Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Meeting - and saying goodbye to - Mr. Rooter

Regular readers will know that over the years I've used the blog a number of times to point out remarkable customer service, whether it came from Sprint, Northwest Airlines or whomever. This, however, is NOT one of those stories.

In front of our house sits a beautiful dogwood tree that is at least 40 feet high and spreads wonderful, cooling shade in the summer over the entire house. The downside of this great tree is that it has a deep, complex root structure that sometimes causes problems with my plumbing.

The problem first reared its head about five years ago, on the same weekend that my daughter Erin was getting married. We woke up to a basement floor that was flooded with some really yucky, smelly backed-up water just a day before a number of guests and family would be at the house. A quick call to a plumbing acquaintance brought some help, and was quite instructive. He ran a camera down the offending drain and showed me how roots from the tree had worked their way through the underground pipe that runs from the house to the street, and he then used something called a power scrubber to blow away the roots and open the drain. He also explained that this was only a temporary solution, and that over the years, the roots would grow back and eventually cause the same problem.

Fast forward five years, to a couple of weeks ago, when the drain began to back up onto the basement floor again.

Luckily - or at least we thought it was lucky - we had just received a postcard in the mail from an outfit called "Mr. Rooter." It had a local phone number, as well as a coupon that promised $51 off of "any plumbing service." So we decided to give them a call.

Within a few hours a fellow from Mr. Rooter arrived. I explained the root history problem and he said that for about $350, he could run a cutting blade down the drain that would cut away some of the roots and get the water flowing again. It wouldn't be a permanent solution, he explained, and said that eventually the pipe would need "hydro scrubbing" again. Which I understood, and acknowledged that we would have to have that done later, perhaps this summer.

So he went to work, and within a few minutes he said there was a problem. On the basement floor there is a metal cap that needs to be opened in order to access the drain, and he said he was unable to open that cap because it had become "fused" to the floor. Instead, he would have to take out the downstairs toilet and access the drain pipe through there, and it was going to be another $145 or so. Again, I said "fine" and left him to work.

A couple hours later he finished. It was, he explained, a difficult job because the roots were getting thicker, and the hydro scrubbing should definitely come sooner, rather than later. For the time being, however, he said the drain was "50 percent clear" and would at least get our daily plumbing functioning normally again. I was happy with the service, and we sat down at the kitchen table to settle up the bill.

Except there was no bill to show me, because the Mr. Rooter guy keeps track of everything on a little tablet computer, and without a printer, there was no paperwork. But he said the total came to $512, and that didn't seem horribly out of line and I was okay with that. As I took out my checkbook I showed him the coupon THAT HIS COMPANY HAD SENT TO US and said, "Well, this will take a little bite out of it."

No, he explained, that coupon wasn't valid because "that's only for plumbing." I sort of half-chuckled at the notion that taking out a toilet, cleaning a drain and re-installing the toilet wasn't "plumbing," (What WAS it? Carpentry? Masonry?) but I said okay and started to write the check.

He then said that there WAS an internet coupon that would let him take $20 off the bill. That mollified me a little, and so I wrote a check for $492 and some change. He couldn't give me a receipt, however, because all his "paperwork" was on the tablet, but he offered to email me a copy of the bill later. Again, I was fine with that.

Later that night the email arrived, and I opened the attachment to look at the bill.What jumped out at me was the first item on the bill, which was a $15 "fuel surcharge."

I'm familiar, of course, with fuel surcharges. UPS, which I use to ship a lot of items, will tack on a fuel surcharge when gas prices get up in the $4.00 range. The airlines, and some trucking companies, use similar charges, and I'm okay with that during times of high fuel prices.

But on the day in question, gas here in the Red Wing area was $1.89 a gallon. Not exactly sky-high prices. And Mr. Rooter had come from Zumbrota, a town about 20 miles away, meaning that even if his truck got a measly 10 miles per gallon, the round trip had cost less than $8.00 in fuel, which makes a $15 "surcharge" seem a little shady. So now, in my mind, there were two little "strikes" against my Mr. Rooter experience - the failure to honor their own coupon, and a fuel surcharge.

