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Vacations, phones and plumbing

Every year, we travel up to Canada to spend several weeks on a lake, cut off from the hassles of day-to-day life. And I do mean cut off.

We have no phone. No cell service can reach us. Forget the internet. We travel 20 minutes over very rough road to the closest town to use a payphone. (And another 20 minutes back.)

Yes we do this voluntarily, eagerly even, every year. Although, theoretically, we could arrange for phone service (understanding that we’d have pay for the cost of connecting phone cable to poles all the way to the nearest junction), absolutely no one wants it.

Well, almost no one.

This year the water pump broke. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice to say, I had to deal with the problem. Given that my background is in writing, and before that law, and before that math, you will be correct in guessing that this wasn’t going to be a do-it-yourself project. I had to hire a plumber.

Monday

The local plumber is no longer in business, but a local store gives us the number for someone a bit further off. I call him, using the payphone and our calling card.

“I’m sorry, he’s not in at the moment. Could you leave us your number?”

Have you ever played telephone tag without a phone?

“I have a few errands to run in town,” I say. “Will he be around in about an hour?”

“I think so. Give us a try.”

I reach him on my second try. He suggests that we shop around for a new pump. “Call me back with what you’ve found. I’ll see what my suppliers have.”

The local hardware store doesn’t have one the size we need. Neither does the hardware store another 25 minutes further. I call the plumber back.

“He’s out on a job. He told me to tell you that he couldn’t find what you need either. Can you call tomorrow before 10?"

Tuesday

We brave the rough road and I call before 10. The plumber decides he needs to see the problem for himself. He’s two hours away and makes it to our cabin in the afternoon.

“You’re a bit hard to find.”

He gamely assesses our idiosyncratic plumbing system, comes up with a solution, and gives me a list of supplies.

“As soon as the supplies are in, I can get to work.”

Wednesday

Of course, these supplies aren’t available at our local hardware store. So, we drive an hour further to a larger supplier, and get what we need. Almost.

“We have to order this crucial part, but it should be in by noon tomorrow. Give me your number and I’ll call you as soon as it comes in.”

“Uh. . .”

Thursday

We call the supplier after noon. (After another ride on our road.)

“The part didn’t come with the morning shipment. I’m hoping it’ll make it this afternoon. If not, it’ll definitely be in tomorrow. I can leave you a message on your home voice mail in the States.”

I call the plumber, who is out on a job. “He moved his schedule around to be at your cabin tomorrow.”

"Could I call him later this afternoon?" I ask. "Say in an hour or so?"

“Sure. I think he'll be back.”

He’s there.

“You need to contact an electrician," he says. "Here’s a number. We can’t connect the electricals tomorrow, but we should be able to on Saturday.”


I broach another concern—payment. “Can I give you half with the Canadian money we have on hand? My mother’s arriving with a checkbook for a Canadian bank. She’ll be in either Saturday night or Sunday. I can pay the balance on Sunday.”

“No problem. I have a house on a lake nearby and we’re there for the weekend.”

I call the electrician and speak to a dispatcher.

“Monday’ll be the earliest. I’ll need to confirm Monday morning. Do you have a number where we can reach you?”

Arrgh!

Friday

I call the plumber, early. (After another bumpy ride.)

“I spoke to the supplier,” he says. “The part’s in, and I’m on my way to your place. I’ll pick it up on the way.”

I tell him about the electrician.

“Let me see if I can find someone more local for Saturday.”

Saturday

The plumber finds a local electrician who takes pity on us. They finish the work. We have water. Plus I don’t have to go into town to call anyone all day. Yay!

Sunday

My mother didn’t arrive last night, and no one shows in the morning. We go to town, place a call, and find out she won’t arrive till Tuesday.

I call the plumber. He doesn’t pick up, so I leave a message on his machine. I try again an hour later, but he still doesn’t pick up. (Meanwhile, I also cancel the first electrician after three tries—they have a byzantine answering system.)

“Let’s drive to his cabin,” I say. “He’s expecting us anyway.”

He’s happy to see us. He’d been on his lake when the calls came in and is willing to wait for my mother to arrive.

“Drop it off with my father-in-law. He’s local for you.”

I tell you, the man is a saint.

Monday

No phone calls. My car’s suspension shouts, Hallelujah.

Tuesday

My mother arrives early. We drive to the father-in-law’s. All’s well that ends well.


The following days of gorgeous weather, working plumbing and no emergencies did make up for all that running around. Still, I’m thinking, how much would a phone cost?

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