Day two of the driveway rebuild. A tale to be told mainly in pictures.
Here they work on the permeable concrete pavers near the garage:
The first of two layers of asphalt gets its start:
Loading up the paving machine for the straight run down the drive:
Starting the top layer:
Here’s the final result!
Tomorrow, I hope to put the fence and gate back up. They need to come back and tweak one thing. And then it will be done.
I learned from this project: a) that there are still people out there who do really good work; and b) that no matter how good they are, you still have to be there, checking every detail. Details have a way of getting lost in the dust cloud of construction. If I hadn’t been there looking in every couple of hours and asking for corrections, we would not have been nearly as happy. But we’re delighted with the final product!
While Mother Nature is tearing things down left and right, we’re doing our little bit to build things up. When we bought our fixer-upper, one of the items on our major house-projects list was to replace the cracked and shifting concrete driveway. Now, a mere 26 years later, we are having it done. The proximate cause was a desire to have Allysen’s mom be able to walk on it without risking her neck. But the guy who shovels the snow every year (me) was not above putting in that he wouldn’t mind having a smooth surface to scrape away at.
Many daunting tasks needed doing to prepare for this undertaking, but the hardest for me psychologically was taking down (even if temporarily) a big section of fence I just built and installed a year ago. Here’s how it looked before today.
The paving crew arrived at 7:30 this morning, which anyone who knows me knows is only a theoretical time of the day, as far as I’m concerned. We had to be not just awake enough to move the cars out of the driveway, but awake enough to discuss design details and make decisions. I wonder if they started this early when they built Rome in a day.
Here’s how things looked, soon after, as they tore up the old concrete:
And cut away the most cracked and crumbling part of the garage floor:
And installed the line of granite cobblestone that will edge the driveway:
And smoothed out the newly patched floor:
And laid out concrete pavers on the new patio-in-progress:
All that has happened today. And they’re still out there working.
No idea what I last posted about our continuing building and renovation madness, and the thought of looking back makes me feel tired, so none of that. Look forward, always look forward. Do you see a fence? A backyard fence? Keep looking: It’s starting to come into focus.
This is what I’ve been building for the last month or two (surely it’s been longer): a little fence in the back yard to make a place for dog-in-law McDuff the Crime Dog to run around in. And since we’re going to all that trouble, we might as well make it big enough for Captain Jack, too, right? So he can turn our back yard into a moonscape, with his digging?
I told Allysen this would take a lot longer than we thought, and in that I was correct! For one thing, there was the little matter of putting together the arbor kit (some assembly required!) that I promised her fifteen years ago I would assemble for Mother’s Day. The arbor is part of one of the gateways for the fence, you see. A sort of portal into the backyard dimension. Well, I got that up—and I was never so glad that I’d bought a cordless nail-gun with a different project in mind. And as of today… there be a GATE!
Here it is, in all its newly built glory! And from outside the portal into the back yard:
The second gate is gonna be bigger. But that’s another story, still to be told.
Allysen’s mom is all moved into our downstairs apartment. That actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but we’ve been so busy working on things that didn’t get done that I haven’t gotten any of it written up. I know I sort of promised to tell all about it in the Arlington Chronicles, sequel to the famed Ponce Chronicles—but you know, I don’t think that’s going to happen. For weeks, we were flat out focused on getting the bathroom remodeled, the old five-layers-of-linoleum kitchen floor ripped up, the newly-exposed old hardwood floor (and all the rest of the apartment’s floor) refinished, old cabinets taken out or repainted, walls and ceilings painted, tripping hazards removed, electrical work done…jeez, just listing this stuff is giving me flashbacks. And here I had finally stopped dreaming about caulking and painting….
During the planning of the floor refinishing, Allysen asked the floor guys to redo the stairs going up to our second floor apartment. Which is great, but the polyurethane stuff reeks forever, and we used the back stairs for two weeks while it aired and hardened. Then, just as we were starting to use the stairs again, I realized that the floor guys had forgotten to recoat the risers and side panels. They came back to do that, and gave a third coat to the steps for good measure. Can’t breathe! Back stairs for two more weeks! But those steps are going to outlast us… as soon as we can start using them again.
You may be unsurprised to learn that I did not get a word of writing done during that month (six weeks?). I am now angling around the manuscript that was going so well in July, trying to size it up and decide if it’s really mine. It looks sort of like mine, but also sort of different, and I’m not sure anymore. But I think this is where I left it, so it probably is mine. I’ll work on it and see how it goes.
We’re still not done. Tomorrow the plumbers will be here, and the next day the electricians come to upgrade our service. Maybe if I cover my eyes, they won’t see me.
Anyway, Fay is all moved in now, and she likes it here. Three cheers and a frozen margarita!
My latest “spare time” project has been installing a rearview camera on my trusty Ford Ranger, a.k.a., the Landshark. When we were in Puerto Rico, our rental car had one, and we quickly came to wonder how we had gotten along without one all these years. The truck, especially with the cap over the back, has limited visibility when backing up, and I’m just grateful I’ve never backed over anyone, at least that I know of. On our return from PR, I did some research, and bought a kit with a camera for the back bumper, and a replacement rearview mirror that has an LCD screen hidden behind the mirror surface—a clever solution to the lack of any good place to put a screen on the dashboard.
The installation was, um, considerably more finicky than I had expected. And I’m used to doing things like patching new electronics into the fuse box, having already done that with a new stereo and subwoofer, a year or two ago. The lack of any instructions with the kit should have been a sign. But Crutchfield has a pretty good tech support department, and I muddled along, buying ancillary parts and tools along the way. I enlisted daughter Lexi to help with the splicing and soldering and wiring, and she got to crawl around under the truck, spitting out rust while stringing cable along the frame from the back of the truck to the cab. Hey, I’ve been there and done that stuff, and I didn’t need the experience! But that wasn’t the hardest part. No, the hardest part was aiming the little camera that came with no provision for adjusting the aim!
In the end, I got a camera that works, sort of, though not nearly as well as the factory-installed models. The little distance guidelines that you see in the view are weirdly and erratically inaccurate, for one thing. I called the manufacturer, and to their credit they are sending me a couple of alternate types of camera at no cost, so I can see if I can get better results from one of them. Stay tuned.
Here’s Lexi, helping me check the view in the camera. This is what you get when you hold a camera up to a rearview mirror, to take a picture of an LCD screen showing the image from a camera at the back of the truck, with the subject’s face about an inch from the camera lens. Don’t back up!
I do not sleep a wink on the plane from Ponce to Orlando. We land a half hour late in Orlando; our connection to Boston will be tight. Exiting the jetway, I ask the JetBlue agent where the flight to Boston is. She shrugs. “What gate is it at?” I try not to blow my stack like “Anger” in the movie Inside Out—while screaming inside, Why do you think I’m asking?— as she points to a monitor down to the left. We run to look. It’s at Gate 8. Where’s Gate 8? The opposite direction, of course. We sprint.
At the gate, boarding has completed. An agent with a clipboard says, “Carver and Palmer?” and waves us on. As we buckle in, I hear a couple of really loud clunks beneath us. Must be our leaden checked bags being hurled on by annoyed luggage handlers, I think. But nah, there’s no way our luggage will make this connection.
This flight from Orlando to Boston—oddly, given the number of flights cancelled because of the storm just two days ago—is not filled. We have room to stretch out a little, on opposite sides of the aisle. Doesn’t matter; I still can’t sleep.
The approach to Boston is unusually scenic. We fly right over Providence, and for the first time ever, I can pick out the campus of Brown University (my alma) below. Shortly after, we fly a lovely approach to Boston over the bay, circling to the north to line up for a southbound landing. It’s a perfect (but oversized) emulation of the standard general aviation traffic pattern, flying a downwind with a line of planes on final going by on the left, turning base above Beverly Airport, where Allysen (many years ago) took her first flying lesson with me in the back seat, and finally low and slow down the north shore to a perfect, if windy, landing at Logan. We are home.
Amazingly, our luggage is home, too. I can’t believe it when I see our two huge old suitcases on the carousel. Probably those loud clunks were our bags—tools and tree trunks and all—being thrown aboard.
Uber won’t connect on my phone, so we take a cab from a stand at the curb. Gazing at the snowy, gray, dreary, landscape, we can hardly believe we have just left the land of mosquitos and sunblock.
It will take several days before it feels real to be back in Boston (and to catch up on sleep).
We are amazed and grateful at what we accomplished in those two and a half weeks. If only we had been able to finish it all. But we didn’t, and so, soon, we are going to have to go back and do this all over again!
[And with that, we return you to Pushing a Snake Up a Hill, with its regular blog musings. To read The Ponce Chronicles straight through from beginning to end, here’s the complete adventure.]
The pace on our last day is no different. Freddie and Heri are hard at work. Ricardo has given his exhausted crew of electricians the day off, but comes by himself to do a walk-through review of the final items that need work after we’re gone. The plumbing team is back, attending to a list of plumbing needs. Most are fixed, but not all, when they finally leave at the end of the day.
Several of the crews worked on the basis of agreed-upon prices for their jobs, and we are keenly aware that their labors have gone well beyond the scope of the original estimates. (At home in Boston, I’m certain some of this work would have cost at least three or four times as much.) We have decided to compensate them with bonuses. When I hand Ricardo the extra cash for his crew, as Allysen explains in Spanish why, he first looks surprised, and then he struggles to fight back tears as he embraces both of us. He has had to go after people and businesses for payment before—he’s told us of the money the government owes him for work done a year ago—but this might be the first time anyone has voluntarily handed him more than the agreed upon amount. We’re glad to do it. They have done a great job, without a word of complaint about the unexpected difficulties.
Michael the tree guy comes by late in the afternoon to cut us some slices of mahogany tree trunk to take home as souvenirs. His chain saw should make short work of that. Braaaaa-a-a-p-p-p! Well, it takes longer for the first piece than he thought. But it’s mahogany, after all. What do you expect? Braaaaa-a-a-p-p-p! Second slice. Braaaaa-a-a—! Wait, why is the chain hanging limply off his chain saw? Have we just killed his saw? Michael trudges off unhappily to his car for parts. Eventually the noise starts up again. And in the end we have our four slices: one for Allysen’s mom, one for her brother, one for us, and a smaller one for me to keep in my office. Someday I’ll sand it down and finish it with oil or varnish. Michael, too, receives his bonus with surprise and gratitude. “If you need me again, just call!” he says to Allysen—not in English—as he leaves.
Finally, one last errand to Home Depot, and a trip back to the Plaza del Caribe, to return the car to Avis—somewhat the worse for wear from the streets of Ponce. We never did get to the roof-sealing job. We will leave that for Heri to work on.
For a blessed hour, we enjoy wine and cheese with our neighbors Frances and Che, above the once-more-sparkling pool. We say our good-byes, and then, in a weary frenzy, throw ourselves into packing and final cleanup. (How, exactly, do you pack several slices of mahogany tree trunk in your suitcase, anyway?) We only have until 1:30 a.m., when Freddie will pick us up and take us to the airport! Laundry to do. (What? The water’s gone off on the hill again??) Construction debris to clean up. Tools to pack for return to Boston. Sipping rum punch (Allysen’s dad’s recipe), we somehow manage—and tumble into the car for our late-night ride to Mercedita (Ponce) Airport.
This may not the most unwelcoming waiting room in the Western world, but it’s in the running. And as always, it’s packed. Flights to and from Puerto Rico are always packed. With so many people flying these routes, why can’t they fly them at civilized hours?
Onto the plane! They embark and disembark from both the nose and the tail of the aircraft. With seats closer to the tail, we get to haul our carry-ons up the outdoor stairs. I find myself remembering a line from a very funny song, Cheap Flights (“If you didn’t pay to take the stairs, you’ll have to feckin’ jump!) Settling into our seats, surrounded by masses of moving people, I suddenly realize I’ve left my winter coat in the waiting room! I fight my way back to the tail exit and tell the flight attendant. With a little twinkle, she says, “You’re the second one!” And she gets on the phone to ask someone to bring me my coat.
Finally, all buckled in, we rumble down the runway and off into the night.
This is the day we would have arrived back home, if not for the storm up north. The place is strangely quiet. It’s raining, and the mountains are wreathed in fog. The clean, freshly filled pool sparkles and dances with raindrops. It’s just Allysen and me. We were expecting Paul Bunyan the tree cutter at 10, but he may have decided it was pointless to come in the rain. (Or perhaps pointless to come for people who can’t get money out of an ATM without a Broadway show.)
We have discovered that the skylight over the new washer leaks in the rain.
On the other hand, I think how beautiful the place looked last night, with strategically arranged LED floodlights illuminating the trees and the steps and the pool, and things like a little old roof leak seem not so bad. Also, last night Allysen found the wall sconce lamps for the dining room that tenant Veronica had taken off the walls and buried in an old closet. They are back up, and add a very nice touch to the dining room.
Today will be something more like a day of rest, with cleaning and small repairs on the docket.