Strike three arrived two days later, when the basement floor was once again flooded from the same backed-up drain. Now I was out $492 - including the "fuel surcharge" - and I still had sewage in my basement. Once again, the call went out to Mr. Rooter, and my expectation was to hear something like, "Oh, we're sorry, we'll get right out there and fix it."

That's not what I got.

What I got instead was a promise that the NEXT day, Mr. Rooter might be able to get someone out there in the afternoon, and a warning that in the meantime I should be careful not to run the dishwasher, washing machine, or take a shower.

On the scheduled afternoon, I had to be at a client's office in St. Paul, but Penny was home with her day-care kids and I asked the Mr. Rooter scheduler if she could have the plumber call me when he arrived at the house so I could discuss what we were going to do. And shortly after noon he did call to say he was parked in front of the house. He also said that he had brought along his "hydro scrubbing" machine and was ready to clean out the drain. I asked for a ballpark estimate on the cost, so that I could have Penny ready to write a check. He said it would be "$611 for the first two hours, and maybe about $800 if it takes me longer."

Again, I wasn't terribly upset by the number, but I did ask if I was going to get some sort of allowance for the $492 I had just paid him for work that only left me with a still-clogged drain. That's when he started to get belligerent.

"No," he said. "I told you it needed hydro scrubbing and that you had a real root problem. This is a $50,000 machine, and it costs money to run it and that's the price."

I told him that - as someone who own and runs a business - I completely understood the cost, but I also understood that I felt an obligation to stand behind my work, and I would have a hard time charging one of my clients if my work had been unsatisfactory. Shouldn't a "50% clean" drain stay clear for more than 48 hours? 

"I never said it was 50% clear," he said, in what was a bald-faced lie. "I said right on the write-up that it needed hydro scrubbing."

Of course, if there even was such a "write-up," I never saw it. The only paperwork I had gotten was an invoice with a fuel surcharge on it.

At that point, his attitude and demeanor had gotten so hostile that I decided I didn't want him in the house with Penny and her day-care kids, especially when I wasn't around, so I told him "never mind, thanks for coming out and good bye."

Later that afternoon I called an acquaintance of mine that owns a plumbing company in Red Wing to ask his advice. I hadn't called him originally because I was under the impression that they only did commercial and construction plumbing. Turns out I was wrong, and that they do residential work as well. "We'll come out and power scrub it for you," he said. "It will probably be about $400 and it will get you by a few more years before you have to do something about the pipe."

A couple of his guys showed up the next morning - removed the floor cap that Mr. Rooter guy said was "fused" to the floor - and blew the roots out of my pipe. It was quick, clean and simple, and hundreds cheaper than what Mr. Rooter wanted to charge.  Most importantly, it actually worked, and the drain is flowing free again.

I asked my friend about how I should address the long-term problem of the pipe and the tree roots. Mr. Rooter guy had said they could install a liner in the pipe that would keep the roots out, but that they would need 2-3 days, and it would cost between $4,000 and $6,000. My friend just chuckled.

"We do a lot of jobs where we have to take care of problems from those liners. We'll come out and dig up the old pipe, put a new one in and your problem will be solved forever," he said. "It will take us an afternoon, and I would guess about $3,000."

So I guess this summer or next, we'll have that done, but in the meantime I'm out $492 for a plumbing call that solved nothing. I guess conciliation court is my only option, but of course that means giving up a day to file papers, then go back for court, trying to collect, etc. I'll see if it fits in the schedule, or else I may have to just chalk it up as tuition in the school of "Don't ever call Mr. Rooter." Consider yourself warned.

Friday, August 22, 2014

No Time for Hamas

As I age, I tend to see fewer issues in black-and-white terms, and instead see more shades of grey. Maybe that means I'm getting squishy, or maybe it means I'm maturing. I guess I'm not sure.

One area in which I have NOT gone soft, however, is Israel. As many of you know, I was privileged to serve as Press Secretary to Sen. Rudy Boschwitz for a number of years, and while I learned much from Rudy, probably the most important thing I took away from my time with him was the absolute moral imperative of supporting Israel.

