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Affluence Gives Way To Effluents

“I think we’re on the cusp of a plumbing disaster.”

The voice on the phone wasn’t FEMA (they wouldn’t have been in on the front end); nor was it the Corps of Engineers warning about imminent flooding in the Green River valley;  it was my son and anchor tenant, calling last Sunday morning from my new rental house

Turned out that sewage had backed up into the downstairs shower and was recalcitrant about leaving.  I went right over, and we used a plunger and discussed various middling measures involving Drano and a rented snake, but I knew that the real solution was going to involve more sweeping action.

That this was happening on the very day that our last tenant was moving in was particularly inauspicious; that it was happening on a Sunday seemed downright mean. Amid a small army of people moving enough stuff in that I wondered if our new tenant was downsizing from something the size of the Biltmore estate, I was dialing around unsuccessfully trying to find a plumber who worked on Sunday.  This was also the day I’d selected to bring everyone’s leases over to be signed.  My mention of a “plumbing surcharge” did not immediately elicit chuckles.

Finally, one of the three companies that had promised to get back to me called and said he’d be there within the hour.   Upfront, he said the weekend rate was $225 for the first hour,  $185 for each hour thereafter.  I was thinking that we were in for 4 hours at a minimum, and I was indeed regretting that I hadn’t squeezed every last dollar out of the monthly rents.

Our savior arrived as promised.  We located the main cleanout to the side sewer (since we’d only owned the place for a month, I only had a vague idea where it was), and he went to work, lowering an infrared camera into the murk to try to disclose the problem.  As I had suspected, the culprit was roots pushing into the seams between pipe segments in the side sewer.  I helped our guy heave a 300-lb piece of equipment down the narrow stairs, and he started hacking his way  through the side sewer towards the street.

Upstairs, meanwhile, the moving party had finished unloading the several vehicles they’d arrived in, and begun to actually party, procuring beer and pizza.  This, as it turns out, is a circumstance that is inherently incompatible with plumbing that cannot be used.

Happily, our friend finished his task in an hour and a half, and left me with a thrilling VHS tape of a trip down my side sewer and a bill for $350.  I felt fortunate, both for the size of the bill and that the facilities became operational just as the revelers were reaching their various capacities.  It shot the day, but it gave me an opportunity to show that I was going to be a responsive landlord.

Morning in Port Townsend

click to enlarge

Totally Rocks!

Our kid has a cameo in an article about climbing at Index, WA in the October issue of Climbing Magazine.  He gets his abs from his mom.  But not the chest hair, so much:

Teaser Elucidated

So the “other” bit of personal business that I mentioned in my previous post is, we bought a rental house.  I’d been thinking about it ever since house prices started to decline, thinking that we’re due for some heavy inflation, and rising interest rates, and the stock market looked like a particularly hostile environment for any extra cash.

I’d been looking at listings online, but hadn’t really started pounding the pavement going to open houses, etc.  Then this property a couple of blocks from our house came on the market, and everything just sort of fell into place.  The price was a little higher than the range I’d been considering, but it was a good value, and I was feeling that the market was starting to bottom out.

The weird thing is, a friend of ours used to own this place back in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and we’ve been there for many social occasions.  It was really weird to walk through the place after some 25+ years.  Our friend was single when he lived there and, while not a wild & crazy wastrel, was still a single man in the 7os.  So, since I just finished The Widows of Eastwick, and was reminded of their ringleader in The Witches of Eastwick, Darryl Van Horne, we’ve been telling ourselves that we’ve purchased the Van Horne mansion.

It’s been an interesting and educational experience.  I’ve never before been through the whole real estate purchase cycle: offer, counter, accept, financing, inspection, contingencies, closing, escrow.  We bought our residence from our landlady in 1975 on a land contract.  Meaning, we didn’t deal with realtors, lenders, appraisers, etc.  We just kept paying our landlady every month, only it was principal & interest, not rent.

One of the highlights was having the Van Horne mansion inspected.  The inspector was a woman recommended by a realtor friend of ours, and turned out to be something of a character.  She was real energetic and talked to herself as much as she talked to us.  A refrain she repeated several times as she moved about the place was “I’m a raindrop.  I’m a raindrop.  Where am I going?” to figure out if we’d have flooding problems.  (It’s only rained a couple of times since we made our offer, so the jury’s still out on how the place handles water).

