The side fence blew down last month, December 15th to be exact. That’s when an atmospheric river washed over California.
An atmospheric river. That’s the term that the weather boys and girls have been using when we get a lot of rain and wind off the Pacific. It’s only been a couple of years that I’ve heard that term, atmospheric river.
We used to call it a windy rain storm, or “cats and dogs.” Dad used to say, “It’s not a fit night out for man nor beast.” My grandparents might’ve called it a gully washer, a term which people can relate to. Well, I guess folksy people who know what a gully is, can relate to it. That’s likely a dying, if not already deceased, population – unless you live in the Deep South or the Midwest.
Why can’t forecasters on TV talk like normal people? They used to. Now they talk in jargon.
I don’t give a shit about your Doppler radar, your high pressure, your southern oscillation or even La Niña. Just tell me if I need an umbrella tomorrow.
I wish that the perky weather girl or the fresh faced perfectly coiffed weather guy would dump the meteorological mumbo jumbo and deliver the forecast in terms that are understandable to the common man and woman. “Cover your asses folks. Bring in your pets and tie down the lawn chairs because it’s gonna rain like a bastard and blow like a Vegas call girl.” It doesn’t get more common than that and it’ll get people’s attention.
Whatever you wanna call it, we had a big storm.
The next morning, Mother Nature sounded the all clear and I went outside and surveyed the yard; front yard -check, southern side yard-check, backyard – check; that is if I didn’t count the overflowing swimming pool.
An hour or so later I heard Cora yell from the dining room, “Oh my God!”
What now? Did she discover a puddle from a leak in the roof? A dead body out in the corner of the backyard?
During midwinter, a dead body is preferable to a leaky roof. Just call the cops. “Officer, I swear I don’t know how this corpus delicti got here. Maybe the wind blew him in.”
The roof? Try and find a roofer with time on his hands and reasonable pricing, right after an atmospheric river.
I went into the dining room and Cora pointed to the fence, or what remained of it. Two sections were gone, boards flung about the yard. Another section was wobbling, the planks dangling and swaying from the top runner like a row of loose teeth.
During my morning inspection I’d never thought to look at the one side fence that’s been teetering on collapse for years. We’ve been stalling on getting it replaced and now the atmospheric gully washer had forced our hand.
I went out to try and patch the gaps but the waterlogged wood, rotten after more than 30 years, wouldn’t have it. The poor old soul wasn’t up for any further struggles. It was spent. All it wanted now was a simple burial in the landfill.
I filled the gaps with a few feet of deer wire from Home Depot.
We also have a deer wire view fence that runs along the back that’s getting old so we decided that we’d have that replaced along with the side fence.
After securing the perimeter I paid a visit to the internet to find “fencing contractors near me.”
I was disappointed to find that there aren’t a lot of “fencing contractors near me.”
I found one local guy but he’d been torched on Yelp. I don’t always believe Yelp. I still think back on the guy who gave only one star for the apartment he’d rented on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. His complaint? Too much noise down on Bourbon Street.
So despite the bad reviews I looked up his contractor’s license and saw that it had expired. That eliminated him. I figure if you can’t be bothered to renew your license you’re telling the customers who perform their due diligence, that you don’t perform yours.
A little scrolling brought me to a website called Angi. I’d heard of Angi. She had a list once but she dispensed with her list in favor of a new system, which, after using it, brought to mind that old saw, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A dialog box popped up on Angi’s first page, “What can we help you with today?”
“Fence contractor,” I answered.
This brought me to the next page which asked me my zip code which led to more pages asking for more details about me, myself and my project. Without realizing it, I was being led down the electronic path.
I was waiting for a list of contractors to pop us so that I could pick and choose. Instead a dialog box popped up that asked for my phone number, which I stupidly gave. That was a mistake.
I’d barely shut down my computer when the first call came in, “Are you looking for a fence contractor?”
*Uh, yeah, how did you know?”
