Jackhammer Wednesday

Last night John came in late after I’d already gone to bed. His car’s engine has a distinctive low roar, so I knew it was him without getting up to look. I expected that he’d park the car and come inside, but instead I heard the car reverse, then go forward again, then idle. At last I heard him park in the drive, but moments later I heard our elderly Sentra start up. Curious, I got up and peered out the window to see John moving the car about twenty feet forward on the street. I met him at the kitchen door. “Why’d you move the car?” I mumbled sleepily. “Because there’s a water main break in the street,” he said, and pointed.

In the dim streetlight, I could see that water was indeed bubbling vigorously up through the asphalt in the middle of the our street and along the edges of the gutter in front of our property. I had a closer look at it myself by flashlight (it looked like some sort of suburban Lourdes), then went back inside and found my “Living In Vienna” pamphlet, which is a pretty darned handy guidebook we were given when we first moved to town. In the “Water/Sewer Service” section I found a number for evening/weekend service and called it. Much to my surprise, it was answered by a cheery woman who announced “Vienna Police!” After a moment of dumbfounded surprise, I reported my address and the problem. “Oh, they’re probably flushing the hydrants,” she answered. No, I said, the water is coming up through the asphalt. “Well, that’s not good,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll send someone out.”

And bingo – five minutes later a police cruiser was on our little cul-de-sac. It drove up to the spot where the water was still welling up through the street, paused, made a quick pass through the neighborhood and was gone into the night. About fifteen minutes later a Town of Vienna public works truck appeared, yellow lights flashing, and parked in the middle of the street in front of our house. Another one parked at the entrance of the cul-de-sac. Two large lumpy men got out of the first truck and had a look at the problem. Our neighbor across the street came out and moved his truck into his drive. A few minutes later we heard a distinct metallic tapping down the street, and John observed that they had probably just shut off the water to the neighborhood. I tried the nearest tap and was rewarded with nothing but a gurgle (naturally, this discovery triggered an instantaneous need to go to the bathroom).

A look through the living room window confirmed that the leaking had, indeed, stopped. The two large men placed construction cones in the middle of the street. They called back and forth to their compatriot at the top of the street, who placed his own set of cones and departed. Then they climbed back into their truck and, motor idling and lights still flashing, played their car stereo. I stayed up for a while watching TV with John, then decided to have a go at going back to sleep. I put a lavender eye pillow across my face to block the flashing lights in the street and finally drifted off.

In the morning, the truck was gone and the street was quiet. Spray-painted lines on the street surface showed that the men in the truck had done more than listen to their stereo. Hopefully, I tested the bathroom tap. I don’t know why I thought the water might have been turned back on, but hope springs eternal, I guess. Naturally, it had not. Since we are dutiful post-9/11 citizens, we have a couple gallons of drinking water stowed in our basement; I fetched one and used some of its contents to wash my face and brush my teeth. I carried the rest of the jug upstairs, poured some water in the kitchen teakettle and some into a plastic pitcher. The pitcher went into John’s bathroom to use for his morning ablutions (fortunately, he’d showered after mowing the lawn late yesterday afternoon, so major cleansing wasn’t an issue). The teakettle went onto the burner for my morning tea and in case either of us wanted hot water. I heard a truck arrive in the street and hurried to get dressed – I had a feeling we were about to have our driveway blocked, and I was right. Just as I stepped outside, another large lumpy man was directing a truck towing a generator to park right in front of our drive. “Hold on a sec, can you?” I asked. “We need to get our cars out of here.” John headed to work and I shifted my CRV from the drive to a parking space in the next street.

As I walked back to the house, I stopped to ask the assembling workers a few questions: was it a water main break? (Think so.) Was the whole street without water? (Yep.) About how long do you think the repair will take? (At least most of the morning.) More large men arrived, in varying degrees of lumpiness. The jackhammering started shortly thereafter; one man actually doing it and five standing around watching and advising and doing a certain amount of shouting during which I distinctly heard the word “overtime.” The jackhammering took about fifteen minutes.

It’s now nearly ten a.m. A backhoe has arrived and the serious digging has begun. I’m on my second cup of tea. Today is our trash pickup day and I’m curious to see whether the garbage trucks will be able to make it past the construction (or if they even try). UPS has already made a delivery by foot; the driver parked his truck at the entrance of the cul-de-sac and jogged up the street to stick the package at our front door. I’m only lingering at the house because I have a ten o’clock phone call; once that’s done, I’ve got a bunch of errands to run. I’ll report back on the progress later.

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