Heh. Day of rest? We continue shopping for needed parts. Our destination, National Ferreteria (National Hardware). My repeated attempts to get my GPS to recognize the word “ferreteria” finally end in searching on “ferret area,” which instantly becomes our new name for the hardware center. Bonanza! Jelly jar lights for the outside corners of the house! We have spent hours and hours searching for exactly these lights—including trying to buy them on Amazon, only to discover that nobody ships to Puerto Rico. Well, here at National Ferret Area, we find a large stack of them on an end display, for $7 each!
So far, so good. We end up back at the mall (dark now, still raining hard). While Allysen shops, I move the car to a better location. Oops. In the dark and the rain, I drive over something. A bag? Box? Plastic jug? Whatever it is, it’s now stuck but good under the car, scraping along the asphalt. I get out with my tiny pocket flashlight to peer under. Something is definitely wedged there. Only one way to get it out, and that’s to lie on my back in the downpour and inch under the car. Damn, it’s hard to reach; why do they make cars so low to the ground these days? I finally get a finger-hold and yank it free. It’s… no, not a box. It’s a glove compartment from a car. That’s right, someone has ripped the entire glove box out of a car and thrown it into the parking lot, probably just so I could drive over it. Who does that?
Sopping, I ooze back into the car, and call Allysen. “Can you come out soon?” She recognizes the sound of my voice, and hurries out.
Back home, we change into dry clothes and attend to small repairs. In the laundry area, I discover that the electricians forgot to hook the washer drain hose back up after installing the new electric circuits. Rain continues dripping from the ceiling onto anyone who dares stand in the laundry area. Think you’ll get clean and dry, do you? I get the various hoses reattached, get them to stop leaking, and shove the machine back into place. We’ve got wet clothes to wash, you know?
After dinner from the food court, I tackle the dishwasher. It has power now, but still doesn’t run properly. I’m going to check the water inlet filter, which I know from our own machine at home can clog and keep a dishwasher from filling. I turn off the water supply under the sink. I start to loosen the fitting—and get a spray of water in my face. Surprise! The shutoff valve doesn’t work! I am half soaked again. Actually, water is everywhere; the dining area is open to the elements on one side, which is open enough when water is blowing from the sky. The tile floor looks like a swimming pool. The pool itself is threatening to overflow.
With so little time left, I keep trying to fix things. I seem always to need a tool that’s in the other section of the house. Did I mention that the living and dining areas are separate, with an open deck between them, the better to commune with Nature? Well, Nature is pretty damn wet tonight.
The one thing I have going for me is my Tilley hat, the best hat in the known universe, bought for me by my daughters a few years ago. At least my head stays covered as I dash back and forth across the deck. Here’s me in my Tilley hat, in a drier time.
But you know what? I think I’ve fixed enough for tonight.
As I type this, my efforts are accompanied by Heri whanging on a stone chisel shaping a large brick (loud), Michael cutting up a fallen tree trunk with a chain saw (really loud), and the quiet gurgle behind me (when I can hear it) that reminds me that the pool is filling again. By the end of this workday, the electrical work is almost done.
We have a number of people we need to pay in cash, which is something we hadn’t quite thought through before coming. Somehow we had assumed we could write checks. But that’s not how the service economy works down here. This means daily trips to the ATM, to pull as much money out as permitted, and going online to move funds around from the sources that are funding this effort. The trips to the ATM are not enough. All these guys have been working like Trojans, and they all need the money now. It doesn’t help when I go downtown with Michael to withdraw the money we owe him, and the ATM rejects my request. What? Soon comes a robot call on my cell from our bank: We have made so many withdrawals we have triggered a fraud alert. I try to explain this to Michael, who is growing restive and clearly wondering if this North American is scamming him. Michael does not understand a word of English and I speak very few of Spanish. I must call Allysen to translate. In the end, I must also call our bank back home (still open on a Saturday!) and get them to lift the freeze on the ATM withdrawals.
I really do not like walking around with wads of cash in my pocket, especially when that money is owed to someone else who worked hard for it. And in this case, the someone else who needs the money could bench press me with one hand.
Plus, I worry that the retirement accounts of everyone in the extended family, from my mother-in-law ( the primary owner) through me, to my children, will be gone by the end of these two weeks. And yet, it all must be done—whether the decision is made in the end to rent the house, or to sell it. The alternative is to let it decay and fall down around us. It’s far too beautiful a place, and holds too many memories, to let that happen. We press on.
(Coming next in Part 16, the National Ferret Area.)
[To read The Ponce Chronicles in order, start here.]