You expect a cold shower from a real estate inspection, but there weren’t that many deficiencies that our inspector called out.  A few things need to be fixed, but nothing that needs to be done before tenants move in.  We couldn’t really get our seller to fund anything, because he had received several offers higher than ours, so we’ll chip away at these things as we are able.

Also, the financing was a little bit of an adventure, since I’m self-employed.  Well, I’m an employee, but of a corporation that I own.  So, I had to educate the lending underwriters about how I couldn’t really say I earned $xx per month, because I only write myself a paycheck when I collect my receivables.  And that it’s actually safer to lend to me, because a client can fire me and I still have multiple sources of income, where if an employee’s employer fires him, he’s got bupkis.

So part of this process is a little social engineering.  Our son will be our anchor tenant, meaning that he no longer resides in our house.  This was another little angle - he was going to move out and rent somewhere this fall anyway.  Since I was considering a rental investment, why should he be paying rent to someone else?  Plus, we’ll now have an extra bedroom here.  And it gives me an opportunity to collaborate with him on any projects there, which resonates with me on many levels.

It’s a bit of a culture shock for us, since we’ve never really had a mortgage payment in our lives besides our 70s-era payments to our old landlady.  Rental cash flow will cover most of the payment, but it’s still gonna feel weird, opening my Quicken and seeing that lozenge of debt sitting there.

Oddly, as we’ve been over tweaking things, I’ve felt a couple times that I might like that place better than our current residence, that maybe we should move there and rent or sell our current residence.  Hafta see how it plays out.

Mac-ed, Finally

Quickly, for a busy Monday…

I found a solid citizen on Craigslist selling a Macbook, and I bought it last Wednesday. Required a couple more Benjamins than the first guy, but this one had his receipt, a licensed copy of Windows Vista, the Mac OS disks, etc, and two years left on the Applecare warranty.  Needless to say, I’ve spent too many hours over the ensuing days porting programs & data over to the Macbook.

I got rid of the previous guy’s Windows partition and bought VMWare Fusion in order to create a Windows virtual machine and have the entire hard disk available to either operating system, rather than arbitrarily allocating the disk.  The home run was supposed to be this gambit where I could create an image of my entire Windows XP installation from my Dell, copy it back to the Mac and run it under VMWare.  Yes, that would have brought with it all the junk that has accumulated in my old installation, but it also would have obviated the grinding task of re-installing all my Windows programs.

Alas, that wasn’t to be.  Turns out that the XP license on the Dell can only be activated on the Dell.  I actually own an XP license that I bought at retail that’s not being used, but the onscreen activation wouldn’t accept it, and calling Microsoft for help got me nowhere (although it was an interesting update on the state of outsourced software support).

I took a run at iPhoto, since my Photoshop installation file from 2004 died in the sands of a hard disk 2 laptops back, and I’d have to purchase it again.  I think it might be ok, but damned if I can figure out how to do the simplest things that were second nature in Photoshop.  Might have to bite the bullet and buy it.

Momentous as the laptop purchase was, it was by no means the biggest bit of personal business I transacted last Wednesday.  More on that as events progress.

Tell you what, though.  The two-finger scrolling on the Mac trackpad is worth the purchase price in itself.

Macus Interruptus

So I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for the last several days, its screen blank and its portability hampered by having to be tethered to a separate monitor, a monitor that does not fit in my off-to-work backpack.  Time now seems to be short, and if my laptop presents me with a living will, I’ll be duty-bound to unplug the monitor.

I went back to pricing a new Dell, as well as a new Macbook Pro.  The Dell will take about 10 days to get here from whenever I order it; the new Macbook is still hella expensive.  Then I remembered Craigslist, and its intoxicating capability to provide instant gratification, which alacrity seems prudent rather than rash in this case.  And there they were, several Macbooks in the price range of the new Dell.

I made an appointment with one of the sellers, and went to the bank to disgorge a chunk of currency to close the deal.  My wallet sort of looked at me in amazement, having never seen even one Benjamin (I don’t think), let alone a whole football team of them.

I arrived at the house to find an engaging young man who’d just moved here to take a job at Microsoft; they’d given him a laptop, surplusing his Macbook.  I posited that he probably couldn’t bring it on Campus anyway, but he assured me that there was plenty of Apple hardware socketed into the Borg.

He had “wiped” his Macbook when he moved (he said his previous employer had given it to him; I chose to believe him) and reinstalled the operating system, so there was no software to demo except for internet browsing.  But I was once again smitten with the Macbook, even this 2008 model.  I was about to release my Benjamins and scurry into the night with my prize when the kid volunteered to install a program so he could play part of a movie, just to demonstrate the speakers.

