Thursday, January 05, 2006

Middle Class Wars

Gasoline holding at well over $2 a gallon, our heating bills now at $300 each month, college expenses rising exponentially faster than inflation—everyone seems to be trying to make their pile by taking part of mine. I’m fighting the battle of the shrinking middle class. But I think I won a little skirmish over the holidays.

Some years ago, our main house drain clogged. Everything that we flushed, rinsed or gargled came back to visit via the basement drain. So after some clean-up, I called Roto Rooter. A young, smallish Hispanic man came to our house. He tried opening the clean-out, but the clay plug was brittle and broke. So with some effort he installed a new one. Then he dragged his machine downstairs, put the clearing hoses into the drain system and flushed everything out. Cost: less than $100. This man didn’t speak English that well, and I was tempted to ask him for his green card, but he did good work.

By the way, after the serviceman left, our dog came down from an upstairs bedroom. He sniffed a few spots, then looked at me as if to say, "Dave, I think there was a stranger here." Doogie is the type of guard dog that prefers to avoid confrontations. He’s the equivalent of the CSI (Crime Scene Investigators) guys on TV, dealing with the evidence after the threat is over. If crooks ever broke into our house, they could be toasting their ill-gotten loot aboard some cruise ship off the coast of Mexico before our dog would crawl out from under the bed to check things out.

Fast forward to this year and our house drain is beginning to gurgle and spurt again. This time I tried Mr. Rooter since they had a big ad and a money-saving coupon on the front cover of my phone book. The next day a rather genteel looking, well fed gentleman with a healthy spray of gray hair arrived. Then he quoted a price about four times what we paid before.

I thought there was a misunderstanding. I just wanted a clean-out; I didn’t want to buy a Mr. Rooter franchise. He mentioned an insurance program that would lessen the cost of future visits, but that was hundreds of dollars extra. I just paid for the clean-out, regretfully, while I wondered how much it would cost to just put a Porta Potty in the backyard. Or in the living room for the winter.

Then around the holidays, the drain started gurgling again. Enough! Nobody was going to put their child through med school, pay off their Lexus, or put in a swimming pool at my expense. I poured a quart of Rooto professional strength cleaner down the basement drain. It worked. And I learned some lessons:

---just because someone looks like he might have snuck across the border doesn’t necessarily make him your enemy.
---if the business you’re using has a big ad on the cover of the Yellow Pages, chances are you’re going to generously help pay for next year’s ad.
---if the repairman looks like he’s old enough to be putting kids through college, you’re going to help do that too.
---dealing with acids, clean-outs, sewage and garbage yourself is preferable to calling for professional help.

At Christmas, maybe my house smelled of pine, baked cookies and sulfuric acid. And maybe I didn’t smell that good myself. But it was a welcome odor for me. It was the smell of a battle won. A victory on behalf of those of us waging the war of the middle class.


Blogger Peter said...

Good one Dave, ya gotta make every post you can a winner.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that this is a time of year that tree roots are looking for moisture.I also had to call the sewar man but at a much lower price then yours. I am told that you want to pour that cleaner down the drain at least twice a year to avoid any problems

6:13 AM  
Blogger bornfool said...

I was a licensed plumber until a couple of years ago when I quit paying the yearly license fee. I did some plumbing on the side (along with working my full time job.) I was known for being too cheap. On most big jobs my help made more money than me. That's why I quit doing it. I decided if i wasn't going to make any money, I'd do it sittin on my front porch instead of crawling around under someone's house. I didn't have the heart to charge people what I needed to make it worth my while.
Anyway, what I was going to say is, sometimes those chemical drain cleaners work for awhile, but if your plumbing is very old the strong acids will eat holes in your pipes and you'll end up in worse shape than when you started. There's a reason real plumbers don't use that stuff.
I moved to San Diego in 2000-2001 to work for one of those big plumbing companies like you mentioned. They charged 8 to 10 times as much as I would have for the same job. My advice would be to find an independent again, like the hispanic man you mentioned.

A very wealthy doctor was going to have a big Christmas party. On Christmas Eve he experienced some major plumbing problems. he called a plumber to get the problems fixed before the party. The plumber came over and repaired his plumbing problems in a couple of hours. When finished the plumber presented the doctor with the bill. The doctor looked at the bill and almost had a heart attack. The doctor said, "I don't even charge my patients this much."
The plumber replied, "I didn't either when I was a doctor."

6:19 AM  
Anonymous vicki said...

Careful there, Big Dave. Don't count your cleared traps too soon. You live awfully close to my neck of the woods- as in Tree City- and all those trees got roots.

What was that B film about all though subterrainian worms in the desert coming up to bite folks in the butt?
We have roots that do that over here.

But I agree- most things are better handled without professional intervention.

7:50 AM  
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

You could buy your own rooting machine, you know. Then when you break the sewer line you can take pottery classes to learn how to fix it.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

Make biodiesel, not war! My car runs on salad oil! Make GREEN your friend!

10:36 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

We had the same experience a couple of years ago with our plumbing. First we had the "big franchise" guy come out and take a look. He cleaned it out, then charged me a surcharge because under my house was wet and he got his shirt dirty Grr.

We had problems a few months later, and this time we too used the "small time" plumber. He took one look and said it was roots from the cypress tree in the back yard. He was right.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Nankin said...

Dave, my idea of hell is to die and be reincarnated as a plumber. But, I agree, some of these companies charge way too much.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home