The guy skipped that part and started describing his services. In the meantime, my phone was lighting up with incoming calls.
I told the guy I’d call him back and as soon as I hung up another call came through. Daniella was her name and fencing her game.
I asked Daniella how she got my number and she told me Angi gave it to her.
Good old blabbermouth Angi. Don’t ever trust her with a secret – or your phone number.
“Is that how it works? I contact Angi and she broadcasts my number? I’ve already got about five calls.”
“Is that all?, said Daniella. “You’ll probably get a lot more today.”
Since I had Daniella on the line I made an appointment for a guy to give me an estimate at noon on the 21st.
On the 20th, I got a call from Daniella confirming our appointment for the next day. That she was confirming was an encouraging sign.
And then she asked, “Is there another decision maker in the household? We like both decision makers to be there when we give an estimate.”
For a fence? That was not so encouraging.
“There’s my wife, but she’s got an appointment. I think she’ll trust me with it, and we’re not going to make a decision on the spot.” Daniella seemed concerned.
The next day, Daniella’s estimator showed up on time and I led him to the back. With tape measure, a small ream of paper on a clipboard and a pencil tucked behind his ear he went to work. I left him to his task and after about 30 minutes I went out to check on him. How long could it possibly take, I wondered.
“I’m almost done. Another couple of measurements and we’ll sit down and talk.”
Sit down and talk? That’s what they tell you at the car dealer when they lead you into the little room where the inquisitor, aka the closer, tells you that 5 bucks off the sticker price will literally take food off his table. Once the price is established he tries to upsell you on all the shit you don’t need. You know, everything from an extra extension on the already extended warranty to the special coating that protects the underside of the car against the road salt that they spread on the streets of Minnesota (even though you live in San Francisco where it never snows).
In for a dime, in for a dollar. I’d already spent a half hour, so Daniella’s fence guy and I sat on the little stone wall next to the pool so he could make his pitch. And what a pitch it was. A curve ball I would say.
“So, we’re going to use top grade redwood and 4×4 pressure treated posts. We’re going to set each and every screw perfectly when we build your fence. We’re going to set the posts into 18 inch square piers.”
Piers? I thought. The Golden Gate Bridge sits on concrete piers. Isn’t it customary to just dig post holes, set the posts in cement and let them dry overnight?
“Again, we’re going to use all the highest grade materials. We’re going to dispose of all the debris.” And then he added, “Do you know that the disposal rates are very high?”
I was sensing a set up.
He was sounding suspiciously like the teenage boy who asks his dad if he’s familiar with that treacherous, badly lit “S” curve over on Main Street, setting up the confession to the old man that the family car is wrapped around a tree over near that badly lit “S” curve.
I wanted to ask him if we could cut the crap, but in the interest of diplomacy I said, “Okay. What are we talking here?”
And still he persisted.
“This fence will be solid. It will last you for 40 years.”
That’s nice, I thought. If I’m still around I’ll be 108 years old and probably won’t even know what a fence is.
He brought up the “very expensive disposal costs” again.
“So what’s this gonna cost me?”
He didn’t actually tell me. He wrote 2 figures on his pad and tilted it in my direction. You know, like the closer at the dealership does when you’re buying a car? They never tell you the price. They write it down on a slip of paper and slide it to you. Probably because they can’t actually say it with a straight face.
The side fence, the solid redwood one would run $14,000 dollars. The deer wire fence, $7000.
I was stunned. We’d had the other side fence done a few years back and it was only $2000 dollars. Inflation is bad, I thought, but geeze Louise.
By now I knew this was absurd but for some strange reason I asked how long it would take to complete the job.
Fifteen? I was aghast.
I should have just shown him the door, but for some reason, possibly shock, I asked him about that time frame. “Fifteen days? That’s a problem. I have two dogs. Can’t it get done sooner?”
“Well I can double the crew.”