So when a local idiot named Bill Habedank wrote a letter to the local paper a couple weeks ago calling Israel's war of self-defense a "genocide," I snapped. The result of my snapping is the letter below, which ran in the Red Wing Republican Eagle on August 13.

Red Wing Republican Eagle
Aug. 13, 2014

I have never seen as much bigotry and ignorance stuffed into one letter as that of Bill Habedank on Aug. 5.

To compare the courageous, embattled people of Israel to genocidal Nazis is not only profoundly ignorant, but it is also deeply disrespectful to the memory of the more than six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany. That Holocaust is the main reason the state of Israel was established by the United Nations in 1948.

In the current conflict, Habedank is apparently rooting for the Palestinians and their leadership in the form of Hamas. Hamas, of course, is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, and the Hamas charter calls for the “eradication” of Jews and the nation of Israel. Apparently Habedank agrees with that sentiment.

Hamas, like most bands of terrorists, is guilty of numerous war crimes, including:

-      --  Hiding rockets, armaments and its own leadership among civilian populations;

-      -- Firing rockets at civilian airports

-      -- Using women and children as human shields

-      --  Fighting without uniforms, disguising themselves as civilians who conducting terror operations

In the past few years, Hamas has taken the billions in aid given to them and, rather than build homes, schools, hospitals or mosques, they have used the money to build tunnels into Israel to be used to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians. At the same time, they’ve fired thousands of rockets into Israel – all aimed at civilian populations – firing the rockets from next to schools, hospitals and other civilian structures, thereby endangering their own people.

Habedank decries “mass murder” in the Middle East, but the only ones attempting mass murder are the Hamas terrorists, whose stated aim is to “wipe Israel off the map.” Habedank certainly has the right to speak his mind, but civilized people in a wonderful community like Red Wing should be embarrassed that his type of anti-Semitism and bigotry are on display among us.

Tim Droogsma

Red Wing, MN

Monday, October 7, 2013

Are we overheating, or are we freezing? I guess we're not sure.

Last week the singer/scientist/genius Bob Geldof announced that because of - of course, global warming - all of mankind was going to be dead by 2030, just 17 years from now. 

If true, of course, it would make it much easier to plan for my retirement, but I'm just not quite willing to take old Bobby's word for it. I've been able to live long enough to see environmental predictions come and go, and to realize that most of them - including those from Al Gore and the rest of the faith-based "climate change" community - are absolute hokum. To remind you of how useful "settled science" can be, here - courtesy of the Watts Up With That? blog - are some predictions from Earth Day, 1970. Lots of keen foresight here. Enjoy.

“We have about five more years at the outside to do something.”
• Kenneth Watt, ecologist

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
• George Wald, Harvard Biologist

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
• Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
• Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
• Life Magazine, January 1970

“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
• Sen. Gaylord Nelson

And my personal favorite:

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Democrats hate you and want you to die

It was a big week for the forces of "tolerance" and "diversity" on the political left.

First comes the story of the Communications Chair of the Democratic Party in Sacramento, California. Allan Brauer feels really, really strongly about Obamacare. So strongly, in fact, that his wish for those who oppose Obamacare is that their "children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases." Sounds like a nice guy, eh? Read the entire sorry story here.

Meanwhile, at the University of Kansas, Journalism professor David Guth feels really, really strongly about gun control. So strongly, in fact, that after the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, his wish for those who support the Second Amendment is that "Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” You can read his story here, and his reward from KU is a paid vacation.

Good thing they're the party of "compassion."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hypocrite alert!

Sorry about the blogging blackout...vacation, work, school (I'm a student again...will tell the story later), State Fair and a son who broke his heel and needed surgery have all slowed me down.

The most comical event of the recent past is watching the President fumble, bumble and stumble his way around on Syria. One minute we have to attack quickly, then it doesn't matter if we wait a month and today's position seems to be that, hey, maybe we don't even need to do anything. It's all just a reminder that this guy is in so far over his head that he can hardly catch a breath. Serves us right for making a diversity hire in the nation's top job.

