The water guy showed up at 7:30 in the morning — on the day he said he would. To say this was a rarity would be a tremendous understatement. I hadn’t expected him for at least another week, and I never would have dreamed he’d hodi at my gate before 8 am. If he’d never shown at all, I would not have thought it odd. But there he was, grumpy and irritable, though still willing to help me ascertain why our house had been without water now for 9 weeks. First, however, he wanted to ensure that my own plumbing was done properly and that none of the pipes in my yard were plugged. I assured him that I’d already checked all of that, but he insisted we look anyway.
So I took him to the water meter, and we disassembled the pipes coming into it. After he was satisfied with the work on my end — the inside of the pipes were bone dry and obviously hadn’t seen water in weeks — we started walking the neighborhood. He would occasionally ask passersby where the water passed en route to “that house” (said while motioning). There were lots of disagreements and discussions, but we finally ended up on one particular street corner.
Then we dug. We were looking for the “main” pipe that brought water to my house — or rather, didn’t bring water to my house. But no one was certain where this main was located, or whether it even might be on that corner. After much digging to one side and the other (about 36 sq. ft. total, and in someone’s front yard), we found a pipe. Proud of our recent accomplishment, we disassembled the pipe (water going everywhere), and assembled it again. “See,” he said, “the water is working fine.” I was amazed.
[I should explain that when the water is functioning “properly,” we get water at our house for 2-4 hours, 2 days a week. So you can understand why I was amazed that water was flowing through this pipe at that very moment. At any given time, there’s about a 3% chance that water is flowing through pipes in our neighborhood. (You can also see why it’s difficult to problem-solve plumbing troubles here.) I later discovered, though, that this was indeed why the guy from the water department had shown up at my house on that day, and at that time — he knew the water was running at that very moment.]
So we looked elsewhere, following the same pattern of walking, asking around, and digging until we found pipes. Finally, we ended up just on the other side of my backyard. He started digging and, this time, found the pipe quickly — by digging through it. Water was beginning to puddle, but not at nearly the rate of pipes past. But again I heard, “See, the water is working fine.” This time, though, he added, “It must be a problem with the pipes in your yard.”
“Yeah, but now it’s a problem with these pipes not in my yard,” I thought.
I wasn’t excited about insulting this man, my elder by at least 20 years. So, I worded my comments as an unknowing question (I often play the role of dumb white guy here), “But I don’t understand; I thought we checked all the pipes on my side? Maybe there just isn’t enough water pressure to push the water up into my pipes from here?”
“No, I think a pipe must be plugged in your yard; we better check them all again,” he gruffly suggested, as if this were all my fault. No, not as if this were all my fault — but as if this were all my fault because I’d purposely filled my pipes with hair pomade, rubber cement, and Starburst candies.
I asked him what we would do about the pipe “we” busted while digging. His answer: “We’ll wrap some rubber around, so it won’t leak anymore.”
While (once again) disassembling pipes in my backyard, I suggested that I go and buy another pipe to replace the one that was busted during digging. He acted as if it wasn’t needed, but agreed all the same. It was about this time that he turned his attention to my larger water system. He wanted to disassemble the pipes that came after the water meter. Not wanting to be rude to this older gentleman, I again carefully asked, “But I don’t understand — if water is not reaching the meter, then how can the problem (and the plugged pipe) be after the meter?”
He said you can never know about these things. My patience was beginning to wear thin. I wanted to scream, “But you CAN know about these things! And I DO know about these things. It’s simple science. No, it’s just plain common sense!” But I refrained. Instead, I politely asked him not to disassemble more of the water system, as I went into town to get the pipe.
When I returned, he had disassembled more of the water system. And he was just about to cut into one of the pipes (that came after the water meter). When I asked him both to wait and to explain what he was doing, he offered that my water problem was because this one flexible pipe was too long. And that if we removed about a foot of the excess, everything should work fine.
I didn’t even pretend to be dumb. I just told him we were NOT going to cut that pipe. And that he was wrong. “There is no water going into that pipe, so that pipe CANNOT be the problem.” I didn’t even begin to explain why the length of a pipe can’t itself be the problem.
So, we still don’t have water. But I do have a new pipe in my backyard. I believe the problem is one of pressure, and the water department guy believes one of my pipes is either plugged or too long. You just never can know about these things.