every summer I’d go paint bridges.

It’s interesting the connections certain ethnic groups have to the work; in the movie, there’s a section about the diverse backgrounds of a lot of the workers.

It used to be Greeks, and all the Greek boys are getting smart and going to school. Then it went to Brazilians, but there aren’t even a lot of younger Brazilians around now, especially with immigration being what it is. Up in New York, there are a lot of Cape Verdeans. I don’t know what’s coming next, because it’s getting harder to get guys. Nobody wants to do this hard work anymore and paywise it hasn’t grown—for me at least. And with immigration now, we’ve lost a lot of good guys, and who knows what the future’s going to look like?

What did you hope this film would portray about the job, and how did you feel about the end product?

I think it came out awesome. It gives a broad perspective of what we actually do. When I tell people I’m a bridge painter, the first thing they say is “Oh, you’re not scared of heights.” And then that’s it. They don’t really understand what I do; even my wife didn’t really understand what I do until she saw the film. The day-to-day stuff they couldn’t capture because they weren’t there every single day; all the chaos, all the fighting. It’s crazy out there. But for a broad perspective, they did a really good job. They could’ve even put me in a little bit more.

Get your copy of Bridge Brothers today!

The filmmakers went home with you—how did that go over with your family?

They loved it! Especially the kids. We went to the premiere and they saw themselves on the big movie screen. It was a good experience.

What’s your plan from here? Do you think you’ll be in the industry for life?

I can’t paint bridges like I’m doing for a lot longer. Just because I started so young. I started 16, 17 years old, and we were working 15-hour days and we’d only stop to eat once a day. That would be dinnertime, you’d go to a buffet and stuff your face. So my body’s giving out: my knees, my hands, my carpal tunnel, my elbows. My backup plan is to be an inspector. I’ve got the NACE [Level 1]; [Level 2] I’m going to get this winter. I still have to do something involved with the bridges, because that’s all I do.

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: AS; Asia Pacific; Blasting; Bridge Brothers; Bridges; Corcon Inc.; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Latin America; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; SA

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (8/22/2017, 1:34 AM)

Keep up the good work boys.

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