Almost as fun is listening to the deafening silence from the celebrities who trampled each other rushing to get to a microphone to denounce George Bush as an immoral warmonger, but who now have clammed up when their boy wants to start throwing Cruise missiles around. Click here for a nice gallery.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Someone with a worse job than yours

This would be the latest in the irregular series of "Videos that fascinate me for no obvious reason." The gentlemen in question  is named Pravit Suebmee, a 27-year-old from Thailand who makes his living as part of an alligator show. I'm gotten close to a few 'gators (and by "close" I mean maybe 30 feet away) on my annual Myrtle Beach golf trips, and there's nothing I could think of that would ever make me want to do what Pravit does in this video. I'm imagining the job interview went something like this:

Interviewer: So, you'd like to work with alligators, huh?
Pravit: Yes, they're magnificent animals, and I have a degree in Animal Science from UT-Bangkok.
I: So, we need someone who can clean their habitat area, make sure the 'gator is fed every day and lead them around a couple times a day for the tourists. Can you do that?
P: Certainly. Sounds like an ideal job.
I: One more thing. Twice a day we'd like you to get down on all fours and put your head in the gator's mouth.
P: Okay....Um, wait, what?
I: You know, just stick you head in the gator's mouth.
P:Why would I do that?
I: Well, the tourists seem to like it, and it makes for a great picture. Fun for everyone.
P: But these things have really powerful jaws, you know. Having them bite you is supposed to be like having a pick-up truck parked on top of you.
I: Yes, but it probably won't really bite you. You're not a bird, or fish or one of its natural enemies so it will probably just leave you alone. Probably.
P: I don't like the way you keep saying 'Probably.'
I: Well, nothing is totally foolproof, you know. 99.999 percent and all of that.
P: If you're absolutely sure it's safe...
I: Positive. So you'll take the job? Great, you can start Monday.
P: I forgot to ask...why is this job open? Did the last guy who had it get promoted or something?
I: Ummm....yeah, something like that.

Don't be alarmed; He was not seriously injured. I wonder if this is a Workman's Comp claim under Thailand law?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taking the race card out of the deck

One of the hallmarks of dictatorships through the ages (think Stalin's Russia or Mao's China or Castro's Cuba) is that citizens cannot rely on any sort of consistent legal system or code of conduct. What those in charge find acceptable one day is subject to change simply by the personal whim of Dear Leader.

Wearing, say, a red shirt might be considered illegal. So, in order to avoid the wrath of the authorities a person could spend years wearing only blue shirts. Then one day, those in power would decide blue shirts were illegal, and poor Boris/Jose/Chang would find himself hauled off to the gulag based on the whim of a dictator.

Even today in Cuba, people are frequently arrested on charges of being a "Pre-criminal danger to society," which might just mean the cop didn't like the look on your face, or it might mean your neighbor reported you for saying something bad about the government. The average case results in a four-year sentence in a Cuban prison, which is not to be confused with the relative country club conditions at Guantanamo.

One of the hallmarks of a free society is a legal system devoid of arbitrary, capricious power, whether that power is wielded by an all-powerful dictator or by an angry mob.

With the Not Guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case, America has taken an important step back from turning its legal system into a banana republic-like farce, and we can be hopeful that we are getting closer to the point where the "race card" is relegated to the ash heap of history.

To be clear: George Zimmerman should never have been made to stand trial, and would not have without the poisonous race-mongering of people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and the complicity of an equally immoral and incompetent media.

(The idea of Sharpton, a man with considerable amounts of blood on his hands - click here - crying for "justice" is particularly sickening. The man is a cancer on American society.)

A number of cities have seen "protests" over Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and it's hard not to consider those protesting as simply a group of stupid people who are either A) Ignorant of the law, B) Ignorant of the facts of this case or C) So driven by irrational racial animus that they don't care about the law or the facts. And all along the way they've been misled by unethical journalists who are always happy to invent black/white conflicts, even if there isn't a white person involved.

The facts we know in this case are:

- Zimmerman was acting in his role as a neighborhood watch captain in a neighborhood that had seen a high number of break-ins and other criminal activity

- Zimmerman spotted Martin moving through the neighborhood and called police

- Zimmerman and Martin ended up having a confrontation. Anyone who tells you that Zimmerman "stalked" or "hunted down" Martin, or claims that Zimmerman initiated the confrontation, is saying something that they have no way of knowing to be true. The only evidence presented was Zimmerman's claim that Martin attacked and "sucker punched" him to begin the altercation, and no evidence to the contrary was ever presented. Or exists.

