Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My life's not romantic enough to make it on a Discovery Channel show about Alaska

 I don't quite know how to explain this, or even if it warrants telling, but, I guess I'll start at the beginning, and when I get to the end, I'll stop. Read it like a time-lapse, or like Faulker-esque stream-of-consciousness. I don't care, I'll just blog the words out.... it's a bit of self-centric writing therapy, but honestly, what do you think blogs are anyway?

When we last spoke, my house was spewing bubbles out the roof. That was Monday of last week.

Tuesday-Thursday: Uncle Ole actually talks me into "waiting it out"... there's just ice in the pipe, and it will thaw as it gets warmer... temperatures through the week hold at around 40 degrees and sunny in the daytime.Things don't really improve, besides that we get fairly good at speaking positively about the no-sewer situation.

Thursday: In between wrenching on the airplane, I start calling around. The city. The septic pumper. The plumber. Some guy with a camera that can look inside pipes. I talk to all these people more than once, and the camera guy agrees to come take a look. I can't leave the hangar, so Ole handles communications at the house. They have to call me once. I am upside down under the airplane when camera guy asks me where my septic tank is. I don't know. Isn't he the one with the magic underground camera? He says he didn't bring his camera, something I immediately recognize as a flaw in someone whom I have never met in person, but have been referring to as "the CAMERA guy." He'll be back in the morning with the appropriate tools.

Friday morning at dawn: Ole and I go skiing. He says: "Steph, this problem is probably going to take a bit to get through. You really need to ski every morning so that you have one bit of time where you aren't thinking about it." I haven't met the plumbers, and, as is my wont, I am underestimating the situation, and don't remember him saying this until days later.
Friday mid-morning: "Camera Guy" shows up at the house. He's short and fat with sporty sunglasses and a huge plug of tobacco spilling out of his lip. In every other way, he reminds me of the 'inconceivable' Sicilian guy from The Princess Bride. His assistant is tall and lanky, and from Minnesota, and I am comforted by the presence of someone from my home country. However, they both admit that they can't do anything until their dirt worker crew gets here to start digging. They leave.
Friday 12:30pm: The dirt crew shows up with a Bobcat and a Caterpillar backhoe. The start tearing into the yard. The guy running the excavator mentions that they may need to get a crane in to lift the deck so they can dig under it. They can't be serious. That sounds like something from an episode of Ducktales... and it sounds really expensive.
Friday 2pm: The Camera/Sicilian guy shows back up and starts telling me that this is the worst possible situation. The pipe was moved by a frost heave and is disconnected. When he tries to get his camera in the pipe, he only sees dirt.  He also casually tells a story about a client he had whose sewer woes cost her $70,000. I go inside. Did he say "$70K"? Sicilian leaves.
Friday 3pm: Richard and Matt, the dirt crew, have successfully dug ten-foot deep holes at the top and the bottom of the yard and claim they have found the problem.
Friday 3:30pm: They reconnect the pipes and start filling the holes back in while they wait for the Sicilian to come back and test the line. I suggest that they should wait to fill in the holes. They ignore me.
Friday 4pm: Ole and I stand on the deck in the sunshine watching Matt and Richard fill holes. Ole likes Matt the best, because he is running the shovel inside the hole. I like Richard, because he has the air of knowing what he is doing. We talk about how impressive it is that they'll be done today. We take bets on how much it will cost (Price is Right rules).
Friday 5pm: The Sicilian and Minnesotan return, and run a water blaster (not the technical name) through the pipe. It stops halfway.
5:03pm:Ole goes into his bathroom, walks back outside and says, "Steph, I want to double my price guess." His shower is full of brown water.
5:04pm: I walk inside and open a beer.
5:05pm: The Sicilian: "You're gonna need more than a beer. You should get the hard stuff." Something very comforting to hear from someone you're paying to fix your problems.
5:06pm: All four workers are standing on the lawn over where they think the problem is. No one is incredibly certain where the sewer pipe runs through the yard. The Sicilian makes the brilliant observation: "We'll just have to find it where it's at." I finish my beer. 
5:07pm: The Sicilian explains that he has some kind of "locator tool" that he can run underground to find the line. But he doesn't have it with him. Of course not.
5:10-6:00: We all wait for the Minnesotan to go retrieve the Sicilian's appropriate tools.  Matt, Ole's golden boy and the hardest worker, gets sent home.
6:30, Friday evening: Richard starts digging into the problem spot.The line is at least 15 feet below ground. The Sicilian looks up to tell me that "This could definitely be worse."  He has already told me that I was dealing with "the worst possible scenario", and I am aware that the situation has gotten worse since then.
6:45pm: Richard and the Sicilian tell me that they can't repair the old line. Most things in Alaska are "owner-designed and built", completely ignoring any existing building codes. My sewer line is no exception. None of the pipe or joints were insulated at all.The recommended downhill grade was ignored, and none of the joints were glued together.  So, when the line broke, it failed in some way at every joint. They will have to re-dig the whole yard and run an entirely new sewer line.
7pm: I cancel my Saturday trip to Anchorage for a float plane conference.
7:20pm: Richard and the Minnesotan are knee-deep in a hole of raw sewage trying to decide how to connect the new line.  The Sicilian says: "Now you know why plumbers don't bite their fingernails."
7:30pm: My friends show up with a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. I have the best friends in the world.
8:30pm: leaving an open pit sewer in the middle of my yard, the workers leave for the night, promising to return.