As the program installed, it asked his username and password.  And here came the glitch.  You know how we all have those one or two passwords that open the vault to almost everything we brush up against on the internet? He had decided NOT  to use one of those passwords when he “wiped” his Macbook.  And there was no way he was going to remember the one he used, struggle as he might.

We’ve all done this, whether it’s because a site’s “strong” password requirements precluded the use of our favorite, or because a pesky server requires a password change every quarter or so.  But I harbored a wee bit of schadenfreude upon seeing a 20-something with all his brain cells similarly come up blank.

So, I returned home empty-handed.  Except for those Benjamins.  I passed on the opportunity to return today, as the kid had found some cd’s and reinstalled the OS.  I’m still looking, but I think I want to have a little clearer idea of who actually owns the machine.

Caloric Caviling

You’re probably in no mood to hear another Seattleite whine about how hot it is here.  So, I won’t whine.  I might describe plaintively, but no whining.   We are having a spate of high, and perhaps unprecedented, temperatures, and I know we sound like weenies when we complain about high 80s/low 90s temps.  I came here from Ohio, and I know what it’s like to be nailed down by heat, plus humidity that makes a sauna seem like a grocery store’s walk-in cooler.

I think what sets us off is that, just as when we get snow in the winter and the city comes to a grinding halt because we have no removal equipment, we have no generally dispersed infrastructure to deal with heat.  Sure, office buildings are air-conditioned, some to a point that you start to shiver if you’re not wearing a 3-piece suit.  That’s because, in our mild climate, the primary task of skyscraper HVAC systems here, even in the dead of winter, is to cool, not to heat.

But that doesn’t mean that our personal living apparatus is so equipped.  We’ve seldom felt the need, for instance, to consider air conditioning for our house.  It stays marvelously cool for most of the day, only heating up in the mid-afternoon when the westering sun hits the overabundance of glass that we have on that side.  And my car (a 1995 Honda) has been without functioning air conditioning for about a decade.  There’s a leak somewhere in the system, and it just doesn’t seem worth $1,500 to find it, repair it and recharge with ozone-eating Freon only to shun its use for 95% of the year.

So, today, I hit the trifecta, or maybe the 4-horse accumulator:

  • My first stop was the dentist.  Air conditioning: check; welcoming environment that entices you to linger: not so much.
  • Next stop: a client in a manufacturing warehouse that becomes an inferno the moment that rosy-fingered dawn caresses its fiberglass roof.  But I’m the controller, and no way would I recommend air conditioning this porous box.  (Somehow, they snuck heating apparatus in there last winter).
  • Next, I hop in my non-airconditioned car and pray that 520 is only mildly afflicted.  It is, but I irrationally fret that, at 4:20, I should be able to cruise-control at 70 all the way home.
  • Finally, I attend a board meeting of a non-profit kayaker-advocacy group.  Because it’s truly non-profit, and not the faux non-profit of hospitals and country clubs, their office is in a non-airconditioned building, afflicted with the same west-facing orientation as our house.  We sweat through sincere but distracted proceedings, and begrudge Robert his meeting-lengthening Rules.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid in northwest Ohio, but we did have a huge attic fan that pulled air in Herculean draughts through all of the house’s orifices and pushed it into the attic, where the Devil could reclaim it if he wasn’t being attended by demon medics for heat exhaustion.  When we remodeled our house here in  Seattle in 1981, I purchased a similar fan and installed it at the head of the stairs, thinking that, if it worked in the sweltering midwest, it would certainly suffice for our moderate climes.  Then, a perspicacious insulating subcontractor pointed out that my attic, with only circular birdblocks for vents instead of the capacious gable vents of my dad’s house, would not be able to handle the exhaust, Devil or no.  So, I removed it, and we’ve relied on benevolent clouds and marine air to temper our summer sun.

I’m looking through my rolodex, and have selected a client for tomorrow’s endeavors that I’m almost sure has air conditioning.  I may have to screw up something around 4:30, so I can stay after dusk to fix it.

I think all that was just this side of the Whining Wall.  Sue me.

Up For Air

Clouds as my plane approached Minneapolis last night (click to enlarge):

Home after a week in Milwaukee, working and sleeping in hotels.  I had packed my electric drill but, sadly, Erin Andrews was definitely not in either room next to me.  In fact, I believe that my hotel in Milwaukee is a ghetto for old white-guy road warriors.  I’ll spare you the video.

