Who Are These Men in Orange Jumpsuits?

18 December 2013

I never had a gas outage before…electrical outages, sure, from snow storms, ice storms, hurricanes, fallen trees, downed wires and the occasional jamboree of squirrels, birds, raccoons, chipmunks and radicalized cocker spaniels, making a meal of electrical wiring and angry at being marginalized in the suburban society they so desperately want to be part of. A gas outage. I had already beaten the eggs in a bowl and turned on the stove. There was a clicking, electronic spark, but no flame. After three or four minutes of dully turning the jets on and off…I realized there was no gas smell and finally concluded…there was no gas.

And thus began the education of a willful innocent in the face of real, hard, broad-shouldered work.

At 3:30 pm I called Con Ed (the local electric and gas supplier) and reported the problem. They noted it and made a report. I shudder at bureaucracies making reports and stowing them, where they can’t found. At 9:00 p.m. I called back. The report’s been filed…someone will be there before 12:00…midnight. At 10:45 the doorbell…Con Ed. They came in, concluded as well that there was no gas and went outside (snowing and 25 degrees) and began probing the street for a leak and marking their best guess as to where it was. At 1:00 a.m. they left. At 7:00 a.m. two crews came with a backhoe and crew trucks. They turned off the gas, posited that there was  a hole in the pipe to the house, that water had collected in it, stopping the flow of gas. They dug holes on both sides of the street, looking for a 90-year-old gas main and the pipe from it into the house…it’s still snowing and now 20 degrees.

At 1:00 p.m. they left and another crew came and the real work began. Indeed there was a hole in the pipe and they had to thread a plastic pipe inside the old metal gas pipe into the house. But no problem is so complex that it can’t be made more complex. There are bends in the pipe and new holes have to be dug…by hand…to find the bends. It’s 4:00 and darkness is now thrown into the mix. Snow and 20 degrees are holding firm and these two are bent down in the holes and lying on their stomachs with flashlights trying to figure out how to do what needs to be done. It’s so hard, they’re making jokes, laced with a tad of vernacular, to cope. The rage of General Patton or the Inquisition probably would have looked like decent options…what’s a couple of thumb screws or the smell of battle.

By 8:00 they had done the impossible and dragged themselves into the house to install couplings, safety valves, an on/off switch…”no problem, Semper Fi, we’ve seen worse”. The truth is, for all they had been through, they didn’t look that much the worse for wear. I, on the other hand, was a wreck for having put them through this Devil’s proving ground. On top of everything, they had taken no lunch or dinner break. I extended a Ulysses Grant to buy them dinner, but, thanking me profusely, they refused. They still had an hour’s worth of paperwork to do in the truck and an hour-and-a-half drive home. For all those who don the orange jumpsuit…the scales of innocence have fallen from my eyes.