Saturday, dawn: Ole and I go skiing with friends. The sun is out and the crust is beautiful and the mountains are awesome. We are skiing through the woods and I get a bit ahead of the group. I stop to look at the view, and breath the air, and my mind starts spinning the way it does sometimes when you are really stressed and lying in bed at night not able to sleep: ...There's a lot to do to get the plane ready...and there's a lot to do to get the business ready... and then there's the other business... and I have to finish my taxes... and there's an open-pit sewer in my yard... and I have no idea how much this is going to cost... Just before the tears slide out below my sunglasses, Ole skis up behind me and says: "Be. Here. Now."
Saturday 9:30am: Richard and Matt show up and start digging. They spend hours gutting the whole yard.
10:30am: The Sicilian shows up to watch them work, and tell me fishing stories.
3pm: I finish my taxes. 
4:30pm: Matt and Richard finish the new pipe, completely to code and start refilling the dirt. They have left a slalom course of clearing pipes through the yard that they will mark so I will always know where the line is and avoid future scavenger hunts. However, I am assured, you will never need to find it, because our line will not fail.
5:30pm: The Sicilian tests the line. It works. Matt and Richard leave, taking their backhoe, but leaving the bobcat. They will be back at some point to "smooth things out." Until then, I say, I will run the backhoe around the yard with impunity.
6pm: Ole and I go flying.

Sunday, dawn: Ole and I go skiing with friends. Most of the group is on a longer route, and three of us break off to go through the woods on our own. At some point, Ole is lecturing me on medieval impalement, misses a turn, and ends up wrapped around a tree. I ski back to help him, but when I see him stuck in the hole, I start laughing, and fall over myself. I'm just that kind of jerk, but that kind of laughter seemed to clear everything up.
Sunday all day: AT&T phone service is down. No one can call me and I can't call anyone. This inconvenience is actually really refreshing.

There's still a bobcat in my yard. I still haven't gotten the bill for the new sewer line (which, as far as we can tell, works great). We're still skiing every morning, and still trying to 'be here now' in spite of the rule declaring that if it isn't one thing, it's ten, and something else ridiculous must be right around the corner.


liz said...

Favorite part...

5:05pm: The Sicilian: "You're gonna need more than a beer. You should get the hard stuff." Something very comforting to hear from someone you're paying to fix your problems.

Sheryl said...

Wasn't home supposed to be easier than travel? At least it happened when you were there to take care of it. I'd hate to think of all that water and sewage just leaking while you were away, or, getting that email while traveling, "Oh by the way your house is broken."

Shannon said...

Oh man. What a mess. Sometimes all you can do is laugh. Hang in there....and keep skiing.