I did get out on my bike while I was there, as well as a couple of workouts at the nearby gym.  The weather was surprisingly temperate, actually about 10 degrees cooler than Seattle.

I haven’t posted it here (I have to keep telling myself that Facebook is not blogging), but I went with a group last Saturday to kayak in and around Deception Pass, at the north end of Whidbey Island.  It’s a narrow passage between two land masses, and builds a rousing current at each flood and ebb.  When the wind is blowing against the current, the result is standing waves that are sort of like riding a bronco.  We surfed the waves, and had some fun crossing eddylines.

A friend who decided not to paddle into the pass took my camera up on the bridge above the pass, and got some nice shots, including a series of me being rescued (I can’t yet to an eskimo roll) after a wave kicked my ass:

Here’s the GPS tale of the trip.  It’s amusing to click the forward arrow at the top and watch the marker trace our route, especially in the pass as I go around in circles.

In other news, the screen on my laptop has been experiencing blackouts.  I’d been thinking it was time for a new laptop anyway, and it might have picked up the vibes of betrayal.  When it first blacked out, I specked out a new Dell Inspiron 15, and was almost ready to type my credit card number when a guy I was working with that day said, “Whoa, read these reviews first!”  It was typical malcontent user-review fodder, but enough to make me wait a bit.

Then the guy suggested I look at a Macbook.  I’ve never considered Macs, simply because all the consulting work I do is with Windows software, but I was intrigued that it seemed, as I read about the Macbook, that the recent Macs can run Windows sessions pretty seamlessly.

So I went to the Apple Store to see one.  Even in jeans and Keens, I was the un-hippest person in the store.  I shook it off and allowed one of the swarm of eager salesfolk to give me the tour.  Reader, I was completely smitten.  Once I convinced the salesperson that I knew a little bit about computers, he passed me on to (God, and they do this with straight faces) one of the Genius Bar people.  This guy was able to show me the VMWare add-on that runs Windows in a concurrent session with the Mac OS, and I made it do a bunch of stuff.

In the meantime, of course, my laptop screen has been working, at least most of the time.  I have a quote in hand from The Genius, about $1k more than I was going to spend for the Dell, and my mouse finger is gettin’  itchy.  One more deep breath, and I’ll order one or the other sometime this weekend.

Stolen Afternoon

Quickly, since I’m at Seatac waiting for a flight to Minneapolis, and thence to Milwaukee:

I played some hooky on Thursday afternoon and did a kayak adventure, launching in West Seattle and paddling about 12 miles, as the drunken sailor lurches, on a gorgeous Seattle summer afternoon. Here’s the GPS story..  The cool thing about that link is that you can click the forward arrow and the little ballooney icon will trace my peregrinations.

Also, some photos, just to emphasize that the weather was fantastic, and it was worth sacrificing some chargeable hours to go out and bob around:

More as I switch to Road Warrior mode.

The Deadliest Catch - Landlubber Edition

I’m sure every neighborhood sports these heart-rending Lost Pet signs, and you always wonder how many of them actually find their way back to their owners. I mean, once someone’s had the time to find and scan a photograph, print signs and staple them to the poles, it’s probably been a couple of days since the absence was discovered.

But I really wonder how many neighborhoods can say they’ve seen polebound pleas for the return of a pet shellfish? I’m suspecting this dude made his clicky-clack escape the moment he saw the lighted grill on the Fourth.  Knocked over the saucepan of drawn butter just for spite, then made the dive for the sewer grate.

Well, that’s only one of the singular sights we took in on our short jaunt down to Green Lake and back.  We soon came upon this tableau:

Then we encountered this fellow, who was also watching the quintet with more than a little curiosity:

We’ve seen him walking around the lake for at least 20 years, adorned in his “Spanish Lessons” pullover, usually walking along with someone and conversing, presumably en espanol. Neither of us had ever spoken with him (up until the last couple of years, we were usually running at the lake, not strolling as we do now), so tonight was a first. He asked me how the brass instruments made their sound, and I pressed my lips together and made my trumpet-player’s buzz. Wish I’d taken the time to speak at more length - I’m curious to know if he charges for his Spanish Lessons, or simply does it to further the multilingual cause. It’ll probably take me another 20 years to speak to him again.

And, to end the evening, a nice sunset shot as we headed up the hill to home: