Thursday, February 23, 2006

Remodel Hell: One More Thing...

I'll bet contractors hate hearing that, "while you're in there, one more thing I'd like you to do is..."

I don't like doing that. I don't like adding on. First, it's pretty stupid, often happens after they've already sealed up the hole. Secondly, it's very expensive.

However....this time I had to do it. I discovered I didn't have enough outlets in the small (now smaller) middle room, so I asked Ernie if he could send his electrician (a different one than the last two times, please?) out to do the job. He said it would only take about two hours.

So Dave arrived this morning, asked me all kinds of questions I wasn't good in answering. And then he broke open the switch box (there goes the new plaster!! Groan...) to figure it all out. He looked at the crawl space under the house, re-emerged and said the job was probably going to take a day.

No, no, I said. I have a cleaning crew showing up in an hour. We had better re-schedule.

But Ernie drove up just then, came in, and showed him there was already a dedicated line to the new bathroom that he could feed off to supply electrical power to the new fourplex. So Dave rolled with it, smiled, and said, Hey, we'll be out of here in two hours!

Thank God for Ernie. Again. Ernie also told me he discussed it with Dave Martinez, the owner, and they decided they wouldn't charge me for the last go-round (not this one) with the electrician and the plasterer. Just materials. How nice is that?

So today it's finished....let me say that again...The two-month five-month remodel is FINISHED!!!

I gotta go now....I've got the cleaners coming in a few minutes! Cleaning up for the party on Sunday!!


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Remodel Hell - The Final Inspection

We failed the last electrical inspection, or as Ernie said, "Two out of three ain't bad." It's bad when you still have one to go.

So a week later -- today -- we had another inspector come out. Ernie was running around buying breaker switches and bringing in a new smoke detector for the bedroom, showing up at 8:05 am to get a head start on it all, to clean up after the electrician. (That electrician showed up about an hour after Ernie left, last Tuesday, and spent less than half an hour....doing what, I don't know. He refused to ground the loose wires or put in the code-required breakers.) The inspector came while I was at the dentist's, but we did the hidden key thing, and he got in and let the inspector in for a good result.

So, that's it, right? Well.... No. Ernie was nice enough to notice that the plaster surrounding the old switchbox in the den is all broken up (because of the electrician pounding on it to break it free from the wall), and promised to send his plasterer out to pave it over. "It's too big a job for me and my tools," he said, apologetically.

I also mentioned that I need some more electrical sockets in the middle room, my new office. He said he'd try to get an electrician out there, if not tomorrow, then soon. We didn't want to confuse the electrical inspection by including a couple of new sockets! Oh, noooo.

But....WE PASSED INSPECTION!! WE PASSED INSPECTION!! So in my mind, this darned project is DONE!

The End of Remodel Hell Party is scheduled for Sunday!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Remodel Hell - Hell Hath No Fury like an Electrical Inspector

Ernie from Martinez Construction called me bright and early this morning to say that the building inspector was going to show up at about 10:30 at my place to sign off on everything: mechanical, plumbing, electrical. Ernie was coming over early so that he could make sure the old switch box would open (it had been plastered shut, which is why the electrician on Friday was pounding on it), and to mark the switches so that the inspector, and I, would know which went to which room.

The first thing he did after he pulled up in his '68 Cougar (his truck had broken down) was to try to get my gate to close. Aha! There was something wrong with it after won't shut because the old fence wasn't anchored, and when the Honey Do carpenter tore the old fence down, there was an impediment to the newly installed gate. So he spent the first 20 minutes trying to sand it down so that it would close.

Then we tried all the switches in the old box inside the den. I would stand in the room with something on, like a hair dryer, and yell to him when it went off. We did this until we were down to 3 switches and just couldn't figure what they went to. Finally, we got two: one was for the microwave in the kitchen, which was installed with the kitchen remodel two years ago, and the other was for the air conditioning, which was installed around the same time. The third unnamed switch, however, was a puzzle. So while we pondered that, Ernie got on the phone to some other customer who had called, and I went to play on my computer....but it suddenly didn't work. I went into the office to check the wireless router, and it was off. The whole power cord was off. "Ernie," I said when he was off the phone, "did you leave a switch off? My whole four-plex in the office doesn't work." "Aha!" he said, and told me he had inadvertently left off the unnamed switch. That problem was solved.

But we ran into a whole new set of problems when the Inspector arrived. He yelled at Ernie several times for not having the gate open, or wasting his time in some other way. At the end, we failed the electrical inspection. He turned to me and said, "Ma'am, I'm going to sign you off on the plumbing and the mechanical, but there are still some problems to take care of on the electrical end. We want you safe, after all." He turned on the charm when he talked to me. Apparently he only yells at contractors.

Something about some wires not being grounded, and some wires that don't go anywhere that are loose in the box. Plus some no-fault adapters, or something like that, missing in the box. The walk-in closet's overhead light was four inches too close to the shelves, according to Mr. Inspector. And I was missing a smoke detector in the main bedroom.

So, the electrician is due out tomorrow morning. And the inspector has been rescheduled for next Tuesday.

As the inspector that day was leaving, he came back to me and said, "You know this neighborhood. Do you know where this address is?" His next stop. I brought him back in and did a mapquest find, and told him how to get here. He was very appreciative, and threw off a pleasant, "That's a real nice bathroom you got back there," in a slight drawl and a smile as he walked away. I wonder if we'll see him again next week.

While we were testing the electrical panel switches, I discovered, much to my surprise, that there's only one tiny outlet in the middle room, in what's to be my new office. Ouch! I can't do office work without outlets. So Ernie and I talked about that. There's more work to be done, as I'll need a fourplex against the wall where the desk will go, and outlets on the other two walls as well.

Ernie also mentioned that they should pave over the plaster the electrician boys destroyed when they had to break back into the panel box.

Let's started in mid-October, I was thinking it would be done by Christmas... So a two-month job is now in its 5th month. Ouch.

Oh, I had my new taupe-colored, leather loveseat delivered today! Here's a photo. Things are falling into place. If I can ever get rid of the workmen traipsing in and out, just think what the place will look like!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My New Part-Time Job: Juror

$15 a day. Well, minus the discounted parking fee of $2.50 a day. Not bad.

I figured that, divided by the time I spent at the Hayward Courthouse -- a community which included the Hayward Police Station next door, plus the bailbondsmen and public defenders' office down the street -- I earned about $2 an hour. Not so good.

I was a juror for on-and-off two weeks at the Hayward Courthouse when The People decided to bring a case against a man who strolled into a Hayward bar and beat up his housemate about a year and a half ago.

I expected to be excused because of my prior enforcement background. Nope. I expected, at the very least, to be questioned about it. Nope. I disclosed a lot, but nothing happened. Well, the judge smiled. But that was it.

It was one of the most interesting points of my life, certainly of my retirement, serving on this jury. As several acquaintances and friends have said, you hope the jury experience confirms your faith in the system. This time it did.

Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, an African-American judge in the Hayward courthouse, was fair, attentive and engaging. (I googled Judge Harbin-Forte, and she's 52 years old with an impressive professional history, all local within Oakland and Hayward.) She smiled all the time, and seemed quite approachable, even during the jury-selection phase. That phase seemed brutal.

There were about 6 people who asked to be excused in the first phase. She would listen to each and every one, listen to their reasons -- and I'm sure she's heard all of these reasons before -- and excused every one, save one. The one she didn't excuse was a 40's-ish woman Asian with limited English who raised her hand twice to be excused. Her excuse, her reason given not to serve, was that she was inexperienced in such matters and would have a hard time deciding any case. The judge explained to her that almost all of us were inexperienced but that we would find a way, and that reasoning would persuade her for a couple of minutes. And then she'd try again.

She was saved by The People, when the prosecuting attorney excused her. Actually, between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, most of the women randomly selected for the juror pool were set free.

But I continued to find the reasons rather interesting. A lot of entrepreneurs begged off, of course. One older African-American freely admitted he had gotten out of jury duty a full SEVEN times! And the judge stifled a laugh, and after a couple of questions, let him go while admonishing him that he might get caught one day on a trial that would take much longer than ours.

The guy next to me asked to be excused because of two reasons: there were very few in his office to do rescue work, and he had poison ivy. During a short recess, I told him that must be painful; he then lifted his long-sleeved shirt to show me the black scars on his arms, and this only a week after he contracted the poison ivy. I couldn't even imagine the layers of pain. Her Honor let him go.

So, finally, we 14 jurors (12 plus the two alternates) found ourselves together in a little room, sharing newspapers but little talk. We only began to talk during the deliberations.

