No details here. I don’t want you to lose your lunch.
Suffice it to say I had a major plumbing job to do last week. And it was probably - no, definitely - the ugliest thing I’ve ever done, and the words “up to my elbows” could be used in a completely literal way. Everyone got it?
But there is one part I want to tell you because it tells so much about life on St. Croix.
We’ve actually had this problem three times in the past four months. There’s something wrong with the drain pipe. We’re not on a septic system, we’re on sewer. The landlady’s brother - who manages the property, came out to show me. But when he walked out on the street, he got this puzzled look on his face.
“Where’s the manhole?” he asked. “It was right here.”
The road was remarkably smooth for one of the roads out here, and nowhere was there any sign of a manhole cover up or down the street.
The guy who’d snaked the drain out the last time said before anything else, I really should contact Waste Management (VIWMA – The Virgin islands Waste Management Authority) and have them check the sewer line. So they came out with a truck. And they couldn’t find it either. In fact, they had no recollection of there ever having been a sewer line down the street. So they went back out to the WMA office to check, then came back. Sure enough, the charts at the office confirmed that there was indeed a sewer line here.
The Waste Management guy got a disgusted look on his face. “It’s Public Works,” he said. “They do this all the time.”
Roads are under the control of the Department of Public Works. Sewers are handled by VIWMA. And they pay absolutely no attention to each other.
So when Public Works, some time in the past, came down to resurface the street, they didn’t go to the trouble of framing the manholes and working around them. They just paved right over ‘em!
The Waste Management guy shook his head and explained that when they do sewer work, they almost always have to start with a metal detector. That lets them find the cast iron manhole covers, which they then have to dig up, punching holes in the pavement.
That’s a hell of a way to run a railroad, as the saying used to go.
One thing I would caution any newcomer to the island against is making any kind of suggestions about better ways to do something. People here do NOT want to hear, “Boy, back in New York we do it this way.” (It’s particularly New Yorkers, I’m told. The locals are not fond of New Yorkers.) “Ya know what you ought to do is …” "The way we do it back in the states is ..." The locals don’t like it so much, even if they’ve just finished telling you how stupid the situation is. It’s their Public Works Department, and they can berate it, but a continental should just keep his mouth shut.
So I do. I commiserated with the guy, but didn’t suggest that back in Oregon the street pavers don’t typically cover the manholes. I didn’t need to anyway. The sewer worker had that covered, as was his right by virtue of having lived here all his life.
And it worked to my advantage. I was obviously a nice, respectful guy, and they’d brought their truck with the pump on it anyway. So after I’d explained the situation they ran out the hose with the water jet and ran it through my drain pipe in both directions. (And the drain system of this house, by the way, is just the stupidest set up you’ve ever seen, but I won’t go into that.) And in hardly any time at all, it was all clear. It hadn’t been their job, it was actually probably wrong of them to do it since it was on private property. But I have no complaints. They were nice guys and took care of the problem for me.
I’m sure the problem will recur, and I’ll know what to do about it. It’ll be ugly again, but I can handle it. I just hope they never need to get into the actual sewer line. That could get ugly.