Cambrian: Slice of Life

BEST OF: My own flood control

Trust me: Discovering water gushing from a leaking pipe thirty minutes before you’re due to leave on a four-day holiday can put a real damper on vacation plans, in more ways than one.

However, thinking that we might have left without noticing the potential flood or having such a leak start after we left the house are possibilities that still give us nightmares.

I had been ready to leave on time for once, and was stuffing the final items into our suitcases. But there was this odd little noise…

I turned around toward the guest bathroom and saw water streaming out of a ceiling vent fan.

Definitely not good.

I screamed for husband Richard, and we grabbed buckets and towels. In doing so, we found drenched sheets and towels in two nearby linen closets. OOooh, this was not a simple little leak to be fixed by a quick twist of the wrist-‘n’-wrench.

Our trip was looking less and less likely. But just try explaining broken pipes and plumbers to the 5-year-old whose birthday we were going to celebrate. It had to work out.

Begging, pleading, I called our contractor and even though he, too, was on his way out of town, he shifted priorities and called in the cavalry.

Richard turned off all the water except our outside hose bibs and unplugged a system that recirculates hot water (the supposed villain in this drama). Our River of Woes slowed, then stopped with mere drips and drops dangling from the fan’s shaft.

That accomplished, the plumber assured us our house would be secure for the weekend. He’d return Monday to tear out part of a wall (eeek!) and start the reconnaissance mission to locate the leak. He urged us to take our vacation. “Go, go,” he said.

So, we draped damp linens over every available horizontal surface (so they wouldn’t mildew while we were gone), loaded the van and, looking furtively over our shoulders, took off. We were late, tired and stressed, but on our way.

We weren’t just vacationing, we were escaping.

We’re so glad we went, for many reasons. Among them was the thought of spending a long weekend with no water for showers, buckets by each toilet and bottled water on the sink, all of which evoke memories of other disasters and foreboding thoughts of drought if we don’t get more rain this year.

Amazing how inviting a small shower in a motel room can look under those circumstances.

Our trip was glorious. Temperatures in San Francisco were in the 80s, with skies so clear you could see past Sausalito from the Ferry Building.

We watched the birthday girl and her sister play on that odd sculpture at Justin Herman Plaza. We all had exotic pastries from the farmers market and gorged on Yank Sing’s dim sum at the Rincon Center, where the girls were enchanted by a magical, multi-story, roof-to-floor, free-fall fountain.

Unfortunately, the waterfall also reminded grandma and papa what was waiting for them back home.

Of course, in a town that has elevated public transportation into performance art and interactive entertainment, we climbed on board and rode. The town was packed with conventioneers, so Embarcadero trolleys turned into human sardine cans.

“One more? Sure, stuff on in here. We’ll ALL inhale.”

Moral of our story of potential disaster and vacationing? When life gives you lemons, learn to juggle.

When we got back home, the plumber found and fixed the leak. We had to patch the access hole in the wallboard, have water-warped linen-closet doors repaired and do several tons of laundry.

And after nearly four decades in Cambria, I’ve learned a lesson.

In the past, I’d heard the warnings from Cambria Community Services District engineers and fire chiefs, and still hadn’t heeded their advice.

But with my head full of “what if” questions, we’ve now made one significant change.

We’ve made some additions to our computerized list of things to do before all of us are going to be gone for a weekend or longer: “Turn off the water to the house and the yard,” and “Turn off the icemaker and the recirculating hot-water system.”

In the future, I’d much rather take my showers in the shower, thank you very much.

This column appeared first in The Cambrian on March 18, 2004.