The week before last we were doing some fence repair in our yard. Beforehand, we had to call the utilities to have them come out and put their little party flags and colorful paint spots all over our yard to indicate where not to dig. We always call the flag and paint guys before digging, because we know what can happen.
In our previous house, we had a full basement. And several maple trees in the yard. Those big old maples had a lot of roots. Like thirty or more year’s worth of roots. And they decided to complicate our lives. It developed into an annual event. We’d walk into the basement, we’d step into something wet. We’d turn on the lights. We’d find water and/or sewage everywhere. Sometimes it backed up into the shower drain. Every time it backed up from the floor drain in the middle of the laundry room, then spread out, under the walls, across the house. Sometimes it was just the dishwasher and laundry gray water because we’d tried to empty too much water from the house at one time. Sometimes it was much worse than gray water. You don’t want to know.
Since we were on a tight budget, we usually had to go the DIY route. We’d rent a power snake that weighs the same as a MINI Cooper, and we’d somehow wrestled it down the full basement steps to the bathroom down there. Then we’d have to pull the toilet to get access to the system. Then we’d power that churning, fork-tongued cable down our sewer line, hoping to dislodge whatever was stopping the usual, taken-for-granted outward flow. Sometimes that stupid rental power snake didn't have a guard on it and as soon as it started spinning, it sprayed our entire basement with sludge. Of course, the basement was already a mess, but who wants it splattered on all of the walls too?
Using this technique to mitigate our annual ritual, we got by. But it was getting hard to punch a way out of that clogged pipe, and we weren’t really sure what we had on our hands. So after we couldn’t take it anymore, we hired a guy to carry his own power snake down the basement stairs, and to bring his camera along so we could have a good look. He threaded his fiber optic cable down the vent on the roof then through the house, all the way down to below the basement to see if our suspicions were correct. His diagnosis? We had a huge root tumor that had to be removed.
After several bids from companies who did the kind of work we needed, we set up a date and called the guys with the party flags and colorful paint. They decorated our yard for us before the digger came out to excavate our front yard. The backhoe had to dig all the way down below the basement, where the main sewer line ran. Of course, with all the paint and flags, we knew right where not to dig. So the digger avoided that by over six feet. And consequently cut right through the water main.
The paint man hadn’t been very careful and he didn’t actually get his little flags or paint spots over the main. But he had them close. Well, they were in the same yard.
So as the entire year’s worth of water rushed down our front yard and into the street, making a river children from miles around would love to jump and splash in, we grown-ups scrambled to find which city phone number to call to report that, uh, sorry, there’s water shooting to kingdom come and maybe you’d want to come shut it off for us?
The good news is, we didn’t have to pay for the repair because we’d stayed between the colorful lines. The other good news, they found the tumor and removed it. It was the size of two or three footballs, packed like a log, made of fibrous tree roots that we were never going to get anything through bigger than a green pea. So it was a good thing to do. And the other good news? Our basement never flooded again. That was the best part. I had pretty much used up my patience for cleaning poop out of the basement every year.
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