Friday, January 30, 2015

The Time Our Water Line Froze

One year ago today our family went on a vacation. It was a lovely vacation to Florida, filled with days at Disney, and Universal; time spent along the shore in Bonita Springs; exploring in the Everglades; and creeping along the Keys. Outbound on the vacation we were skirting an ice storm in Atlanta. Our homecoming, some 19 days later, involved avoiding yet another southern ice storm. And there was an Ice Storm of epic proportions awaiting our return as well.

This epic road trip created a plethora of memories for our family, many of which the girls still talk about today, one year later.

The trip was also the beginning of a journey that we did not anticipate having to deal with: a frozen water line under the street that cut water to our house. That misadventure will be forever linked with our trip, for better or for worse.

Imagine being a thousand miles away from home and getting a call that your house no longer has water. And there is nothing you can do about it other than place phone calls, line up appointments, and rely on the good graces of your neighbors for help.

We had to make choices: Stay put or head home early? Who do we need to call about this? How much effort do we expend on "repair" when we're not even home??

In the end we opted (wisely) to put a hold on trying to fix it. We started back on our originally planned time and  arrived home on our anticipated day. Guess how exciting that 2 day drive home was, knowing we would be walking into a house with no water. Go ahead; guess.

We spent the next 2 weeks dealing with finding the root cause of the problem. We found out, through a lot of exploration and multiple opinions, that the freeze wasn't on our line at all, but was under the street on the city's line. The next shock came when our fair city declined to help us get water restored, even when they found out it was their line frozen.

The following 2 weeks were spent in daily battles with the city's "solution" to our problem: a hose connected from a neighbor's house to ours. The hose was supplying water which we were told not to use for cooking, drinking, bathing, or washing clothing, but which constituted a "Fix" for the problem. Two weeks of fighting below freezing temps that froze the hose as it was running. Two weeks of constant phone calls to the city for new hose lines to replace the frozen one; and jumping the hose from one neighbor's house to another one when their spigot froze solid. Two weeks of boiling water just to bath, brush teeth, and cook.

Then came the ultimate low point in the midst of this iced-over nightmare. During yet another late night struggle to keep the hose line running, it froze up as we watched it. We called the city's off hours help line (a number they had given us to call in such an event) and told the on-duty worker that we needed to have the hose swapped out, could they please drop one off for us so we could attach it before the spigots froze and we had to deal with the arduous process of thawing those out (again). The worker informed us that the city had decided to cease assisting us. It was our problem. (Despite it being their frozen water line, mind you).

Then she uttered the words that still raise the red flag of rage in me to this day: "It's not that big of a deal. It's just until spring." In the middle of the world's longest, frozen winter ever, she tells us the weeks we'd been without water weren't a big deal. Surely we wouldn't mind dealing with it for another 6 or 8 weeks. You know, just till spring.

I will never know who she was, but there is a part of me that has to credit her with the final solution to our problem. Her callous words were the fuel that lit my drive to Get. This. Done. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right? Well, it also hath no fury like a woman whose family has been brushed off casually by the people charged with providing and maintaining services, let me tell you.

Empowered by a new sort of mission, I shouted our calamity across the city. Emails were sent. Phone calls were made. Within a week word made its way back to me that people were talking. A conversation with a store cashier led her ask if I'd heard about the family in town dealing with the Water Situation? Others asked my parents if "they knew the poor family that was dealing with that awful water situation in town?" By the time I was done, a larger circle was aware of our plight: the city's waterline had frozen, leaving us without water, and they had admittedly stopped helping us in favor of waiting for the spring thaw.

A sudden changed happened when city council stepped in.

On a snowy March morning, exactly one month to the day when water had stopped, the city came out and began to dig up the waterline in the street. They found the freeze almost at the main line. They also discovered that the entire problem had been caused by a waterline had been sunk too shallow under the street to begin with. It had been a frozen line waiting to happen. For years.

Even as they dug, with all the machine power available, their process was made tediously slow by the incredibly deep frost line. Had we actually waited until it thawed naturally, there is no telling how far into spring we would have been waiting. Far into May, we found ourselves wondering if things would have been thawed enough yet. June? When?

It seems fitting somehow, on this snowy morning a year later, to think about that entire adventure. I'm grateful that it's over, but I'm also grateful that it happened. We learned a lot from that struggle. We gained a new appreciation for the simple things that are so easy to overlook. I'd like to think we don't take them for granted as much as we did before too.

It's true what they say; there is growth in struggle and challenges. Our Epic Florida Road Trip became something much bigger than it was ever intended to be. But I also think we became stronger from the experience. I wouldn't trade that gift for anything.

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