Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare

Think mud, everywhere and cold, bone-chilling cold permeating all. Hear the roar of hulking siege engines. Smell their belching exhaust, as they crawl closer and closer each day. The sapper’s trench once excavated is turned into a tunnel, covered with steel plates. Fortunately, so far, there have been no casualties.

The water company’s water main replacement project has progressed faster than expected. They began work at the start of this month, down at the bottom of the block and have progressed far enough that while their trench has not quite yet reached our house, the project’s ancillary vehicles certainly have. No parking is permitted on the opposite side of the street, during work days. This has the effect of crowding our side of the street with everyone’s parked cars. 

They are replacing the ancient cast iron main with PVC. This iron pipe was old already, before we even bought our house and the thirty-plus intervening years of home ownership haven’t helped much. Over the years, numerous and regular incidents have followed the same playbook. A water spring appears in the middle of the street. It is sometimes a trickle, others times a torrent. In the former case, this can go on for days. In the later, action is swiftly brought.

A memorable occurrence of the later happened one night. A neighbor up the street had a fire. His son and a friend had been smoking in their garage and it caught fire. It must have been a slow night for firemen, because not only did our municipality’s fire engine appear, but also three others from neighboring towns, including a big hook-and-ladder that could hardly navigate our narrow street.

The firemen connected all four engines in sequence, but even with and probably because of all of this firefighting power, the garage could not be saved. When the firemen shutoff the water, the momentum caused by four pumpers working in unison caused a surge in back pressure that ruptured the main. A torrent of water immediately erupted from the asphalt. It was such a flood that a sinkhole appeared, which swallowed the front half of a neighbor’s car. What a disaster!

Either way, the appearance of an orange flag announces imminent action, causing me to fill cooking pots with water, in preparation for the inevitable water shutoff. A work crew labors through the night. So that by dawn, water service is restored again, at least until next time. This water main replacement project should bring a welcome end to any future inconveniences occurring.

Once the new plastic water main is laid and connected to the rest of the water system, the lateral pipes need to be connected to it. This will cause one last water service interruption, but I am already prepared for it. In preparation for this task, the water company surveyed everyone’s laterals. I was surprised to learn that our lateral is made with copper. I had expected galvanized iron pipe, because that was what was inside the house when we bought it. Our lateral being copper implies that at sometime after the house was built and before we bought it, our lateral was replaced. These lateral replacements are also a regular occurrence in our neighborhood. Replacing the lateral is not cheap and with now having copper pipe, I can hope that we will be able to avoid this in the future.

Two years ago, we went through a similar process, when the sewer main was replaced. Previously, we had replaced most, but not all, of our lateral sewer line. That is what is pictured above, with the little plaster army men. Why not all it? Well, it’s complicated. Anyway, by March, when the water company’s work has ended, we should have new plumbing coming in and going out and hopefully, finally an end to all of our plumbing woes.

Not Davos

Davos, Gerhard Richter, 1981

This is the picture that we woke up to today, except for the mountains. And the sun too. It was even cloudier then. There wasn’t as much snow either, but this is pretty much what it looked like. After two days of heavy rain, the winter storm Isaiah finished up precipitating on us, with a flurry of snow and a dash of crippling ice. There was hardly enough snow to worry about, but you wouldn’t have known that at the grocery store yesterday. With their undies all in a bunch, people were scurrying up and down the shopping aisles, carrying armloads of milk, bread and eggs. The TV news always reports runs on these three items, before any snowstorm. It’s a Saint Louis tradition. Still, all the hustle and bustle of the store was the highlight of the day. There was a comradery there.

The crime of armed robbery was committed in the neighborhood this week, two blocks from our house. A pizza delivery guy was attacked by four masked and armed men. They had called him to a vacant house. They got away with his wallet and he got shot in the leg. We’re pretty used to hearing this kind of story on the nightly news, but those stories always happen somewhere else, not this close to home. We live in a wealthier than some neighborhood. There are less affluent areas near by, but there are also much richer ones too. Proximity allows one neighborhood to bleed into the next. All-in-all, it seems like a lot of trouble to go to, for a four way split. How much money does a pizza guy carry anyway?

Housed at the Chicago Art Institute, Gerhard Richter’s photo-realistic color landscape painting, Davos, is based on snapshot. In it the sun is seen just burning through a layer of diffuse clouds, above a snow covered alpine peak. There are no references to any human presence, portraying only nature, both beautiful and unforgiving. I live in the city, where humanity abounds and where people too can be both beautiful and unforgiving.