At this point I came back to reality. “Uh, isn’t that a little steep? I just want a simple fence. You know, something to just keep the dogs in and the coyotes out. I’m not looking to repel the Russian Army.”
“Well, I haven’t included the disposal fees. They’re expensive, about $2500 dollars.”
So it was worse.
“Look,” I said. “If I go into the house with these numbers my wife’s gonna come out here and kill you. She’s an accountant. She has a pencil and she knows how to use it. If I accept these numbers, she’ll kill both of us – dead.”
The diminutive Filipina looked up at the policeman, “Honest officer, I don’t know how these dead bodies got here. You see, we have a gap in the fence. Maybe the coyotes dragged them in.”
So now the negotiation began. He offered to absorb the disposal fees, which of course wouldn’t take a dime off the cost of the fence.
All the while he expanded on my new glorious fence. It brought on a sort of nostalgia. You know, back to those unforgettable days when a certain former president was lobbying for a fence of his own. My guy stopped short of promising that my new fence would keep out “rapists” and people “bringing drugs.” And I will give him credit, he didn’t promise me that Mexico would pay for the fence. Still it brought back those tender memories of bygone bullshittery and the feeling that I was being hornswoggled.
By now it had become a matter of sending him on his way but he wasn’t done. He got on the phone so that we could conference with a fellow back at the office. Ah, the closer.
The two tried to dicker with me on the cost of the disposal, as if $120.00 dollars per linear foot of a new fence was perfectly reasonable.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Just prepare your proposal and email it to me. I have more quotes coming, so I can’t give you a yes or no right now.”
The guy on the phone, the closer, asked the question that’s become a staple at the car dealership. “Well what were you planning on spending?”
“I don’t know. You’re the first quote. Just have Daniella email me a quote and I’ll go from there.”
I was trying to be a nice guy about it and just ease the estimator out the gate without siccing Cora on him. She’s MY closer.
In my mind I could see it as clearly as a blue sky beach day, Cora stomping her foot, and giving him a look that would whither old Satan himself . “Are you crazy? You’re a scammer? Do you think we’re stupid old people? You’re stupid.”
Don’t let the fact that she’s a diminutive grandmother of four fool you. She’ll knock Connor McGregor down to size if she thinks he’s trying to pick her pocket.
Thankfully I was able to usher him out without resorting to the nuclear option.
When I told a friend about the quote he suggested that we do the job ourselves. A fence building party. I demurred. I haven’t built a fence since I helped my dad back when I was in my teens. I didn’t feel like boning up on fence building when this would likely be my last ever fence.
I also know how those things work out. The guy with the tools or truck or whatever gear is absolutely essential almost always shows up two hours late. Then comes the planning phase during which there’s a debate about politics or which team will win the upcoming big game, interrupted by some occasional mention of the task at hand. Once the work has finally started and we’re about an hour in, someone suggests, “Let’s take a lunch break. I’ve got some beers in the cooler.” And thus the day and the project are lost.
In the end I found a guy who took the measurements in about five minutes with one of those laser gadgets. He didn’t invite me to sit down and talk. He just thanked me for the opportunity and told me he’d email me a quote later in the afternoon.
Before he left, I asked him how long the job would take.
“Two days max,” he said. “Depending on how the concrete sets we might get it done in one.”
Later that same day I got his quote for $5000.00 dollars, complete with disposal.
I never did receive a quote from Daniella.
A closing note: As I write this, a crew is outside putting up a new fence. They’re all Mexican (or from somewhere south of our border), and it brought to mind the constant whine that I hear from people off to my right about “foreigners” invading America and taking jobs from Americans. These “foreigners” build what needs to be built, plant and pick our crops and oftentimes are the sous chefs who prepare our nice meals. Well, without these “foreigners,” try to get a fence built, a new driveway poured. your yard groomed or even a meal at that high class restaurant that you go to when you want to splurge. Let me know how it works out for you.