But before the deliberations, we sure sat around a lot. The court was busy, as the judge had many cases to hear before we would even get into the room. Most days we'd sit in the jurors' room until about 10:45 or so, ring the bell once so they'd know we were all present -- and everyone was good about that -- then wait until we heard two rings in a row to signify we were to march into the juror box in the courtroom again. One day we didn't go in until 11:30 -- and this was because the judge had two matters to hear before we went in -- then we broke for lunch an hour later, then we didn't get back into the courtroom until 2 pm. But that was the day we heard closing arguments, then the judge's instructions, then started our deliberations -- and it was a long day.

I was totally impressed with the education level of the average juror. Most had at least a bachelor's degree, some had master's degrees, and we even had a CEO or two among us. And all of the jurors seemed to possess an uncanny ability to ferret out truth from fiction (or bullshit), or common sense.

The only discussion we had among us was mostly about definitions. What's great bodily injury? What's battery vs. assault? But that's about it. Within an hour we had our verdict. We had to stall the bailiff about ordering out for lunch because we knew we'd have a verdict within minutes.

It was a fascinating bout with the American justice system. Fascinating, interesting, compelling. I wouldn't mind spending more time with those people. We joked a lot, especially after we decided the verdict. I joked about our annual reunion, an event which will never happen, of course. And we were each eager to continue with our lives, picking up where we left off, going back to our routines.

But for one brief, shining moment, we represented American life at its best. And we were very proud to do so.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Remodel Hell - The Gate, the Light Switch and Two Construction Companies

I actually didn't think Honey Do would respond to my tirade on the gate/fence, but, sure enough, on Monday morning, Leslye left an unemotional answer and said Mike would check it out.

In the meantime, Ernie called to say that he, himself, was coming by to replace the light switch. I decided to leave him the hidden key and go on my hour-long walk. I had been neglecting my walks because of remodel hell, and decided enough is enough.

When I returned, I immediately went to the bedroom. Instead of the little limp toggle from before, the light switch worked -- yay!! I now have an overhead light in the master bedroom!

A half hour later, as I was ordering the first of the furniture that would go into the middle room -- now my office, a rather smallish one, to be sure -- the two Fence guys from Honey Do showed up, minus Mike. They rang the doorbell, but I was still on the phone, so I told them I'd be through in a couple of minutes. When I made it to the outside front lawn, they were fixing the latch on the gate -- the wrong gate.

I laughed, thanked them (as that latch had never worked right, put in by -- you guessed it! -- the same company a year ago) -- and pointed to the gate on the other side. At this point, I decided the gate works fine, and just asked them to pull out the two offending screws that could catch someone's clothing, or worse, as they went by. They did so, and were on their way.

So, what's left?

The permit process for the electrical line that was just hooked up -- Ernie scheduled that for this Thursday. I hope I'm done with jury duty by then!

And there's also a matter of staining the beautiful redwood fence. I forgot all about that. I think I'm going to do this one myself...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Remodel Hell - PG&E Redux

Ernie called me while I was in jury duty, and told me that PG&E had agreed to come out again, this time on Friday. He said they had to cancel the appointment because they were backed up but neglected to tell anybody. Thankfully on Friday I was off.

So I sat around on Friday, all day, just knowing they were going to show up just as the sun was going down. It wasn't that late when a truck with a lone driver pulled up in front of my house, facing backward. "Are you PG&E?" I said to the guy, completely missing the big letters on the cab of the truck. "Yep." He whipped out his cell phone and said, "I'm going to call Eddie." "You mean Ernie," I said, as I, too, whipped out my cell phone. "Yeah, right." He then said, "No answer." I agreed to keep calling Ernie, and I left a voicemail.

He said he'd do the work, and I nodded fiercely up and down. "You'll be without electricity..." and I replied, "Fine. Just do it. Please."

I finally reached Dan Martinez, and he said he'd get an electrician out there. "You can still have PG&E do their thing, and the electrician can arrive afterwards." About a half hour later. Great.

So the PG&E little cab was electrically hoisted into the air, he fooled with the new electrical wire springing out of the roof of the house for 15 minutes, then came back down and said I was done. He pointed out the new electrical know, so they can bill me. He then asked me how long I'd been waiting for the service. "Six weeks," I said. It's actually been longer. He nodded. "Yep. We've been busy."

