A Perfect Encounter in a Small Town

I live in a town of fewer than 1000 residents. I grew up here, moved away, then reluctantly returned a few years ago. I live in the house I grew up in, sleep in my old bedroom. (Well, I don’t really live here – I sleep here, mow the lawn here, get my mail & internet here. It’s here, in the interwebs, where I live.)

Over the past year, the water line running into my house has been leaking at the shut-off valve next to my water meter. The town government insisted that my family install that shut-off valve when I was in high school. My dad commanded that I dig the hole to expose the line back then, before he called a local plumber to plumb. That shut-off valve was utterly unnecessary, since we could always shut the water off at the meter in any emergency. So that useless valve was untouched for over 40 years. Then earlier this year it started leaking intermittently. Over the past few months it has leaked more & more frequently. Now it’s made a little permanent puddle around the covered hole. Crap. I have to play HomeOwner.

My first grade class was about 30 kids. One was a guy I’ll call Aaron. He was quiet and reserved. We went all the way through high school together. We were never really friends exactly, but we appreciated each other. I moved away. He stayed. Shortly after I returned here, about six years ago, my water heater died. I ran into Aaron one day and mentioned it, and he offered to install a new one. He drove me to a local home retail center, where we (mostly he) negotiated a price, loaded the new heater into his truck, hauled it to my house, wrestled it down the basement stairs, and he unhooked the dead heater & installed the new one with ease, with grace. We had not talked about what he would charge me. We both knew it would be reasonable. When Aaron told me what he thought was reasonable, I knew it wasn’t. I paid him 40 dollars more.

Our paths have crossed occasionally since. We had a few get-togethers with our school class, would bump into each other at Wal-Mart or the gas station. Then today, I was walking into the post office here as Aaron was walking out. We stopped to chat, bringing each other up to date. I mentioned my leaky water pipe and asked if he was still working, if he’d be interested in fixing it. He hedged. He’s not working these days, he said, but he’d look at it, since I asked. I laughed and told him he should enjoy his retirement. “Hell, I don’t want to work either!” I said. “Do you know anyone who could do it?” I asked. “Well, there’s a guy I’ve worked with I could call…” He looked down the street and smiled. “Ha! That’s him driving right toward us.” Yes, there was his replacement part-time plumber driving a noisy red diesel pickup truck right toward us. We flagged him over. Aaron introduced us. I liked the guy. He said he’d come look at the problem. Later that/this afternoon, his pickup rumbled up. We looked at the watery mess. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be over tomorrow. We’ll need to dig it up. I hope it’s not that galvanized pipe. We’d have to pull that up all the way to the house. Hope it’s just the valve.” He’ll be here tomorrow. I told him I sleep late, so if he rings the doorbell, it might take me awhile to answer. “We don’t really need to disturb you. We’ll just do what needs doing.” We didn’t talk about price. Why would we.

UPDATE – 2 Days Later

He didn’t show up the following morning, or afternoon. About noon today, he and his helper arrived. I watched them dig out the hole, regaled them with stories of my growing up in this house. Another town resident drove by and stopped, just to watch and chat. He knew my mom & dad when they lived here. An hour of digging later, they found the leak, and the dread galvanized pipe. They will have replace the pipe from the meter to the house. They dug a 2-foot deep trench and left to get the necessary hardware. They will return tomorrow morning to finish the job. We didn’t talk about why they were a day late arriving. And we still haven’t talked about price.

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