Business Casual: The High-water Mark

The high-drama moment of the Great Decatur Condominium Flood of December 2018, for me, came at 6:00 a.m. on a dark, rainy Saturday just made for sleeping in. The cat’s yowling woke me up, and I stepped out of bed into an inch of standing water. An upstairs neighbor’s water heater had died suddenly, dramatically and wetly. Several other tenants, I would learn, shared this experience in their own places – minus the cat, perhaps.

I have to say the real-time spectacle of water spilling down a wall just under the surface of the sheetrock, occasionally spurting from an old nail hole, was oddly hypnotic.

Then came the scramble to remove art from the wall and retrieve holiday gifts stored nearby and the process of sopping up water with all of my towels and some of my neighbors’.

Much of this was accomplished by candlelight, since the fire department, which a neighbor had called in the absence of having any other idea where to seek help, suggested that I turn off my power until the standing water was removed. The electricity, of course, stayed off just long enough to spoil or almost-spoil the contents of the refrigerator and freezer. (Good-bye, frozen waffles; hasta la vista, salted caramel yogurt bars; adieu, two percent milk. Bargain chardonnay, where do you think you’re going? Get back in there.)

A low-comedy moment came the next day when the roaring fans and dehumidifiers supplied by the water remediation company sent me outside to take a phone call from one of the 8,000 people I would eventually talk with to try and resolve the water issues.

Unfortunately, the traffic noise was louder than the fan noise. While I was busy shouting to and being shouted at by an insurance company representative, the cat escaped to the great outdoors and had to be chased down. Neither of us was exactly a model of grace under pressure during the chase.

The recovery was slow, but marked by some kindnesses that helped considerably. Somebody actually figured out how to stop the flow of water early on; somebody else called a cleanup crew. Kind neighbors provided coffee; family and friends offered shelter; and my seven-year-old grandson told me solemnly that he was sorry that I was having so much trouble.

Once the initial dramatics abated, tedium set in – mostly involving waiting for people named Jason or Ryan to return calls or show up two hours late to share bad news about schedules and costs.

And just when things were threatening to settle down, a classic instance of karmic piling-on caused my HVAC system to expire. So here came another crop of Jasons and Ryans to inspect, estimate and appraise, still more waiting and opportunities to be pathetically grateful when somebody actually arrived.

Eventually, though, things got remediated, repaired or replaced; life returned to normal.

Lessons learned? I discovered that I can go from dead-asleep to high-alert a lot faster than I thought. But the main nugget of advice I would pass along is simply don’t live under anyone with a bad water heater.

Beyond that, just a few little pointers: You won’t actually have a life while you are trying to get things back together; you will be at the mercy of people who need to assess, adjust, evaluate, remediate, clean up, repair, install or supervise. So take a breath.

Hardly anybody involved in any of those endeavors will be on time. Most of them will mean to be, but traffic, emergencies, other jobs and poor cellphone reception will conspire against them. A very few, of course, will show up early – typically when you have decided you have just enough time to make a coffee run before they arrive. Take another breath.

And sure enough, just like our mothers told us, it helps to be nice – up to a point. I thanked the guys who removed all the water and set up the machinery to dry out the walls; I thanked the person who came to pick up my rugs to be cleaned; I thanked the crew who installed my new equipment; but I spoke up when I felt I was being ignored or passed over for a squeakier wheel. It didn’t always work, but it made me feel better.

Ultimately, though, you realize that everything will be all right – a pain in the neck, but all right.

Categories: Business Casual