- The altercation resulted - according to the only eyewitness - with Martin on top of Zimmerman, repeatedly bashing his head against a concrete sidewalk, resulting in head injuries and a broken nose for Zimmerman. At that point, fearing for his life, Zimmerman was able grab his gun and shoot Martin in what seems to be a classic case of legal self-defense.

After the shooting, the local authorities investigated and cleared Zimmerman of any wrongdoing, ruling that he acted in self-defense. Given the facts, it's hard to imagine they could have done anything else.

This sent the racial grievance machine into high gear. Sharpton, Jackson and the others - who don't seem to care one whit when dozens of young black men are regularly gunned down in Chicago, Detroit or Washington, D.C. - saw a chance to get their mugs on TV and stir the pot by decrying the killing of a black teenager by a white guy.

Except they didn't really have a white guy for a villain. They had another member of an "aggrieved minority," a Hispanic, and that was kind of inconvenient to the narrative. So the media helped them along with a new term, "White Hispanic," to describe Zimmerman.

(One of the wonderful ironies of the situation is that because they each have one white parent, Zimmerman is just as "white" as Barack Obama is. The media began saying Zimmerman "identifies himself as Hispanic." I look forward to the day the New York Times says that Obama is the first president who "identifies himself as black.")

So even though Zimmerman had been cleared by an investigation, and even though there was not one single witness who could say that Zimmerman had begun the altercation with Martin, political pressure from the White House and Justice Department led to the Florida Governor appointing a special prosecutor, who decided to overrule the local authorities, bypass the traditional Grand Jury route and press charges against Zimmerman.

This is where we began wandering into banana republic territory. An innocent man was brought to trial - even though he had already been cleared of wrongdoing - by simple political pressure. When they wrote the U.S. Constitution, the founding fathers were cognizant of the abuses that had taken place in Europe through the use of "Bills of Attainder," a method by which government would simply declare a person or group of people "illegal" and deny them their civil rights. That's why the U.S. Constitution - as well as the constitutions of all 50 states - specifically bans bills of attainder.

The Zimmerman prosecution came very close to that kind of abuse, and the remarkably unethical conduct of the prosecutors (click here to see what respected liberal Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz thinks of the prosecution tactics) left Zimmerman to defend himself against a moving target. First he was charged with murder. When the prosecutors realized they had no case, they asked to have a manslaughter charge considered, and amazingly the judge agreed. When they saw that case crumbling, they tried to add a "child abuse" charge, and even the judge that had been rolling over for them decided that was going a bridge too far.

And the complicit media - always on the lookout for "civil rights" violations - saw nothing wrong with an American citizen being dragged through a Kangaroo Court proceeding, based on political pressure from the White House and a corrupt Justice Department that even spent taxpayer money assisting anti-Zimmerman rallies. (Click here for details on that story, which the Washington Post and NBC News aren't anxious to tell you about.)

Recognizing that there was no evidence for a murder conviction, the media began cheerleading for a "compromise" verdict of manslaughter, as though "compromise" is a credible concept in a criminal trial. Imagine that you're driving down the highway at 55 MPH, and a cop mistakenly pulls you over and writes a ticket charging you with driving 75 MPH. Would you be satisfied if, when you contest the ticket, a judge said, "Let's just compromise on 65 MPH and have you pay that fine"? Would you consider that "justice?"

By the end of the trial, it was clear that despite all the bleatings of Sharpton and the media, there was no choice but to acquit George Zimmerman. The jury did its duty, and America backed away from the precipice of becoming a "nation of men, not of laws."

In the great 1990 movie Presumed Innocent, the judge dismisses the case against Harrison Ford's character by saying, "I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am that any of this has taken place. Not even the pleasure of seeing you free can make up for this, this disgrace to the cause of justice."

That seems a perfect epitaph for what happened to George Zimmerman, and one can only hope that Sharpton, Jackson and all the other race-baiters learn that the value of playing the race card has been dramatically diminished.