The Ponce Chronicles (Part 5)

Friday Jan. 15: Paradise lost.  

This is the day when the sewer line to the septic tank backs up onto the tile floor of the downstairs rooms, which thankfully are unoccupied. Not good, not good at all. I beeline to Home Depot for a snake, and Heri—who has actually has just stopped by to talk about putting in some hours for us—steps in to do the actual work. He snakes a napkin out of the sewer line, and all seems well, and he handles the unpleasant cleanup with stoic efficiency.

Unfortunately, the next day, it happens all over again. Aughh! Call Frances! Our neighbor Frances is on it with a plumbing/septic tank company—not just any company, but the one that will come when Frances calls. Plumber on the way.

Shortly thereafter, the power goes out: Ricardo has gotten the city power company here to cut power to the property so that he can replace the main panel.

Work on main electrical box_sm

By about 10:30, uncomfortably aware that there may not be a working toilet for a couple of hours, I decide to run an errand to Home Depot, which besides many excellent products has working restrooms. Daughter Jayce comes with, and we do a bunch of shopping for supplies. (Q: Didn’t we do this yesterday? And the day before? A: Yes, we did.) Word comes on the phone that we should look for deck stain—exterior mahogany deck stain. Home Depot doesn’t have it. Decks are uncommon on the island, and almost nobody, we are told, carries the kind of stain we’re looking for. Exterior stain. Not interior. Exterior. This becomes a litany, and still people show us interior stain. (So how has the family been buying stain for the deck for the last forty years or so? Never mind. Don’t ask.) Thus begins a day-long hunt for stain in the greater Ponce area.

Guided by Steerie, the trusted voice of my phone’s GPS, we crisscross the city for the next several hours, looking for deck stain. Glidden? Nope. National Ferreteria (hardware)? Nope, but we get directions to Sherwin Williams.  Sherwin Williams? Closed.  Other Sherwin Williams? Nope, but we get helpful information that a store an hour and a half drive away might be able to help us.

Five hours after leaving for an errand/pit stop to Home Depot, we stagger back up the hill to the house, with sandwiches from Subway, but no deck stain. We find the plumbing back up and running, though. Yay! Turns out the tenant, “Veronica,” had flushed paper towels and sanitary napkins down the septic system, and the system rebelled. The electricians are still hard at work, installing the main box. Turns out the concrete pillar that holds the main panel drawing power from the street has been crumbling year by year under the vines that have grown around it. But the remaining concrete is so hard that Ricardo has melted the tips of three drill bits, drilling holes to mount the new panels. And by melted, I mean melted. He shows us one of the drill bits. Where before there was a cutting edge, now there is a blob.

Concrete pillar before_1_sm Melted drill bit_1_sm

Finally, after working a ten-hour day on our project (he thought it would take two), Ricardo restores power to the house. Applause! He’ll be back mañana to start tracing all the circuits on the property.

Estevan and Carlos, meanwhile, abruptly change their work plans to build a supporting envelope of concrete around the crumbling electric-supply pillar.

Now the electrical crew swarm the hillside, putting in new lighting on the hill itself and on the brick wall running down the side of the hill, past the swimming pool. It’s going to look great, we tell ourselves.

Pool nearly empty from roof of kitchen_1_sm

The pool continues to drain (seen from the kitchen roof).

While we’re up on top of the kitchen, let’s see a couple of other views, to give us hope that this is all worth it—the view down the hill, and across to the living area. Ah, that’s better!

View down the hill from roof of kitchen_sm

Living room from roof of kitchen_sm
(Coming in Part 6, seemingly small labors.)

(To read The Ponce Chronicles in order, start here.)


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