Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

7/24/2010

Al Fresco

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

We take modern plumbing for granted.

No, seriously.
I’ve spent the better part of this past week without a sewer connection.  That means that I’ve been pestering my friends who live nearby, all three of them, for showers all week.  It also means I’ve been urinating “al fresco”, under the cover of darkness.  Let’s not ask too many questions about other bodily functions though, okay?  Let’s just say I’ve been going into work early most days this week.

My point is, plumbing is what makes civilization even more than farming.
In school, they always taught us that modern civilization, as we know it, started with farming.  They taught us that as people stayed to tend crops instead of follow the herds, they built permanent camps which became villages which, eventually, became cities.
I would argue, however, that real modern civilization was born when the Romans first got the idea to enclose their plumbing.  When that first, genius Roman city planner decided to put sewers underground and replace the foul stench of open trenches, which had been the norm until then, and replace that malodorous tradition with construction projects, civilization as we know it truly began.
And brought with it a host of modern problems.

In my case, the problem was one I initially tried to handle myself.
When the shower first backed up, thanks to several loads of laundry, I poured all kinds of hazardous and noxious chemicals down the drains.  I bought and used things that were so terrible, so dire that the warnings printed on the packaging sounded more like plans to deal with a spill in a chemical plant than something the average Home Depot shopper should be screwing around with in their bathroom.  In fact, these things were so bad at one point that leather gloves which had accidentally gotten soaked in water containing some of those chemicals actually started to melt away.  Seriously.  I have pictures!  And, I thought all was well.  For about two weeks.
That’s when the shower started to back up when I was, well, running the shower.
So, for three days, I took what we used to call “Navy showers“.  Basically, I got wet, then turned off the water and lathered up, then turned the water back on just long enough to rinse off.  I’m sure it helped the planet with all the water I conserved, but it was starting to get a little uncomfortable.  So, off I went to Home Depot to buy supplies.  I bought even more chemicals, a CO2-based plunger, and a plumber’s “snake”.  I used them in turn, spending the most time trying to get the snake working right.  It was one that you hooked up to a drill, to add extra power, and, though I hate to admit it, I screwed the first one up bad enough that I broke it.  Unfortunately, none of that worked.

So, defeated, I called a plumber Sunday afternoon.
I called Mr. Rooter, because I’d used them before and I knew they didn’t charge extra for working on the weekend.  I also knew they did good work at what I think is a reasonable price.  Sadly, there wasn’t anyone available in my area by the time I called Sunday afternoon, which meant waiting until the next morning, but I figured what was one more night wallowing in my own filth?
Well, the plumbing technician showed up early Monday morning and got right to work.  He ran through at least three obstructions and at one point I could hear things gurgling in my bathroom, which seemed an encouraging sign.  Sadly, it was not.  The technician called me out into the yard where he found the only “clean-out” in my line.  A clean-out, incidentally, that was far, far further out than it should have been.  He’d run his camera down that line and found the problem, or, at least, the first problem.  I feared the worst, but my fears turned out to be child’s play compared to what was actually wrong.

The problem was roots.
Not roots that had grown through the pipes, as I had feared, but roots that had grown under the pipe and lifted a thirty foot section of it.  Lifted it so high, in fact, that it made my shower the lowest point in my personal sewer system.  So, yes, it was a big problem.
The other two problems were with the main sewer.  First, when they built the house, apparently, a builder took a short-cut and lifted my sewer connection to link it up with the city sewer main.  So, it was higher than it should have been in the first place!  But, to make matters worse, when the guys from Mr. Rooter went to make the connection, the found the city main choked with roots!  I love the live oaks in my backyard, and, in fact, they’re part of why I bought the house with my ex-wife, but they certainly seemed out to get me this week.  In the end, there was really only one thing to do: replace the whole sewer line to the city main.

Now, for those of you who aren’t homeowners, let me tell you how this feels.
Imagine being neck deep in a mucky, fetid swamp, trying not to make waves because you know it could drown you.  Got that?  Do you have a handle on the perilous and uncomfortable feeling of knowing you’re inches from sucking stagnant water up your nose and suffocating on swamp muck?  Great.  Now imagine that someone is throwing stones at you.  Stones big enough to knock you unconscious.  Imagine having to hold your breath while that water with God only knows what kind of diseases in it is lapping at your mouth and nose, trying to find its way into your lungs.  Can you feel the horrible panic?  Can you feel your chest tightening from the fear of drowning in a sloppy, green sea of homeowner’s debt?  Fantastic.  Now imagine looking up and seeing one of those stones on a collision-course with your head.  You know it’s coming and you can already feel the lump forming even as your gut tightens because you’re about to be fighting for consciousness so you don’t drown, alone, in this swamp.
That was pretty much how I felt when the tech told me what was wrong.

His estimate was not much more reassuring.
Let’s just say it started somewhere over $10K.  In the end, because the folks at Mr. Rooter are fantastic, caring, decent human beings who haven’t lost their humanity in this tight economy, I ended up owing less.  I won’t say how much less, but, less than the original $10K.  Still an impressive sum for which I needed a lot of help.
Sadly, the finance company was less caring and more cut-throat.  I won’t give them any free advertising by mentioning their name, but I will say that, until dealing with them, I thought loan-sharking was illegal.  Apparently, not if you do it right.  Thankfully, I had some benefactors who were willing to lend me the money I needed at lower rates.  They’ve asked to remain nameless, otherwise I’d sing their praises, too.

In any case, I got enough money together to get them started and WOW, did they!
The next afternoon, there was a crew of four guys digging up my backyard with a small backhoe.  They dug a trench easily 120 feet from the back of my house, around my ponds, between my trees and to the city sewer main at the back of my yard.  I took pictures of it because words leave the spectacle of the thing,well, in the dust.  This trench started out about three feet deep and got down to almost five feet deep near the sewer main.  It runs at least four feet deep for a significant portion of it’s length and was dug in less time than it’s taken to write this entry.  It was amazing!  If not for the roots in the city sewer main, I’d have had service restored that first night!  Unfortunately, the rest took longer.
The city did come out the next day to clear the roots and make the connection to the city sewer main, but, by then I’d had to make a nuisance of myself with friends to beg showers so I could get into work and not knock people out.  I didn’t shave, really, but used my beard trimmer to keep my stubble under control.  Still, I looked pretty rough by the end of the week.
And, yes, I really did get tired of “urination al fresco” and holding it until dark, or going in to work hours early for the same reason.

So, the good news is, now, I have a working sewer line and I can flush my toilets!  Not to mention shower, shave, do laundry and dishes, all of which I was frantically doing Thursday night.  Friday afternoon, the main technician who was working on this project the entire time, got my second toilet hooked up, so everything in the house should be working now.  I still have the trench until the city inspects and approves the work according to the permit.  I’m not as worried about that, frankly, since I’m able to bathe and eliminate with the modern ease with which I have rather grown accustomed.
Other good things of come of it, too, though.  Some I won’t got into in detail except to say that I have a new appreciation for my friends and family who were all more than willing to come to my aid.  I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, at how willing everyone I knew was to help.  Since my divorce, I have felt pretty alone down here in Texas, so it was nice to be reminded that I did have friends and, though they may be a little way away, family who really do care.

I also really was reminded about how well I live, really, and how comfortable I am.  That’s sort of a double-edged sword, though, as I’ve gotten, I think, a little too comfortable with things that really needed to change.  I’ve gotten a little stuck and a little complacent.  My financial situation, for instance, has been just good enough for me to not really feel the need to really grab hold and make some positive changes.  I’ve just gone “with the flow”, if you’ll pardon the metaphor in a post about sewers, for far too long.  I need to relearn to set my sails and make my way regardless of the current.

Of course, I do still have a huge bill to pay before I’m done, but that may turn out to be a good thing, too, since it’s finally motivated me to actually start selling my ex-wife’s abandoned jewelry.  Yes, I have finally listed my first item on eBay.  In this case, it’s my ex-wife’s gold and ruby ring.  If you’re interested, go bid on it and help me out!  Don’t worry, stalkers, there will be more items if you want to own a piece of the Network Geek’s history.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."
   --Booker T. Washington

5/2/2006

Accidental Waterfall

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Hoffman's Home for Wayward Boys,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:57 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Oh, the joys of home-ownership!
So, Saturday night Ms. NewGal and I get home after being out to church, dinner and my favorite bookstore to find water running from somewhere under Doc’s car. Now, I don’t mean a little trickle, but rather a fairly steady stream of water, as if the hose had been left on. And, in fact, that’s what I figured had happened. I walk over to turn off the hose, figuring that Doc had watered up front and just not quite turned the handle quite all the way closed. That’s when I saw the water shooting out of the wall. Yes, gushing right out of the brick around the pipe where it goes into the house. Keep in mind this is about 11:00PM, I’m tired and have no idea how much of this water is gushing into the space between the exterior brick and the interior wall. In short, I was not very happy.

Luckily, my girl was able to talk sense to me and remind me that there’s a reason I escrow home-owner’s insurance. So, we filled some buckets of water to use for flushing over night, just in case, and turned the water off at a handy valve that was in the line just before the leak. The next morning, I searched the Internet and she searched the Yellow Pages to find a plumber with “cheap” emergency rates who would come out on a weekend. She found Mr. Rooter, who I would have assumed was a tree-root specialist. Luckily, not only are they a full-service plumber, but they have multiple locations in Houston and don’t charge special rates for the weekend! I was absolutely shocked! I can’t remember the last time I heard about a plumber, electrician or anyone else like that who didn’t charge extra for weekend work.
The dispatcher got me on the list for that same day between 11:00am and 2:00pm, which was another miracle to me. Just before 2:00pm, Melvin, the plumbing “technician” showed up at my house to give me my estimate. Tall, thin and polite, Melvin was neatly dressed in a Mr. Rooter uniform and was quick with his slightly gap-toothed smile. He took a quick look and warned me that they didn’t replace brick, which he’d have to remove to get the work done. He did promise, however, to remove only as much brick as absolutely necessary to do the repair. His initial estimate was just under $500. I was so relieved, I almost cried. That’s less than my deductible on my home-owner’s insurance and about a third of what I was afraid it would cost to have someone out on a Sunday to get this fixed.

An hour later, Melvin was giving me an update on the status of my problem. He’d removed a single brick to get a better look at where the break had occurred. Again, luckily, it didn’t look like there was any water damage inside the house. The leak had happened inside the mortar and been forced out from that point. In fact, when I put my hand inside the small hole, it was bone dry. Someone “upstairs” was watching out for me again! (No, I don’t mean Doc, but the Big Guy.) So, at this point, Melvin had to go get some additional parts to make the connection like it was, only not leaking, which means a trip to Home Depot since the plumbing supply houses are all closed. It also meant an additional $240, which bumped my total to $700. Ouch! Still, it had to be done, so I sent him off to get what he needs. While I waited, though, Melvin bypassed the shut-off by the house to give me water so I could run the dishwasher, take a shower or just enjoy how civilized flush toilets really make me feel.

When he got back, I asked him what he thought caused the leak. He showed me the short piece of galvanized pipe he’d had to cut out and pointed out the crack in the threads. It was his opinion that something had to hit that pipe pretty hard to have made the crack. So, I’m not sure when it happened, but, most likely, someone tagged that valve earlier in the week and it just got worse over time until it finally popped out through the mortar. Sadly, at this point, there’s not really any way to know for sure who did it, so, I just have to eat the cost of all this.
Now, here’s where Melvin got to try out his salesmanship on me. He offered me a deal. I could take the $240 hit for the extra parts, or I could get the Mr. Rooter “Membership”, which gives me 15% off all work they do and annual sewer drain inspections and annual hot water heater drainage for the next five years. In exchange, he would apply the extra fees for the plumbing fixtures to the price of the membership, which was a wash. So, in essence, I got a five year 15% discount on plumbing work, which was already reasonable, and annual service and inspection for nothing. Not a bad deal, was it?
Melvin was done by about 5:00pm and getting my Amex number. He wore little booties into the house, so as not to track imaginary brick dust on my filthy, dog-hair-covered carpet. But, what amazed me was that his uniform hardly had a spot on it. Not even much dust on his navy work pants. The guy was good. Pretty damn fast, too, all things considered.

So, in short, I’ve never been happier to pay $700 I didn’t have to do a plumbing repair. After all, I could have had an entire wall come down or part of the ceiling or any of a number of terrible things. A guy I talked to later said that he had a plumbing problem in his attic once that had he and his wife out of the house for three months while they gutted it. So, yeah, it could have been a whole lot worse.
Oh, and I patched the brick myself. That was about another $20, or so, to get the trowel and the mortar patch from Home Depot. Not the most professional job, but quite sturdy this morning when I left for work. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, or read this blog, but I’ve actually done some of that kind of work before at my parent’s house. Oddly, this was something I learned from my father who repaired a front porch step. But, at the time, he’d never done it before. We figured it out together, he and I. And, I never thought it’d be a favorite childhood memory, but, well, as I was working that trowel last night, I thought of him and that day and smiled. I actually finished the job on the phone with him and my mother.
I’m pretty sure that was pride I heard in his voice when I reminded him of that day and told him that I’d learned enough to do this repair myself. And, that I’d had this potentially giant problem and had handled it without calling for help, or advice, or money.
I guess I’m growing up.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The safe way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket."
   --Frank Hubbard


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