The van in the driveway

It got cold here. I was thinking that it was nothing we couldn’t deal with. We’ve lived in places that get cold all of our lives. This home has the mildest climate of any place where we have lived. Although we didn’t need our warmest clothes last winter, we still have then and our vehicles are prepared for winter. I made sure there was anti-gel in the fuel in the truck. Our house has an efficient furnace and we have a gas fireplace as well. It seems to be well-insulated and tight. A small gap in the weather seal on one door could easily be countered by laying a rug against the gap. What I didn’t realize that there is a water pipe in an outside wall of the garage feeding a hose connection. The wall is sheet rocked and I assumed that the plumbing was properly insulated. When I checked after a couple of very cold days, however, there was, sure enough, a split in the copper pipe. I shut off the water.

I’ve done my share of plumbing over the years. It is something that a homeowner gets to do. We had a place in our house in Boise where the pipes would occasionally freeze. A short session with a hair dryer solved the problem. We learned to use a bit of heat tape on that one place and didn’t have further issues. When I was manager at a church camp in Montana, the first year when we turned the water on I discovered that the water had not been properly drained the previous autumn. I don’t remember how many leaks occurred, but there were dozens. I got pretty good at cutting, splicing and sweating copper pipe. But I have done enough plumbing to know that it is a challenging operation and leaks can be frustrating.

I remembered that when we moved into the neighborhood we commented that there was a box van in a driveway about a block from our home that was a billboard for a plumbing company. It had the company’s emergency number on the outside in large characters and advertised 24/7 service. I went down the street far enough to read the number off of the van and made the call. The person I got informed me that they had at least 20 other emergency calls ahead of me and they would put me on the list but that it could be a couple of days before they got to me.

Given that I wasn’t especially fond of the idea of doing without indoor plumbing for a couple of days, I decided that I could at least cut out the burst section of copper pipe and cap it so that I could turn the water back on. I made a trip to our son’s farm to pick up a torch, solder and a tubing cutter.

Without going into all of the details, the plumbing job went like many other jobs for me. That is, I made several trips to the hardware store. The first was to purchase a bit of copper pipe, a couple of connectors and a plug. That way I would have the means of either making a complete repair or just capping the pipe. Then I made another trip because I ran out of solder. I also bought a new tube cutter as I had broken my old one. The third trip was to purchase a cap and clamp for PEX plastic pipe because I discovered that the copper was connected to PEX and there was a split at an elbow where the two came together. In usual fashion, I was able to complete the job after three trips. The water was turned back on. There are no further leaks.

In my adventures, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one with plumbing problems. The hardware store was filled with people seeking a variety of different solutions to frozen pipes. I talked to folks who were helping their neighbors with frozen pipes and folks who had problems in their own homes and folks who were seeking ways to make temporary repairs while they waited for a plumber. It was another of those “we’re all in this together” moments to which we have been accustomed during the pandemic years. I’m not the only one with problems, and my problems aren’t as severe as some of my neighbors.

My frustration, however, was intensified because on each trip to the hardware store I had to drive by that plumber’s cube van, painted with information about their 24/7 emergency service, that obviously had not been moved since it snowed on Christmas Eve. I don’t know the story of the van. Perhaps it is the home of a plumber who is sick. It could be the home of a plumber who is taking a much-needed vacation. Or maybe it is the home of the owner of the company who has an extra van because of a shortage of employees. Maybe the van is broken down and they don’t have time to get it repaired because they are too busy helping fix people’s plumbing. Whatever the reason, that parked van seemed to mock me each time I drove past. I needed a plumber. I was willing to pay a fair price for emergency service. But it will be days before I see one. In the meantime the truck sits in the driveway.

Wrapping a vehicle in advertising to make it look like it is painted with all of the phone numbers, web addresses and other information is effective advertising for a company. It gets your name out to the public. The van worked for the plumbing company. They were the first call I made when I discovered I had a problem. I got the number off of the side of the van because it was quicker than looking it up. The advertising, however, was having the opposite effect on me yesterday as I drove by. People are in great need of plumbers and here is a plumbing service vehicle that is just sitting. It wasn’t enough to get me to go searching for another plumbing company. I’m still on the list for the plumber when one becomes available. But that poor plumber is probably going to have to explain the parked truck in the driveway down the street and, I’m guessing it will be a question that will have been asked a lot of times before the plumber gets it from me. They could probably save themselves some frustration by parking the van at their business when the work is backed up.

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