Sunday, December 02, 2012

Tales of a plumbing refugee

We have been having plumbing problems for a while at our house here in Montrose. It's the bottom floor of a rented duplex on Sul Ross & Hazard. It started with a backed up sink, and then a backed up shower. As the problem worsened, nastier and nastier water started to fill the various basins in the house. A plumber would come and clean out the pipes, the problem would subside for a few weeks, and then it would return.

Fast forward to last week. We had spent Thanksgiving break in Big Bend National Park, which is pretty much the most incredible place I've ever seen. But it's a long way away. So after driving in the car for about 10 hours, we got home a little after midnight to find the plumbing issue had come to a head.

A foul odor was coming from the bathroom. I turned on the light to find the tile floor crusted about a half-inch think with... raw fucking sewage. It was mostly toilet paper, caked and soggy, but there were unmistakable globules of feces scattered about, as if some deranged easter bunny had come in and shit in secret corners and left his deposits there to crust over. The toilet and floor were covered in this stinking sludge. A thick black gunk covered the bathtub, which would not drain. It stunk. It was one of the most disgusting scenes I could imagine. (The image to the right was taken several weeks ago, but that is the sludge that had been flowing into our tub every so often. We came home to find our entire bathroom covered in this stuff - plus shit.)

Our landlord has been handling it, to her credit. She sent over a cleaner who spent about two hours scrubbing the shit out of the bathroom (literally) with a big bottle of bleach. She has put us up at a nice bed and breakfast just a block down the street, the Modern B&B, which is quite a nice place (and recommended). The chef makes the best omelet I've probably ever had, made to order. It all seemed well and good, just a relatively minor (if momentarily repulsive) inconvenience. Until...

Late Thursday afternoon I got a panicked call at work from the landlord. The plumbers had to replace a chunk of the sewer line because a tree had grown up right on one of the connections to the house and the roots had run rampant over the tree's 30-year lifespan. Obviously a substantial operation that required permits from the city because of nearby power and gas lines.

"Is the dog inside?" my landlord asked. Yes. "Can you come and let him out? I don't have a key and there's a gas leak. The fire department is here." I was about 30 minutes away. She said she would break down the door and rescue the dog if she needed to. This minor inconvenience had just turned into a life-threatening emergency.

CenterPoint, the local utility, had come the day before to mark off where the gas and power lines were. But apparently they mis-marked. The plumbers, digging with a shovel, nicked a gas line. It started spewing gas; apparently you could hear the hissing. You could smell it five blocks away. When I got home, fire trucks and policemen had blocked off the road for a block in both directions. The house next door was evacuated (ours was empty aside from the dog). Eventually the leak was stopped and the house was deemed safe to re-enter. Inside I had a newspaper, unread at the time, with a story about an explosion, initially blamed on a leaking gas line, that leveled an entire neighborhood in Indianapolis. O saw the story the next day, and shuddered.

Thankfully, the story remains only a frightening hypothetical. But it could have been devastating, and an unforeseeable conclusion to what started out as a simple plumbing annoyance (maybe not so simple, but still). We are still staying at the B&B; the plumbers, I think, were spooked because they have not been back to work since. I'm pretty sure the sole blame lies with CenterPoint because of their shoddy marking job. That's inexcusable. What's worse, when the landlord called them immediately after the leak was discovered, it took them more than an hour and a half to show up and set things straight. Luckily the fire department was able to stop the leak, but how that doesn't qualify as an urgent emergency that requires immediate action, I have no idea.

Anyway, we are all safe, and still essentially homeless, or, at least, unable to use what is actually now a very clean bathroom.

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