About 45 minutes after the PG&E guy had left, at about 4:30, two guys in another truck pulled up. The Electricians. They immediately disconnected the electricity. They had a really hard time, it seems, getting things to work. One was banging on the old fuse box while the other was in the attic, and they were yelling Spanish to one another while working. Two hours later, as I'm typing in the dark on my computer, one of them emerges to ask me, "Do you have something outside?" I had no idea what he was talking about. He asked again: "Do you have jacuzzi outside?" No, I answered. No jacuzzi, nothing electrical outside except for sensor lights. He disappeared again, saying over his shoulder, "I'm going to try to throw the breakers." Five minutes later, after waiting 2 hours in the dark, all the lights finally came back on.

But before they disappeared for good, I wanted to check everything. The T.V. worked. But the overhead light in the master bedroom did not. He pointed out that the power was on back there, but that the light switch, or at least half of it, appeared to be broken. After some discussion -- no, make that argument -- he said he could not fix the light switch. It wasn't what he was hired to do. So after they left, I called Ernie and actually got an answer at 6:30 at night. He agreed to send a guy out on Monday morning to fix the bleeping light switch.

Oh, and during the two hours of no electricity, I went outside to water -- it was lighter out there -- and noticed that the gate on the left side of the house wasn't latched. I tried to latch it, but the stable hook is a good four inches away from the end of the gate. That wasn't true a few days ago. I surmised that the guys who constructed the fence moved the latch. There were also a few stray nails and screws that seemed to be a hazard right next to the latch, just standing there in the wood. I angrily called Honey Do Remodel, knowing they wouldn't be answering so late, but left a message. Why would they move the latch and not even mention it? But then, with the help of Alberto the Landscaper, I discovered that you just have to lean on the remaining fence to get the gate to move to the proper spot. I felt kind of foolish after that phone call, but will call back and explain....and apologize. A little remodel hell frustration coming out.

So Remodel Hell continues. We're right at the end, I believe, but there are those few nagging problems. And, as we all know, when the crews go off and do other jobs, they're harder to bring back, which complicates the little nagging problems. Just these two left to fix, and I'll be done.

Oh -- and I really like the way the front looks now, with the flowers coming out during this February warm spell and the new fence. THIS is why I like remodeling: the after effect!!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Remodel Hell - The Fence

I booked a job with Honey Do to install a new redwood fence, add some insulation to my roof (a whole lotta insulation, as it turns out), and spray the roof over my den with a reflective material.

The new fence was needed because (1) I need a new fence, and (2) the situation is a little desperate since the gardener/landscaper Alberto tore the top off the front of the fence and then decided he couldn't finish the job at the price we had agreed upon. So the fence was collapsing.

After talking with the good neighbor, the one on the left north side, I proceeded with a pretty standard redwood fence. No gate, no fence on the driveway side, just like before. The object isn't to keep dogs in or people completely out. It's to discourage those walking by from straying onto the grass or dropping trash, and to give the illusion of privacy. It's about four feet high, just like before. But I never have to paint this one.

After a delay of about a month, Honey Do finally got their crew out to my residence....but they were short one guy. So the job has gone four days instead of the promised three. And it had to happen while I was at jury duty. But I left the hidden key behind so they could access the house for the last bit of insulation.

These pictures were taken yesterday morning before I left for the Hayward Courthouse. By the time I returned at 5 pm, the fence was finished. Nice job! Insulation continues today.

Remodel Hell - No PG&E

Two weeks ago, Ernie called me up to tell me that PG&E finally agreed to come to the house and hook up that additional electrical line. It would be on a Friday, February 3rd, a full 5 weeks after construction had been finished.

Ernie had related to me, time after time, about his difficulties in reaching them. He'd book an appointment time only to find out later that the computer didn't record the time. After getting the appointment time and have no one acknowledge his message or show up, he'd call and leave a voicemail, a vain attempt in trying to get to talk to a live person. He finally got an appointment for Friday.

Nobody showed up. Nobody called. At 4:45 pm, after sitting in the house all day, I finally called Ernie to tell him that there's only half an hour left until the sun goes down. I don't think they're coming. He verbally blew his stack.

A week later he called me to tell me that we're on again, this time for today, Friday, February 10th.

Every time I hear one of those friendly PG&E ads on the radio or on T.V., I just want to puke.